I'm not one for speeches, especially by personalities I have no real connection to. But if you couldn't feel real emotion as Deion Sanders and Shannon Sharpe spoke on Saturday night at the Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony, I'm afraid you may not be alive. Ahead of the ceremony, many expected Sanders and Sharpe to bring it, and they didn't disappoint.
Throughout each of their careers, Sanders and Sharpe projected a persona to the world. Sanders was Prime Time, the brash cornerback who had no fear and boasted skills on the football field unlike any we'd seen before. Sharpe revolutionized the tight end position while carrying an outspoken demeanor. But all we knew was the image they allowed us to see.
That changed on Saturday night as each delivered a passionate speech from the heart while inviting us into their world, sharing the stories that shaped the people they've become.
"It might comes as a shock, but I like to talk. It's a trait I picked up from my mom and from my brother. A reporter once told me he could hear the tape recorder smiling when I got on a roll. But please don't let the persona overshadow the person."
There's no real time limit on Hall of Fame speeches and Shannon Sharpe showed why. For almost 30 minutes, I hung on every word Sharpe said. And I wasn't alone. It was one of the more beautifully done acceptance speeches, and speeches in general, I've ever seen.
As Sharpe stepped to the podium to deliver his Hall of Fame induction speech on Saturday night, he took viewers through a series of passionate, captivating tales that stretched far beyond football. Sharpe expertly mixed humor with raw emotion, speaking as though he was born to deliver speeches. It was a different side of the NFL great; one we don't see during the small snippets of analysis he typically gives on pre- and post-game shows.
Sharpe invited viewers into his life and home, then made them feel welcome, as if they were a part of his own family. That home -- the small cinder-block dwelling in which he grew up -- wasn't the most pleasant of places, we found out, but it shaped who Sharpe became. As he shared his life experiences, drawing upon moments of poverty that served as motivation, it was hard not to stare in awe, inspired by the words coming out of his mouth.
"I'm the only pro football player that's in the Hall of Fame, and I'm the second-best player in my own family"
Sharpe delivered a tear-jerking moment as heaped praise upon his brother and made an impassioned case for Sterling's inclusion into the Hall of Fame as he stood nearby with tears streaming down his face. It was a moment of humility, of family and of raw emotion that was enough to make grown men cry.
But Sharpe wasn't even getting warmed up. As he began to close his speech, his attention shifted to his grandmother, the woman who raised him and made him the man he is today. He used the platform given to him as a reward for a Hall of Fame career as a way to honor his grandmother and share her story with the world.
"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."
Mary Porter passed away about a month ago and wasn't able to see the grandson she raised enshrined in the Hall of Fame. But in way, she was there. She was there in Sharpe's voice, in the stories he told and in the memories he shared with passion.
Sharpe did bring Mary Porter to life on Saturday, and did so in a wonderful way. From recalling the sacrifices it took to raise nine of her own kids and three of Sharpe's mothers to telling stories about the poverty the family lived in at times and how those experiences created a hunger, Sharpe honored Mrs. Mary Potter.
I walked away from Sharpe's speech feeling as though I knew his grandmother. And I walked away feeling as though I knew Shannon Sharpe the person -- where he comes from, the struggle he's been through and what drives him to be a successful man -- not just Shannon Sharpe the Hall of Fame football player.
For many of the same reasons, Deion Sanders' speech was just as special. Both are superb orators and storytellers, and it showed on Saturday night. Where Sharpe focused on his grandmother, Sanders spent the majority of his time speaking about his mother, and how she molded him into Prime.
Prime Time is what we know Sanders as. By his own doing, Sanders became Prime, and embraced that side of his personality throughout his career. But we didn't know where the Prime Time persona came from or why Sanders adopted the demeanor that shaped the dynamic, Hall of Fame player he was.
Sanders was personable as always, bouncing between thanking Ice Cube and Snoop, and reminiscing about his upbringing. But as he wove stories as only he can, he shared his own tales of struggle and triumph, with a heavy emphasis on his mother. As the camera panned between Sanders and his mother, Connie Knight, both fought back tears.
At one point in his life, he was ashamed of his mother, who worked in a hospital to give him everything he wanted and needed while his friends came from affluent families filled with doctors and lawyers. It was only later in life that he appreciated the work she did to provide for him.
"But when you talked about me, media, guess what? Behind you, I saw my mama. When you told me what I couldn't do; When you told me what I didn't do;. When you told me what I'd never be; I saw my mama pushing that cart."
It was his mother who lit the fire that create Prime Time. Just as Sharpe fought to give his grandmother everything she wanted, Sanders did the same for his own mother. He set out to change the game, to turn the defensive back job into something more and to earn quarterback wages working as a dynamic corner and return-man. And he did it for his mother -- to give her everything she wanted and to ensure she'd never have to work a day in her life.
"Many of my naysayers said, 'You know, Prime didn't tackle' ... Since 1989, I tackled, every bill my mama has ever given me. Haven't. Missed. One. Next time they say Prime didn't tackle, make sure you let 'em know: Yes he did."
From Sanders and Sharpe, it was plain to see the drive it takes to make it in the NFL. It takes a fire, motivation and God-given ability, and both players were working with something more in mind. Each was able to pinpoint individual moments that flicked a switch and served as fuel to the fire that burned within for years to come, eventually resulting in a Hall of Fame NFL career.
Normally, I'd barely bat an eyelash at Hall of Fame speeches. The last I remember watching and connecting with was Dave Niehaus' speech, which I had a real, vested interest in as a Seattle native who grew up with his voice. On Saturday night, I felt like I had a connection with Sanders and Sharpe after each opened up and shared tales of their youth and family life. Those upbringings shaped who they became, both on and off the field, and added a human element to the persona each has portrayed.
Mary Potter and Connie Knight should be proud of the boys they raised, the players those boys developed into and the well-spoken men who were enshrined among the NFL greats on Saturday evening. And we all should be thankful they shared their stories in a passionate, articulate way during the crowning moment of their careers.
If you missed the Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony, you can view video of Sharpe's speech here and Sanders' speech here. Also be sure to check out our recap of Ed Sabol's speech and presentation, which includes a link to his amazing final project for NFL Films.