CANTON, Ohio – Hurry! Hurry! Omaha!
Peyton Manning audibled his way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and his legendary beat-the-clock antics at the line of scrimmage during an 18-year career provided an appropriate lead-in to his acceptance speech Sunday night.
He called it “an all-time hurry-hurry.’’
Time restraints were in place – a maximum of eight minutes that stretched to a shade over 10 to accommodate the numerous pauses for applause – and Manning quickly addressed his incessant pleas for Jeff Saturday to snap the ball and the difficulties imposed on the limited speeches.
“Next year,’’ Manning said with a wry smile, “the acceptance speeches will probably shrink to 4 minutes. And speaking of rivals, my good friend Tom Brady is here tonight.’’
Brady’s face flashed on the video screens. Boos flowed over the crowd at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
“By the time Tom Brady is inducted in his first year of eligibility in 2035, he’ll only have time to post his acceptance speech on his Instagram account.’’
It was classic Manning, whose career was defined as much by his matchups with Brady as it was by the touchdowns, passing yards and two Super Bowl championships.
It also was classic Manning when he referred to another Hall of Famer, John Madden, who once said the bronze busts whisper to each other at night when the lights are out.
“It’s actually true,’’ Manning said. “My son Marshall and I have heard it.’’
He took it a step further.
“I also think that they run plays at night,’’ Manning said. “They scrimmage. They throw a little 7-on-7. The other night I had a dream I was in one of those scrimmages.’’
One team was coached by Vince Lombardi and Paul Brown, Manning’s by Bill Cowher and Jimmy Johnson.
“That’s right, a Cowboy and a Steeler working together,’’ Manning said. “Only in Canton, Ohio.’’
In Manning’s dream, he had the football at the 50-yard line with 3 seconds remaining in the game. Cowher called a running play.
“I said, ‘Coach, I’m going to have to audible. Omaha!’
Then, magic. The audible, a pass of course, began with a play-fake to Barry Sanders and included Michael Irvin, Deacon Jones, Ray Nitschke, Ronnie Lott, Steve Largent, Darryl Green, Lem Barney and Lance Alworth “who dove into the end zone for the winning score,’’ Manning said.
“Yesterday it was just a dream. But today it’s reality.’’
While Manning’s entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame began with touches of levity, it quickly hit a sentimental tone.
Mentioning his father and family brought halted words.
Archie, the patriarch of the first family of football, introduced his middle son for enshrinement.
“Peyton loves the game of football,’’ Archie said on a video. “He loves the quarterback position.
“I am honored to present my son, Peyton Manning, for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.’’
Roughly halfway through his speech, Manning turned his attention to those who were there from the beginning.
Again, halted words, choking back tears.
“Each of us have deep roots in this game and helped us carve out a place to belong,’’ Manning said. “In my youth in New Orleans and in Newman School, football carved out a place for my favorite quarterback, my hero, my role model, my dad, Archie Manning to pass on something he loved to me.
“Dad, there is no one I would rather have or be more appropriate than you to welcome me to this stage.’’
Manning described Cooper and Eli as “the two best brothers a guy could ask for.’’
Olivia? Football, Manning said, “gave my mom plenty of reasons to both beef me up and patch me up. You talk about lucky now, the most loving mother who could also break down a cover-2 defense as well as any NFL quarterback.’’
Wife Ashley and twins Marshall and Mosley were in the crowd.
“To my wife Ashley, there are no right words to express how grateful I am to you,’’ Manning said. “Thank you for your unstoppable love and support. And to our children, Marshall and Mosley, you came into the world at the exact time that I needed you.
“The two of you have already given your mother and me a greater inheritance than we an ever leave you.’’
The sentimental slant was interwoven throughout the speech.
Manning recognized the passing of two of his former coaches – Howard Mudd and Greg Knapp – and singled out Jim Irsay and the Colts organization.
“My gratitude is off the charts,’’ he said. “You drafted me in 1998 and it was a joy and a privilege to represent the Horseshoe.’’
His appreciation for finally reaching the Pro Football Hall of Fame was evident.
“Obviously it’s pretty cool to say you’re on the same team as Johnny Unitas and Slingin’ Sammy Baugh,’’ he said. “I’m honored to be a member of this elite class.
“To be inducted on the same weekend as one of my favorite teammates of all-time, Edgerrin James . . . being reunited with Edgerrin, my old teammates, the great Marvin Harrison, Marshall Faulk, our Colts architect Bill Polian, our Colts leader Tony Dungy is really something.’’
Now, Manning urged the Class of 2021, pay it forward.
“We have inherited the history of this sport,’’ he said, “even helped create it, but our response cannot stop here. If we simply relive history and don’t ignite the future of the sport, then we’re not doing football justice.’’
Manning has spent the past few years coaching Marshall’s flag football team.
“I’m not sure I’m a very good coach, but hopefully that role will enable me to make a hands-on contribution to the future of our sport. I don’t know about you, but I’m not done with this game. I never will be. I’m committed to ensuring its future and I hope you would join me in that commitment.
“As members of this honored class, we have a responsibility to make our game stronger from the corner playground to the most celebrated stadiums. During the past few years the game of football has been challenged by an explosion of sports and entertainment options, safety concerns, erupting social justice issues an a worldwide pandemic. Displaced fans have taken on an entirely new meaning. Stadiums have been shut down and fans shut out.
“We certainly shouldn’t walk away now. When we leave this stage tonight, it is no longer about us. It is about cultivating our game that has given so much to us. It’s about nurturing football to live and thrive another day, another year, decade and another generation.
”The future of this game is ours to shape.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.
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