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Curtis Martin almost told Bill Parcells no. As intimidating as Parcells can be, it was nothing compared to the kind of adversity Martin faced growing up amid the crumbling neighborhoods of inner city Pittsburgh. Martin, of course, agreed to Parcells' offer to join the New England Patriots, though more out of a sense of duty to himself and his family than a love for the game itself.
Martin's admission that football had never been a true passion left some fans scratching their heads, or even frustrated that he would make such a confession the center of his induction speech into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Football would seem insignificant to someone who watched his father torture his mother, had his beloved grandmother murdered in his own house and was almost killed himself, saved only by a misfire.
The league's fourth all-time leading rusher started playing football at his mother's urging. "'I want you to do something after school so that you're not in this neighborhood 24 hours a day,'" Martin recounted his mother telling him. He weighed his options, deciding against baseball because of the hot summers and basketball because he figured that he would max out at 6-foot. That left football.
Martin's career took off, and soon enough college recruiters scrambled to lure him to their schools. He chose Pitt because it was close to his home. Bill Parcells chose him in April of 1995. Martin was reticent about the decision to play because football until that point had just been something he did, not a passion.
That started to change when he joined Parcells in New England. Parcells became the first father figure in Martin's life, and when the coach left New England for the New York Jets, it was Martin that persuaded Parcells to bring him along.
"He was a staple of our offense," Parcells said. "He had an ability to elude contact, and I think that's part of the longevity factor."
Martin also pointed to the experience of his grandmother's murder.
"When I think about the fear that must have been in my grandmother's heart the whole time they were robbing her, it's almost like, I'll tell you, that was something that drove me my whole career, because that's what kept me fearless," Martin said.
Under Parcells' wing, Martin flourished. At one point in his speech he called his former coach his "consigliere," the man who gave him advice about the game and life. Parcells was more guarded in his remarks, but the mutual admiration unique to such a deep relationship was still there.
"He has tremendous compassion for his fellow man," Parcells said. "He's the poster child for what the NFL is supposed to be. Tonight the game is telling you that you belong among the very elite that have ever played."
Martin summed up his career in the most fitting way imaginable for a player who opened with his confession.
"It's not about what you achieve in life, but who you become during the process of those achievements that matters the most," Martin said.
Dermontti Dawson's former high school coach, Steve Parker, misidentified his player the first time he met him in the hallway of their high school. Parker thought he was adult. In a more recent assessment, Parker identified him as the greatest center in professional football.
The former proved to be a fateful moment.
"If not for Coach Parker," Dawson revealed, "I never would have played football. I want to thank Coach Parker for having confidence in me.
After high school, Dawson went on to play at the University of Kentucky. The Pittsburgh Steelers plucked the former Wildcat out of the second round of the 1988 NFL Draft. After spending a year at guard, he moved into the middle in his second season.
"He could make a bad step and still make a great block," Parker said of his former player. "Watching him develop in college and in the pros, I can say he is the best player to ever play the game."
Dawson had to be the best. He took over the center job for the Pittsburgh Steelers from Hall of Famer Mike Webster. Anything less than the best, and he would have been just another lineman.
Over the course of his 13-year career, Dawson made seven Pro Bowl appearances. He was a starter in six of his Pro Bowl appearances. Perhaps most amazing of all is the fact that Dawson played all 16 games for 10 straight seasons in Pittsburgh.
"Being a Steeler meant being a blue collar worker with an unwavering commitment to excellence," Dawson said. "I hope I made Steeler nation proud."
Dawson went further, explaining his own personal ethos that says more than anything about why he was at the podium in Canton on Saturday night.
"Do everything with a purpose," Dawson said. "Live, act, play and work with a purpose, with a passion and more importantly with honor."
For more on the Steelers, check out Behind the Steel Curtain.
Cortez Kennedy's father used to make him cut the grass at 5 a.m., part of a lesson in "doing it right." His mom made young Cortez quit football his sophomore season because of his grades. They went to the state championship. She sent him a postcard that said "Wish you were here."
The former Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle opened his Hall of Fame induction speech with those two anecdotes, origin stories fitting for one of the game's most dominant defensive linemen who stood out out for a struggling team. Kennedy deftly and sincerely turned those lessons in humility and hard work into one of the more entertaining speeches Canton audiences have seen in a long time.
Seattle had two winning seasons during Kennedy's 11-year career there. In 1992, he was named the Defensive MVP after recording 14 sacks and 92 tackles ... on a team that went 2-14. Kennedy spent his entire career in Seattle, a situation that would have a number of players would be begging for a bus ticket out of town. It was just another lesson in dedication for Kennedy.
Lighthearted and funny, Kennedy filled his speech with even more stories from his playing days, ranging from his junior college coach begging the one-time pizza delivery boy to eat as many pizzas as he could in order to bulk up, to changing his playing number in honor of Jerome Brown. The anecdotes belied the sincerity of man who was truly grateful for everything and everyone in his life.
Kennedy is only the second player from the Seahawks to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. He made the Pro Bowl eight times during his 11 seasons there.
Kennedy finished his career with 58 sacks and 668 total tackles. He even scored a touchdown in 1998.
Check out his opening lesson about lawn mowing in the video below.
For more on the Seahawks, check out Field Gulls.
Chris Doleman carried a brief case to work. Not an unusual move for someone that works in a corner office, but Doleman's corner office was on the outside of the Minnesota Vikings defensive line, until the center snapped the ball and his office relocated to the pocket.
One of the most dominant defensive ends to play the game, Doleman actually started out as a linebacker -- a middle linebacker -- before the team moved him to the outside. It was a move that hearkened back to the start of his football days at eight-years-old. Doleman's first goal was to be a starter. From there it was to be the best, regardless of what position he played.
Thank yous took up the bulk of Doleman's speech. He ran through a long list of former teammates, coaches, friends, businesses and business associates. He thanked his two children three times, and his remarks revealed just how important his family was to his personal and professional life, even when it came to choosing a college.
With offers from a number of schools, Doleman opted for the University of Pittsburgh so that his parents could come and watch him play.
Aside from the long list of people to thank, Doleman did take a moment to recognize what it was that brought him to Canton this weekend.
"Anything you want in life you can get through sacks," he said.
Former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back Jack Butler shushed the Steelers faithful in order to get his 2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame speech started.
"That's enough," Butler said, before getting down to business in the only way a man of ilk could. A member of the All-Decade team for the 1950s, Butler had a knack for pulling the ball out of the air at a time when the forward pass was not the preferred method of moving the ball.
The interceptions should have come easy for him; he was also a wide receiver. Butler can claim to be one of three players in the history of the league with four interceptions returned for a touchdown and four receiving touchdowns. Not bad for a guy who did not even play high school football.
"I was born with a talent to play football and the motivation to become the best player I could," Butler said. "I was also fortunate enough to play in the great city of champions, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania."
For Butler, being on the stage in Canton was the fulfillment of a great career.
"I never envisioned being here in Canton," he said. "This is the highest honor i've achieved in my pro career ... heck, I'm thankful I'm here."
For more on the Steelers, visit Behind the Steel Curtain.
Willie Roaf was up front about the fact that he might not make it through his Hall of Fame induction speech with dry eyes. The audience didn't make it past the introductory video for the 13-year veteran, as his father beamed with pride at his son's achievement.
"Normally, the father is the hero to the son," the elder Roaf explained as he choked back the emotion. "But in the this case, the son is the hero to the father."
At the podium wearing his gold jacket, Roaf thanked his father, explaining the time and dedication he put into supporting his son's passion. He drove all over Arkansas and beyond, taking his son to games until the car gave out and his dad would overhaul the machine rather than get a new one.
Louisiana Tech was the only school to give Roaf a scholarship, and he was glad to take it. From there the New Orleans Saints gave him his start, taking him with the eighth overall pick in the 1993 draft. He started 16 games as a rookie, and spent the next nine seasons with the Saints.
"I will be forever thankful to the Saints for drafting me," Roaf said.
Roaf made the first of 11 Pro Bowls in his second season in the NFL. He was named to the All-Decade team of the 1990s as well as the 2000s. An injury in 2001 looked like it would end his career. Kansas City gave him another shot, and he made the Pro Bowl in each of his four seasons there before hanging it up in 2005.
"They called me Gilligan's Island," Roaf confessed. "Because I could block the best by myself.
"I didn't get singled out very often," Roaf said. "When I did it was usually by a referee saying 'holding' ... and that didn't happen very often."
Roaf's mother, the first African-American woman on the Arkansas Supreme Court, passed away before she could see him inducted into the Hall of Fame.
"I know you're proud of me and that's what matters to me the most," Roaf said to his late mother.
Minnesota Viking great Chris Doleman will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame will induct six players for the class of 2012 on Saturday. Fans should welcome the opportunity to experience the game's roots.
Former New Orleans Saints great Willie Roaf will be inducted into the NFL Hall Of Fame on Saturday afternoon.
Former Pittsburgh Steelers great, cornerback Jack Butler, will be inducted into the NFL Hall Of Fame on Saturday afternoon.
Former Seattle Seahawks great, defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy, will be inducted into the NFL Hall Of Fame on Saturday afternoon.
Former New York Jets great, running back Curtis Martin, will be inducted into the NFL Hall Of Fame on Saturday afternoon.
The 2012 NFL Hall Of Fame induction ceremony takes play on Saturday afternoon, with festivities beginning as early as 8 a.m. with the Timken Grand Parade and the Class of 2012 Enshrinement Ceremony beginning at 6 p.m. ET. The NFL will induct six more players to their prestigious Hall Of Fame, with the 2012 class being heavy on lineman.
Jack Butler, Dermontti Dawson, Chris Doleman, Cortez Kennedy, Curtis Martin and Willie Roaf will all have their busts added to the halls in Canton, Ohio, as recognition for their great play in the NFL.
For a complete schedule of events, check out the Pro Football Hall of Fame website.
Saturday's enshrinement ceremony will be broadcast on the NFL Network, starting at 7 p.m. ET. Coverage of the event begins at 4 p.m. that day on the NFL Network.
Follow all the Hall of Fame festivities, from the induction ceremony to the game, on SB Nation's NFL hub.