Talking Football with the 2017 Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductees

In Canton, Ohio, our Kalyn Kahler caught up with Jerry Jones, Jason Taylor, Kurt Warner, LaDainian Tomlinson, Terrell Davis, Morten Anderson and Kenny Easley to talk about their football journeys and what they’ll say in their speeches
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CANTON, Ohio — What would your dad think of you getting into the Hall of Fame? What would he say to you? A reporter asked Terrell Davis these questions during his press availability, just a few hours before he received his gold jacket. Davis paused and took a deep breath. He shook his head, struggling to find words. His father, Joe, died of Lupus when Terrell was just 14 years old. “Y’all are trying to take me there,” Terrell said, fighting back tears. “I hope my dad would say he is proud. That’s it. I grew up with my dad and I just want to play for him, you know?”

Terrell’s bloodshot eyes marked the start of an emotional weekend for the former Broncos running back, and for the rest of the Hall of Fame Class of 2017. The enshrinees spoke to the media on Friday afternoon and reflected on how far they’d come over their careers and how many editions of their speech they’ve written. Here are some highlights of what the newest crop of Hall of Famers had to say.

THE MMQB: Have you had a wow moment yet this weekend?

KURT WARNER: The awe moment with all of this, is to realize these guys that you tried to emulate, that you grew up watching, that were your heroes growing up, they actually know your story. You come into this and you feel like, I don’t really think that I belong, I don’t belong in this room. But then these guys come up to you and tell you what your career meant to them—guys that you tried to be like. It’s hard to put that into words and I think that is the awe part of it. When you don’t understand how you fit in, and people start to tell you how you impacted them, it starts to sink in. Oh, I guess that’s why I am here. It’s not only fans and people watching, but guys that did it as well as anybody has ever done it, and maybe even before you that were inspired.

KENNY EASLEY: It’s been a big hug fest. That’s the thing about these Hall of Famers, when you make it to this level, whether you deserved it or not, to these guys it doesn’t matter. You’re here. And they hug you hard, because they are so happy you are here. That’s the thing that has been most interesting to me, guys who have been in the Hall of Fame for 30 years will walk up to me and say, Are you Kenny Easley? And I say, Yeah, and they will give me a bear hug, like, I’m glad to see you. And I really didn’t expect it! I really didn’t expect from the guys who have been here for a long time, I expected them to be standoffish, but it’s not like that. It’s like, We’ve been waiting for you.

JASON TAYLOR: Walking that gauntlet yesterday at the Hall of Fame game seemed like a mile and a half, walking across that football field. I remember I stood on that field for the Hall of Fame games I played in, and I watched those guys walk, never did I think that I would one day make that walk. It’s pretty crazy.

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THE MMQB: What was the lowest point in your football life, a time when you would never have expected you’d end up in the Hall of Fame?

TAYLOR: In 1992, when I first got to Akron, as a homeschooled kid, the NCAA pulled my scholarship and declared me ineligible. I had to leave school, so that was probably the low point. I thought I wouldn’t have a chance to play college football and I certainly couldn’t pay to go to school. That was certainly the low point.

LADAINIAN TOMLINSON: I was always a pretty good athlete, and one of those fast kids, faster than most of the kids my age. But when I was in the sixth grade, I broke my foot, and I lost of a lot of my skills. I really was depressed at that point. I couldn’t play football that season, and when I came back the next season, I was no longer a starter. I was basically a guy sitting on the bench, just cheering for my teammates. So, certainly at that point, you are like, Man, I used to be this good athlete and was out there playing and now I don’t get a chance to play much anymore. You doubt yourself, even if you are going to be good enough to play in high school.

DAVIS: There were a few points, but the first one was when I lost my dad. When I lost my dad, I quit playing football. There was no way I saw myself here when that happened. That’s one. I mean, that would be it.

MORTEN ANDERSEN: I never thought I would be here, honestly. That was never on my radar screen. My most important thing was, How can I get better? Because next year there are going to be guys younger than me, cheaper than me and maybe close to being as good as I am, and they want my job. There are 32 jobs of what I did in the world. There are no backups; it’s not like a linemen where you have backups. This was it. You have 32 jobs, so job security was paramount for me. And the only way I knew how to do that was to be as good as I could be every single year so that it was undeniable. They had to keep me, no matter what the salary situation was. This is our best option at this position. They can slide that nameplate in and out of those lockers really, really fast.

THE MMQB: When you see the latest report about CTE having been found in 110 of 111 deceased NFL players who donated their brains for research, how do you feel? Are you concerned for your own future?

DAVIS: I can’t lie. We’re all scared, we’re all concerned. We don’t know what the future holds. When I’m at home and I do something and I forget something, I have to stop and think, Is this because I am getting older? Or am I just not using my brain? Or is this an effect of playing football? I don’t know that. Yeah, I’m scared. I try to stay as active as possible and try to keep my mind as sharp as possible. I also know that the game has gone through great lengths to change the game from Pop Warner to the pros. People ask me the question, Would you let your kids play football? It’s like, yeah, I will. Now, 10 years ago, I may have said something different, but now the way they are teaching kids to tackle, the fact that they identify concussions a lot faster, they sit you out of plays, you don’t practice as long, all that stuff is helping the game of football. But back to your question, yes, I’m concerned.

TAYLOR: Yeah, the research is out there. The data, however it is collected or disseminated, is still real. The effects of this game are real. It is a very violent and physical sport. In coaching now I tell people, there is a 100 percent chance you are going to get hurt playing this game. Whether it be banging a finger or something worse. We take that risk in playing this game. We appreciate the things they are doing to try to make it safer. You want to continue to make this game as safe as you can, regulating practice and structure around preparing for Sundays. Sundays, you can’t stop violence, it is a tough game. So am I concerned? Sure. You have to be. I played with teammates, a former teammate of mine, a Hall of Famer that is no longer with us [Junior Seau] because of some of those things, and that’s really hard.

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THE MMQB: How many drafts of your speech did you write? What will it be about?

WARNER: You’ve got to wait for that one. I’m not giving anything away. It was just one constantly moving draft. I took a long time before I even started my speech. I had ideas, I had thoughts, and I wanted to shape my thinking before I started writing it on paper. But then once I wrote it down on paper, there were a number of drafts. I would take it paragraph by paragraph, point by point, and I would just try to shape it. One part that they kept telling me was make it shorter, make it shorter, so I had to try to cut things out. It was about getting the wording right more than anything. From when I first laid it out, the primary structure is the same, but how it is being said now is a little bit different. Even though I started late, I put a lot of time into it. I really went over it and thought about it and prayed about it. More importantly for me, even than thanking the right people, is sharing the right message. This is going to be my last moment, so to speak, on this kind of stage. I want to share the right message that goes along with the entire journey.

ANDERSEN: I wrote two or three drafts. I wrote the speech over a period of the summer. I started in June, and I spent a couple months on it. It’s going to be about, if I account for crying and maybe a smattering of applause here and there . . . we are under 15 minutes, so I feel pretty confident I can land the plane in 14 minutes.

TOMLINSON: [My speech will be about] family history and what my last name means to me, and how important it is to me and my family to have this legacy in Canton . . . [I’ve been] doing it in front of the mirror, standing up, speaking, looking in the mirror speaking. But of course I work in the studio all the time, so I have that experience. But for me it is about driving home some of the stories I really want to tell and have that emotional impact, for people to understand where my feelings are coming through.

JERRY JONES: You’re all going to be—knowing me and the times we’ve interviewed—you’re going to be pleasantly surprised.

THE MMQB: Terrell, you were a Hall of Fame finalist for three years, and there was debate over whether your three best seasons were enough to qualify you for the Hall. Do you think that your inclusion will have an impact on other guys who have short careers?

DAVIS: I hope so, because for me, Gale Sayers was that guy, that everybody compared me to. Now, the precedent is set. The voters are now looking at careers and the quality of it, not necessarily how long you have played, which is a great thing for the Hall of Fame. It should be based off quality, how well you played while you were playing. Priest Holmes was nice, Priest was nice, and he’s never talked about. The injuries didn’t help, but you look at the numbers, and I think they are comparable to mine. Not necessarily the postseason numbers. I certainly hope so, I like Priest. I root for him and hopefully one day he will be wearing that gold jacket too.

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THE MMQB: Kurt, will you address St. Louis Rams fans who are still your fan, but no longer Rams fans?

WARNER: I’m not necessarily going to address it in my speech. I think for me, there are so many people and so many fan bases and so many groups that went into me getting here. Hopefully in other opportunities I will get a chance; up to this point I have tried to do that. I think for me, [the speech] is more about being inclusive with everybody and letting everybody know as a whole, their part in this. It wasn’t necessarily one person or one group or one team more than another . . . the fans in St. Louis were instrumental to where I’m at, to where my family is, and how much we love that community. Those things I am going to try to stay away from, because I think there is a time and a place for all of that, and I think St. Louis knows how much they meant to us.

THE MMQB: LaDainian, what does it mean to you to be going into the Hall as a San Diego Charger?

TOMLINSON: When you think about the history of the organization and 56 years in San Diego, it’s pretty significant. At the luncheon we just had, seeing Ron Mix and Kellen Winslow and Dan Fouts, and guys like that, and being welcomed in at the luncheon as another San Diego Charger that is here. I’m honored, emotions are really starting to run crazy, but I’m so happy I get this opportunity.

THE MMQB: Jerry, what lessons have you learned in your time as owner of the Cowboys?

JONES: There’s no short list. I underestimated how hard it is to win ball games. I had spent a lot of my life in the discipline of business and you can be very successful in business, tremendously successful, and you can come in 15th or 20th, and you can get a lot done and take care of your family, and get a lot of pat on the backs. In our game, in the NFL, you stay out of the one hole very often and you don’t get a lot of credit, that’s the Super Bowl. So the bottom line is, it’s tough. You guys have heard it described a lot of ways, but that really creates a challenge. I believe in driving across the lake, rather than laying up and shooting straight to the hole. And you get your ball in the water a lot of times. Seriously, I am still founded in risk-reward. I like to think my experience has given me better judgment on how much risk to take for the reward. The fallacy there is if you take a huge risk, and the reward wasn’t worth it, that’s not smart. I like to think I can do better with risk and reward. But what I have learned is if you don’t do something that has some risk to it, you will never move, you’ve got to stretch out.

THE MMQB: How would you describe your career in one word?

ANDERSEN: That’s always hard to put one word on it, but . . . long. It’s been a career of will and will winning over all the other characteristics that sometimes come forth. The one single most important thing I’ve had throughout the years, when it didn’t look good, was will. Will to excel and will to do it for as long as I can, at the highest level.

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