CANTON, Ohio — They came in No. 4 jerseys and wearing cheeseheads. They chanted “Go Pack Go.”
It was Lambeau Field transported to Ohio, and only one man could have caused it.
Brett Favre, welcome to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“Believe me, I am an extremely blessed man,” Favre said Saturday night during an emotional speech spiced with humor and playfulness. “Play a game that I love so much for 20 years, to have all the wonderful things happen … to share in that joy with you guys here tonight.”
And when he choked up talking about his late father, Irv, and how Favre spent his career “trying to redeem myself” to make Irv proud, the crowd offered loud and comforting support.
Adding that “this is tougher than any third-and-15,” he spoke of his new goal once his father died in 2003:
“I said to myself, I will make it to the Hall of Fame so I could acknowledge the fact of how important he was. I would not be here before you today without my father, there’s no doubt whatsoever.”
Football’s most durable quarterback (a record 299 straight regular-season starts and 321 including playoffs) and one of its greatest passers, Favre was the first three-time MVP (1995-97) and an NFL champion in 1996. He played with four teams, defining toughness and fortitude, particularly in 16 seasons with the Packers, a franchise he helped revitalize.
A swashbuckler with no fear on the field — in addition to completing 6,300 passes for 71,838 yards and 508 touchdowns, he threw an NFL-high 336 interceptions — Favre was a three-time All-Pro and made 11 Pro Bowls. His enthusiasm and love for the game marked his career, which began in Atlanta in 1991 and ended with the Vikings in 2010. He spent 2008 with the Jets.
And he just might not be done.
“I am going to ask Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson to let me play the first series tomorrow night,” Favre joked.
Joining Favre in the class of 2016 were Tony Dungy, a trail-blazing coach and Super Bowl winner; one of his stars, Marvin Harrison; Kevin Greene; Orlando Pace; Ken Stabler; Dick Stanfel; and Ed DeBartolo Jr.
The first black coach to win an NFL championship, Dungy has been and a mentor to dozens of players and fellow coaches. Instead of concentrating on his role as a pioneer, he paid homage to those before him.
“Many of them never got the chance to move up the coaching ladder like I did, but they were so important to the progress in this league,” Dungy said of the 10 African-American assistant coaches in the NFL when he broke in as a player in 1977. “They were role models and mentors for me and my generation … without those 10 laying the groundwork, the league would not have the 200-plus minority assistant coaches it has today.
“And we would not have had Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy coaching against each other in Super Bowl 41. I feel I am representing those 10 men and all the African-American coaches who came before me in paving the way, and I thank them.”
Dungy led the Indianapolis Colts to the 2006 NFL title. He also has a coaching tree that has featured Mike Tomlin, Herman Edwards, Jim Caldwell, Rod Marinelli, Leslie Frazier and Smith.
A disciple of Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll, for whom he played on a Super Bowl winner, Dungy went 139-69 in 13 seasons, including 85-27 with the Colts from 2002-08. Before joining Indianapolis, Dungy turned around a perennial loser in Tampa Bay, taking the Buccaneers to the 1999 NFC title game.
“Be uncommon, not just average,” he added before paying tribute to former NFL coach Dennis Green, who recently passed away. “That thought has stuck with me throughout my life.”
Harrison’s 143 receptions in 2002 are an NFL record. He retired in 2008 with 1,102 catches, now third behind Jerry Rice and Tony Gonzalez, 14,608 yards and 128 touchdowns. He had eight consecutive seasons with at least 1,100 yards receiving as Peyton Manning’s prime target.
Harrison made eight Pro Bowls, was a three-time All-Pro, and missed only 18 games in 13 NFL seasons.
Pace was the blocking cornerstone of the Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf that won the 1999 NFL title. The top overall draft pick in 1997, he helped turn running back Marshall Faulk and quarterback Kurt Warner into NFL MVPs.
Like Harrison, he had memories of the Canton shrine, too, recalling visiting the hall when he was 13.
“This occasion marks the fulfilment of each and every goal I have had,” Pace said of his athletic career. “This became my first goal, and here I am 27 years later standing in Canton, Ohio, accepting this incredible honor.”
Always a showman who also spent some time as a professional wrestler, Greene’s 160 career sacks are third most in NFL history. In 15 pro seasons for four franchises, Greene played linebacker and defensive end with an unmitigated spirit.
“The best a football player can do is exhaust his passion, go out on his terms, and on the way having fun kicking people’s butts with his brothers,” Greene said.
In Greene’s time with the Rams, Steelers, 49ers and Panthers he missed just a dozen games, and 10 times finished with at least 10 sacks, including 12 with Carolina at age 37.
“I am standing on the stage with the best ever,” he said, Terrible Towels waving in the crowd, Steelers fans cheering when he mentioned Blitzburgh. “This is pretty cool.”
Greene, whose father and brother served combat missions, drew a standing ovation from his fellow gold jackets and from the fans when he concluded by saluting the armed services.
Nicknamed “Snake” for his elusiveness on and off the field, Stabler helped the Raiders win their first Super Bowl and make it to four other conference championship games in a five-year span. One of the first great left-handed pro QBs, Stabler, who died last year, was elected by the seniors committee.
He was known for some of the biggest plays in Raiders history, including his intentional fumble forward in the closing seconds of a game against San Diego in 1978 that led to a touchdown — the “Holy Roller” play — and to a rule change.
Stanfel, who died last year at age 87, also was a seniors committee selection. He helped the Detroit Lions win the NFL title in 1952 and ’53. He earned All-Pro honors five times in his seven-season career, four years with Detroit and three with Washington, before retiring at 31 and going into coaching.
“I think he is the guard of the century,” said his presenter, Hall of Fame coach Marv Levy.
DeBartolo’s 49ers became the first franchise to win five Super Bowls. He was known as much for his compassion and care for people throughout his organization as for building a winning football team.
“To share this stage with these gentlemen is more than humbling. We may be wearing the same jackets, but they have shoes I could never fill.”