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2008 HOF Class: We’re not so different after all

The Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies took place this Saturday. The inductees were OT Gary Zimmerman, DE Andre Tippett, DE Fred Dean, DB Emmitt Thomas, CB Darrel Green, and WR Art Monk. And while these ceremonies may seem to lack appeal to many in the Raider Nation due to the fact that there are no Raiders being inducted, there is still a lot worth watching.

There were two extremely popular Redskins players being inducted this year in Darrel Green and Art Monk so the stadium looked nearly completely Burgundy and Yellow. That kind of blanketing of fans wearing their team colors sounds rather familiar doesn’t it? As a member of the greatest fan base in the world, I can always respect when another team’s fans represent the team and players they love. Not to mention that Darrel Green and Art Monk getting the call raises the likelihood of Lester Hayes and Cliff Branch getting their call to the Hall soon.

We, as Raider fans, are a little spoiled. Because it seems that just about every other year, and sometimes consecutive years, there is a Raider standing at that podium accepting his invitation into the greatest of Halls. We know that there are many more Raider greats that deserve their day and I have complete faith they will get that chance. I remember it was not long ago that I was including John Madden, Bob Brown and Dave Casper on that list of guys that should be in but I can’t say that anymore because they made it. Heck when you include Marcus Allen, just since 2000 the Raiders have had HOF players be inducted in 06, 04, 03, 02, and 2000 (I am not including Dickerson, Lott, and Lofton). That is quite impressive. We are due to have another. Perhaps the greatest punter in NFL history?

This year not only had no Raider greats gracing the stage but it had players from the Raiders biggest rivals in the Broncos, Chiefs, Chargers, and Niners. Throw in a Steeler and they would completely run the gamut of the Raiders most bitter rivals. Add to that players from two of the three teams the Raiders met in their superbowl victories in the Redskins and Vikings. This alone would make many Raiders fans boycott this years ceremonies out of pure disgust. But if you peel away the team name and uniform and set your hatred aside you may see that we’re not so different after all.

Even with no Raiders in the ceremonies, the Silver and Black are ever present. Not just because whenever a person takes the podium you can see Howie Long and Dave Casper sitting behind them representing the Raiders with pride, but the speeches themselves have a “silver lining”. And from some of the more unexpected people too.

Long time Chief Emmitt Thomas was introduced by his son, as many of the inductees would be throughout the day. He spoke of his father as his hero, his mentor and his best friend. I am reminded of Patrick’s tribute to his dad on Fathers day this year. There is really no greater bond than that of father and son. It doesn’t matter at all that Emmitt Thomas played for the rival Chiefs. And what surprised me most was when he gave his list of people he wanted to thank there was one very surprising name he made a point to mention “Al Davis of the Oakland Raiders”. So it seems even when there are no Raiders at the podium Al Davis is still thanked for his contributions. Even when it is a player on one of the most hated of rival teams, Al Davis gets a tip of the hat. Emmitt Thomas was the first black head coach in Atlanta Falcons history. I wonder if Al Davis hiring the first black head coach in NFL history in Art Shell had anything to do with that thank you? That kind of respect and recognition is ever present in the kind of men that earn a spot in those halls.

The next inductee was to be Fred Dean of the Chargers and 49ers. Eddie DeBartolo, Jr introduced him. Eddie mentioned Bill Walsh who began his career as a Raider assistant under Al Davis and Ronnie Lott who ended his career in the Silver and Black. He also mentioned John Madden. All of which are Hall of Famers. Fred Dean made a career out of wanting to kill the Raiders while with the Niners and especially while with the Chargers. But I am sure he is honored to shake those same Raider players hands and have his bust sitting along side theirs in the Hall of Fame. Perhaps two of the guys he chased after most; Ken Stabler and Jim Plunkett, can join him someday soon.

Art Monk’s enshrinement was the moment that the majority of the crowd was waiting for. He waited 8 years of eligibility to get the call. And the 4 minute standing ovation from both the crowd as well as the hall of famers behind him was evidence of that. His words truly sum up how this honor transcends team and rivalry:

“Being here I realize now that it is about more than just having a bust made of yourself and wearing a gold jacket. When you take the time to look through all the hype, the celebration that comes along with this, you see that it is really all about the history and tradition of the game and about an elite group of athletes that help make the game what it is today. My class and I had a luncheon with all of the hall of famers yesterday and as we were eating and some of them started standing up and talking I took a moment to take a look around the room and I focused on the face of each and every hall of famer that was in there. I realized that I was in the middle of a room with all of the greatest athletes that have ever played this game. Some of whom played for the love of the game, some of whom broke through the color barrier and persevered through the struggles of racism and others sacrificed for the benefit of those who would follow in their footsteps. And for me it was privelage to be sitting in that room with them. Some of which I never knew, some of which I watched in awe growing up wanting to be like them emulating them and others I have had the opportunity to play with and compete against. And even though they were my competitors, I greatly appreciated and respected their abilities and I loved playing against them because they were the best and they helped to bring the best out in me. Now to be standing next to them as one of them is truly and honor and an awesome, awesome moment in my life.”

The Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies are truly like no other awards or induction ceremony in the world. Unlike the NFL draft, which is held in New York City where the greater percentage of the audience are always Jets or Giants fans, It is held in the otherwise non-noteworthy town of Canton Ohio where there has not been a professional team since…well the birth of professional football. Unlike the Oscars, Grammys, Emmys, Etc., the winners aren’t given 2 minutes to thank a bunch of schmucks no one knows or cares about like their publicist and their accountant. These enshrinees thank God, their ever visible family members, their childhood friends, the fans, and their coaches that have helped them on their journey. These folks sit in the crowd and smile and cry with pride and adoration. It is a genuine and heartfelt tribute like no other in the world.

This ceremony is the culmination of a dream realized and from that dream came tremendous success. All through blood sweat and tears in a game that ends careers easier than it makes them. There are always great stories to be told, lives touched and tears to be shed. It is a spectacle that anyone who has ever had a dream can relate to regardless of which team you root for. It is also a celebration of greatness and glory days for which the Raiders have had many of and many more to come.

***Vote Ray Guy for the Hall of Fame class of 2009***