The 2011 Pro Football Hall of Fame class includes three players of particular local interest: Atlanta Falcons star Deion Sanders, Atlanta native Richard Dent of the Bears and Shannon Sharpe of the Broncos and Ravens, who grew up in south Georgia's Tattnall County and played at Savannah State, where he was one of the best players in SIAC history.
Sharpe looked ready to cry before even taking the podium, and had already spoken through a cracking voice while being interviewed before the event even began. He made it through his speech without breaking, and it will likely go down as the highlight of the night.
Transcribing an emotional Shannon Sharpe literally sounds like the hardest typing-related activity that could ever possibly be undertaken. I gave it my best shot, and here is that, including a shout out to his eventual Super Bowl opponent Dan Reeves. It's not perfect, but it's your best option for right now:
Thank you everyone. The people from the Hall tell me I only have eight to 10 minutes to do this. No chance.
First, I'd like to thank the 44 men and women that deemed my play on the field worthy of this honor. Also the city of Canton and the Hall itself. Your efforts are appreciated.
I keep telling myself I'm not going to get emotional. I know that's going to happen. I'm proud and excited where my NFL journey has taken me and my family. 2121 George Halas Drive, Canton, Ohio.
I'm humbled to be joining such an elite fraternity. I want to congratulate my fellow inductees and recognize the elite seven -- the tight ends who've already been enshrined.
We lost one of our members early last month: John Mackey. My prayers go out to the Mackey family.
All these years later, nothing makes me prouder than when people call me a self-made man. I had a persona as a player: I liked to talk. It's a trait I picked up from my mom and brother. A reporter once told me he could hear the tape recorder smiling when I got on a roll. Don't let the persona overshadow the person. The person knew when it was time to get to work.
People asked me how a person from Glennville, Georgia who went to Savannah State could win three Super Bowls. It's the three D's: dedication, determination and discipline. Don't hope someone gives you an opportunity. Create one for yourself. When I left for Savannah State with two brown grocery bags filled with my belongings, nothing was going to keep me from my dreams. You may not know this: I was never supposed to be a Hall of Famer or a tight end.
I'm here today for a lot of reasons. Some have nothing to do with me and everything to do with the patience of people.
[Thanks high school remedial reading teacher, jokes about remedial reading class.]
William Hall. My high school football coach, track coach and driver's ed teacher. Coach Hall's been coaching for 50-plus years, and he's still coaching. He drives 65 miles one way to get to school. Thanks, coach Hall, for all your wisdom, guidance, understanding that you've given me over those years. Hopefully all those miles seem worth it today.
These people have something in common. They believed in me, and so did my first NFL coach Dan Reeves, who somehow forgot to cut me. Our last preseason game my rookie year, we played the Cardinals. One of the coaches told me my name was on the board to be cut. He said, "If you play, play really hard so you'll have something on tape so someone else can say, 'this guy can play.'"
It started to rain, so I knew we wouldn't throw the ball. I played on special teams and got 20 offensive plays. Had 12 knockdown blocks. I was cutting everything that moved. My name was off the board. I made it.
I'd also like to thank Wade Phillips, our defensive coordinator at the time. He said, "Dan, let's put him in the game. We can't cover him."
[Thanks coaches, coordinators, owners and fans.]
To all my former teammates at Glennville High, Savannah State, Denver and Baltimore, hopefully you enjoyed me as much as I enjoyed you. Of course, there's my great friend John Elway. His place in these halls tells you what kind of player he was. I want to tell you what kind of man he is.
Not only did he embrace me, he chose me as his go-to guy. They put me in motion the entire game. As I motioned past John, he'd tell me what I had to do.
"Block the end. Block the linebacker. Run an out."
We won the game. Instead of being angry with me, he said, "I think next week we need to learn the plays."
I know I wouldn't be here without my family. [Thanks three children, mother.]
I was the first kid in Glennville to have a Mickey Mouse watch, Air Jordans and a Walkman. Whatever I asked for, I got. Sterling and I forgive you for those all-white suits you bought for Easter that made us look like John Travolta.
To my brother Sterling: I'm the only player that's walked through this building that can say he's the second-best player in his own family.
[Long applause for a teary Sterling Sharpe.]
Had fate dealt you a different hand, we would've been the first brothers to be elected to the Hall of Fame. All I do is ask in the humblest way I know: the next time you go in that room, look at Sterling Sharpe's accomplishments for a seven-year period. That's all I ask. Think about Sterling Sharpe's numbers for seven years.
Sterling, you're my hero, father figure and my role model. You taught me everything I know about life. I never lived in your shadow -- I embraced it. [Thanks sister Libby.]
Last but not least, I think this is where I get emotional. My Granny. The guy that did this bust went to school for that. He's trained to bring clay to life. It's my turn to bring Mary Porter to life with my voice. It's time for me to give Mary Porter a face for all those that don't know who she is.
What do you say about a person that gave you everything but life? How do you say thank you, Granny, for a woman that raises nine of her kids and your mom's three? My grandmother was a simple woman. She wanted to go to church every Sunday. Be in Bible study every Wednesday. The other days she wanted to be on a fishing creek. It was my brother's and my job to make sure she could do that.
My only regret: I never told my grandmother how much she meant to me. I wanted to be so much like my brother that, when I went to college, my first college girlfriend looked exactly like his.
I remember getting ready to go to college. My grandmother never got out of bed when I was getting ready to leave for school -- she never told me not to drink, to go to class. She had laid that foundation for 18 years. A 10-minute speech wasn't going to work now.
One of my best friends is Michael Irvin. As I talk to him ... they say you don't know a man's pain unless you walk a mile in his shoes. You'd need to walk 20 years. [Rapid, tumbling, poetic description of living in poverty in a cinderblock house in Glennville, Georgia, which drove him to be successful. It was kind of amazing and I just stopped typing.]
I didn't want my kids to live one hour in the life that I had, let alone a day. I missed recitals and graduations because I was so obsessed with being the best player I could possibly be. I ruined a lot of relationships. I'm not here to apologize. It got them to a life they never would've enjoyed had it not been for that.
My position coach once asked me why I work so hard. "You're not eating. You're in the gym. You study harder, you practice harder, you have more fun." I said, you don't know what it's like to eat raccoon, opossum, squirrel and turtle. I'm not gonna have to eat that when I become an adult.
When I was 12 years old, I told my mom I'd buy her a Mercedes, and I did. When I asked my grandmother, she said she didn't want a car or jewelry. She said she wanted a decent home. Knowing her, I said, "What is a decent home?"
I remember it like yesterday. She said, "I want to go to bed one night, and I want God to let it rain as hard as he can, and I want it to rain all night long and I want to wake up and not be wet."
I remember those days of putting Kroger sacks on the bed so they wouldn't get wet. Putting pots and pans on the floor to catch the rain. All she wanted was a house that wouldn't leak. From two boys that's making millions. That's what drove Shannon. That's what got me here.
My sister called me and said, "Shannon, she's gone." I'm driving and I've got my headphones on. Trying to gather what I'm gonna say when I see my grandmother in that casket.
When my grandfather died, I missed one day of school: the day of the funeral. My grandmother didn't believe in that. As my grandmother was laying in that casket, I walked over to her and I asked her two things.
I said, "Granny, am I the man you thought I would be when you got on the train to Chicago and came to get me at three months." I could see her smiling. Then I asked her, "Are you proud of your baby?"
I know my grandmother's proud. I know my family's proud.
This day means so much to me because I get to share it with that guy right there. [Points at Shannon.] You'll never know. When you put that jacket on me, there's two people in this world knew what we felt. We felt it at the same time. I'm so honored to be a part of this. Deacon Jones once said that everybody in this room could catch everybody that's in this room.
Thank you for allowing me to share 14 minutes and 23 seconds of your time.
For more on this year's other finalists and inductees, visit the 2011 Pro Football Hall of Fame StoryStream at SB Nation's NFL hub. For more Falcons, join The Falcoholic.