The Pro Football Hall of Fame welcomed nine new members to football immortality on Saturday afternoon. The ceremony, which took take place inside Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, included memorable speeches, tributes, highlights and a few tears from the men who received their bronze busts and gold jackets.
This year's class featured defensive backs Ronde Barber, Darrelle Revis and Ken Riley; linebackers Chuck Howley and Zach Thomas; pass rusher DeMarcus Ware; offensive tackle Joe Thomas; defensive lineman Joe Klecko and coach Don Coryell.
Each inductee left a lasting impact on the NFL. Barber was a key member of the Buccaneers' 2002 championship team. Revis had an island named after him that was anything but a destination spot for opposing receivers. Riley picked off a whopping 65 passes during his years with the Bengals. Howley is still the only Super Bowl MVP from a losing team. Thomas compiled 1,734 tackles while helping lead the Dolphins to the playoffs five straight years. Ware won a Super Bowl with the Broncos after becoming the Cowboys' all-time career sack leader. Thomas played in 10,363 consecutive snaps, a record for an offensive lineman. Klecko was a Pro Bowler at three different positions for the New York Sack Exchange defense. Coryell's innovative passing attack led to success during coaching stops with the Cardinals and Chargers.
Here are the highlights from what was an emotional yet celebratory afternoon from Canton.
A special anniversary for Zach Thomas
Zach Thomas informed that crowd that it was 27 years ago to the day when Jimmy Johnson named him the Dolphins' starting middle linebacker. Nearly three decades later, Johnson presented Thomas into the Hall of Fame.
"He's the hardest working player that I ever coached, with extreme talent," Johnson said while presenting Thomas. "He made every play. He made every tackle."
Johnson was reduced to tears as Thomas thanked him for the opportunity. The 154th pick in the 1996 NFL Draft, Thomas was named to seven Pro Bowls and amassed 1,734 tackles during his 13-year career. Thomas' play helped the Dolphins clinch five straight playoff berths from 1997-01.
Thomas held back tears as, the late Hall of Fame linebacker whom Thomas said inspired him to be a pro football player.
"Though he's not here physically, he's here spiritually," Thomas said. "I love you, buddy."
Ken Riley a 'family man to the bone'
Ken Riley's son, Ken Riley II, praised not just Riley the player but Riley the man. Riley said his father sacrificed a promising coaching career in order to spend more time raising his family.
"He cared about his family, his community, and kids," Riley said. "He was a family man to the bone, and being away from us for months when he played was a giant sacrifice."
Riley's father was one of the most productive cornerbacks in NFL history. In his final season, the 36-year-old Riley picked off eight passes, two of which were returned for touchdowns. He joins Anthony Munoz as the only members of the Bengals to be inducted in Canton.
"It's been a long time coming," Riley said, "but dad, you made it."
DeMarcus Ware celebrates his family, former teammates
Former Cowboys and Broncos pass rusher DeMarcus Ware praised his family for helping him overcome humble beginnings. Ware specifically honored his mother and grandfather, who were both in attendance. Ware thanked his mother for always being there for him. He said he always looked forward to seeing her in the cafeteria during school.
"You showed me how to serve and how to smile through anything," Ware said to his mother. "When you don't have any other choice, you just have to do it."
Ware also paid homage to many of his former teammates in Dallas and Denver. Those teammates included Tony Romo, Larry Allen, Jason Witten, Bradie James, Von Miller, and Peyton Manning.
"As we always said, 'Iron sharpens iron, and another man sharpens another,'" Ware said while echoing the 2015 Broncos' rallying cry.
Ware recalled what Manning told him prior to joining the Broncos.
"You said, 'Let's go win this thing,' and we did it, brother," Ware said to Manning, who was in attendance.
Ware also, including Demaryius Thomas, Ronnie Hillman, and Marion Barber. Ware's speech also included an emotional moment between himself and his father, who was absent during Ware's upbringing.
"I'm telling you now, on the biggest platform of my life, that I forgive you," Ware said to his father, who was in attendance.
Joe Klecko pays homage to early '80s Jets; teases son
Joe Klecko mentioned that his son, former defensive tackle Dan Klecko, won three Super Bowls as a member of the Patriots and Colts.
"He never lets me forget," Klecko said of his son before pointing to his bust. "Hey Dan, let's see if you can get one of them."
Klecko also celebrated the 1980s Jets, a team that will be honored this season when the team wears their throwback jerseys. Klecko was part of the Jets' famed "New York Sack Exchange" defense that led the NFL in sacks in 1981. The unit then played a key role in the Jets reaching the AFC title game the following season.
Klecko has a rare distinction that separates himself from every other Hall of Famer in that he is the only player in Canton who made the Pro Bowl while playing three different positions on the defensive line.
'Mr. Cowboy' presents Chuck Howley
Chuck Howley, who was watching the ceremony from home, was presented by his former teammate Bob Lilly, who has long been regarded as "Mr. Cowboy." Howley and Lilly spent 13 seasons as teammates while helping the Cowboys capture their first Super Bowl title.
A big-game player, Howley is the only MVP of a losing Super Bowl team. He earned that distinction after intercepting two passes in Dallas' 16-13 loss to Baltimore in Super Bowl V. A year later, Howley intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble as the Cowboys got over the hump by defeating the Dolphins in Super Bowl VI, 24-3.
Howley's son, Scott, spoke on his father's behalf. He thanked the Cowboys for trading for Howley after Howley left the Bears and was back in West Virginia working at a gas station. Six Pro Bowls, five All-Pros and a Super Bowl win later, Howley is the Cowboys' most recent Hall of Fame inductee.
Scott Howley also shared a quote once said by Howley's Hall of Fame coach, Tom Landry.
"Coach Landry once remarked, 'I don't think I've seen anyone who plays linebacker better than Howley.'"
Darrelle Revis thanks uncles, Rex, Jets fans and Prime Time
The fifth cornerback to be inducted in his first year of eligibility, Darrelle Revis credited his uncles for having a significant impact on his future athletic success.
He was a ballboy when his uncle, Mark Gilbert, was playing at Duquesne. During that time, a drive home with his uncle changed Revis' life, when the two drove past a nice house in a nice neighborhood. His uncle asked his nephew if he'd like to live in a house like that some day.
"I learned early on that if I wanted to live in a house like that, I had to set some goals," Revis said.
A basketball fan growing up, Revis also thanked his other uncle, Sean Gilbert, for giving him a passion for football. Sean Gilbert played at Pitt before becoming a Pro Bowl defensive lineman.
Revis paid homage to former Jets coach Rex Ryan, who in 2009 called him the NFL's greatest cornerback in the league without having yet coached him.
"After our first meeting, I was convinced that I'd play my heart out for him," Revis said of Ryan, who led the Jets to back-to-back AFC title game appearances. "Thank you for seeing something in me and motivating me to live up to that potential."
Revis also thanked Jets fans for pushing and motivating him to greater heights.
"You are always welcome on Revis Island," Revis said to Jets fans.
While he never played with him, Revis thanked the player who inspired him more than anyone else,.
'Air Coryell' lands in Canton
After a long wait, Don Coryell was inducted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday. Coryell, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 85, was as innovative as any coach in NFL history. He helped modernize the passing game during his years coaching the Cardinals and Chargers.
Coryell's presenter was Dan Fouts, his quarterback in San Diego. Under Coryell's tutelage, Fouts led the NFL in passing yards four consecutive years. His 4,802 yards in 1981 was at the time the highest single-season total in league history.
"The Air Coryell system is second to none," Fouts said. "His philosophy was that the defense would have to protect the entire field. ... His influence on the game is one that continues to grow not only in the NFL but in college and high school football."
Coryell's legacy also includes a historic coaching tree that includes fellow Hall of Fame coaches Joe Gibbs and John Madden.
Coryell's speech was delivered by his daughter, Mindy Coryell Lewis. During the speech, she mentioned her mother, who would "pin notes to his football-minded underwear" so he wouldn't miss appointments.
Coryell Lewis described her dad as a "players coach" who relished his relationships with his players. She vividly remembered Madden visiting the family home when she was a child. She also has memories of her father doodling football plays and notes on napkins that would leave a lasting impact on football.
"Ladies and gentlemen, Air Coryell has landed in Canton!" she said at the end of her speech.
Ronde Barber was presented by his twin brother and former Giants All-Pro running back Tiki Barber.
"On my most important day, thank you for standing with me," Ronde said of Tiki. "Without him, I wouldn't have had that daily reminder to chase greatness. If you don't remember anything else I say today, remember this: I am here today because of my brother."
One of the best brotherly duos in NFL history, the Barber brothers played a combined 26 seasons. Ronde Barber is the only cornerback in NFL history with at least 45 interceptions and 25 sacks. Tiki Barber is one of just three players (Marcus Allen and Marshall Faulk being the other two) with 10,000 career rushing yards and 5,000 career receiving yards.
Despite his small stature, the 5-foot-10, 184-pound Barber carved out a 16-year career that included a Super Bowl win with the 2002 Buccaneers. He was part of a legendary Buccaneers defense that included fellow Hall of Famers Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch.
"I set out to be uncommon," Barber said. "I wanted to do something that others could not or would not do."
Barber also thanked Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who was Barber's position coach from 2001-05. Tomlin presented Barber with his Hall of Fame jacket on Friday night.
"Mike T. imagined this for me long before I could," Barber said.
A family affair
For the first time, a players' entire family served as the presenter. Joe Thomas' wife, Annie, and the couple's four children presented Thomas, who is just one in five players in NFL history to begin his career with 10 straight Pro Bowl campaigns.
"His legacy is that he's consistent," his wife said. "If I could describe my dad in one word, it would be amazing," added his daughter, Logan.
Thomas was famously fishing when the Browns selected him with the third overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. Thomas was not fishing but was inside Tom Benson Stadium to deliver his induction speech Saturday afternoon.
Thomas shared what his incredible snap streak means to him.
"Not just because it's an NFL record, because it shows that I was there for my brothers 10,363 times in a row," he said. "Being an offensive lineman is all about being a servant and being there for somebody else."
Thomas grew emotional as he thanked his father, who without fail went to work every day no matter what the situation was.
"Availability is the most important ability," Thomas said when sharing what his father taught him.
Thomas also kiddingly thanked his mom for grounding him for an entire semester after he got a C in algebra. Thomas reminded his mom that he actually got a C+.
Thomas also thanked his fellow linemen, including Alex Mack and Joel Bitonio. He jokingly thanked the Browns' backup offensive tackles for taking his practice reps so he could continue to play on Sundays.
The Browns' organization was also lauded by Thomas, especially the team's facility in Berea, Ohio. He said he fell in love with Cleveland "the second I got there."
"On a true team," Thomas said, "no job is no more important than any other."
Lastly, Thomas thanked his family who presented him just moments earlier.
"Annie, you've always been my rock," Thomas said to his wife. "You lived through the injuries, the losses, the new coaches. ... You were the soulmate I always needed."
"You guys were such a blessing to me during my career," Thomas said to his children. "You gave me the joy, the happiness and the purpose to carry on when I didn't think it was possible. You guys continue to give me purpose every single day of my life. Thank you."