The Pro Football Hall of Fame welcomed eight new members on Saturday.
Hall of Fame induction is the greatest individual honor that can be bestowed upon a player once his career comes to an end, and former Green Bay Packers defensive back LeRoy Butler — a four-time All-Pro who helped the Packers win Super Bowl XXXI — explained why.
“When you play for the Green Bay Packers, a lot of doors open up,” Butler said. “When you win a Super Bowl, all doors open up. But when you make the Hall of Fame, football heaven opens up.”
Sam Mills’ widow, Melanie Mills, gave a Hall of Fame speech in honor of the former New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers linebacker, sharing a motto her husband used as motivation, as he went from being an undrafted free-agent to a five-time Pro Bowler.
He used the same motto during his battle against cancer before he died in 2005.
“Thank you for this honor,” Melanie Mills said. “For believing in Sam and for helping to keep his story alive. Keep pounding, everyone — that’s what Sam would want you to do.”
During his speech, Richard Seymour, who helped the New England Patriots win their first three Super Bowls, recalled his first memory as a football player while thanking his mom.
“It was 31 years ago to this month when you drove me to my first football tryout and I didn’t even get out of the car,” Seymour said. “Mom, if I told you three decades later that I would be wearing a gold jacket, you would have no reason to believe me. But you believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself.”
Art McNally made history on Saturday, becoming the first game official to ever be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Considered to be the “Father of Modern Officiating,” McNally worked as a game official from 1960-67 before working as the NFL‘s supervisor of officials from 1968-1987 and later the director of officiating from 1988-90. McNally, who turned 97 in July, gave a prerecorded speech.
“This is the greatest thing I think for an official,” McNally said. “Do the job, hopefully nobody knows you’re even around, make the calls the proper way they should be with a heavy dose of common sense.”
Tony Boselli also made history Saturday, as the five-time Pro Bowl offensive tackle became the first Jacksonville Jaguars player inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Boselli shared how his high school coach killed his dreams of becoming a quarterback, which ended up being the best thing for him in the long run.
“I was destined to be an offensive lineman, but not before a short stint as a tight end on the sophomore team and water boy for the varsity team,” Boselli said. “I was a damn good water boy. … Not the most glamorous path, but all credit to you coach. It was the right path.”
Former defensive tackle Bryant Young helped the San Francisco 49ers win Super Bowl XXIX in 1994. The 89.5 sacks he recorded over his 14-year career are also the most in 49ers’ history.
Young said it was fitting that he was a part of the 2022 class because 22 was his late son Colby’s favorite number. Young paid tribute to Colby, who died of cancer at the age of 15.
“We assured Colby we would keep his spirit alive and continue speaking his name,” Young said. “On Oct. 11, 2016, God called Colby home.
“Colby, you live on in our hearts. We will always speak your name.”
Cliff Branch was the lone wide receiver inducted to the Hall of Fame on Saturday. He helped the Raiders win three Super Bowls in the late 1970s and early ’80s, leading the league in receiving in 1974. He was also a three-time All-Pro.
Branch died at age 71 in 2019. His sister, Elaine Anderson, said her brother is still enjoying the day, likely with a pair of other Raiders legends who have passed on.
“I can tell you there’s a sweet spirit in this place today,” Anderson said. “Our Clifford, No. 21, would not miss his enshrinement for nothing. He longed for this day and 21 is sitting front and center with Al Davis and John Madden.”
Former head coach Dick Vermeil closed out Saturday’s ceremony.
Vermeil, whose NFL head coaching career began with the Philadelphia Eagles and ended with the Kansas City Chiefs, won his only Super Bowl as head coach of the Rams, spearheading the “Greatest Show on Turf” in 1999. He gave a special shoutout to one of the players from his championship Rams squad.
“Kurt Warner, his story is true,” Vermeil said. “Where would I be without Kurt Warner? I wouldn’t be standing here. Gosh, thank you for the contributions all of you guys made.”
Get more from National Football League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more.