Gary Brown: Recalling the words of John Madden

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Gary Brown
Gary Brown

The late John Madden once said his enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, in 2006 in Canton, was "the sweetest ride of them all."

And, according to reminiscing done on the website of the Hall following Madden's death late last year, the NFL coach-turned-pro-football-broadcaster was a frequent rider in the sport, who often in interviews called himself the "luckiest guy in the world."

"I've been in football all my life."

Since it is the site of the Hall of Fame, Canton's connections to Madden are many, of course. As do a host of the Hall's past enshrinees, Madden returned frequently to participate in subsequent enshrinements, sitting in support of any given year's chosen stars, listening to the words they spoke at their moments of glory.

"I just wanted to take this first moment just to make a memory and say how special this feeling is," he said near the beginning of his own enshrinement speech in 2006, thanking the people of the city who put on the enshrinement, the parade, and the exhibition game, as well as a multitude of other festival-related events.

The location of the enshrinement was appropriate, he said.

"This is a celebration of football. When you celebrate pro football, it has to be here in Canton, Ohio, because this is where the NFL started."

Knew the history of the game

Madden's words that day at his enshrinement proved he was a student of the game, knowledgeable both about its strategy and its history.

"The Hall of Famers behind me, that's what it's all about," he said in his speech. "I was reading the NFL stats and history book. That's what you do when you ride a bus. When you don't fly, you read old thick books like that. But they had a chapter on history. The first page in the chapter of history was a list of the Hall of Famers. I said, 'That's right, they got it.' That is our history."

The men who played football in the early days of the sport "didn't have face masks," he noted. "They had leather helmets." Players performed in "smaller stadiums," he recalled, and "didn't have anything" close to to the equipment available to participants of today.

"They laid the foundation for this great game, and we should never forget it," Madden told the enshrinement crowd of 19,000 gathered at what then was called Fawcett Stadium, but now is Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. "I say the NFL teams, you ought to honor your history more. Sometimes we tend to get caught up in the players, the games now. Honor your history. Bring back the Hall of Famers, bring back their teammates. Let the fans show their appreciation to the history."

Madden said he was proud to go into the hall with the his class of players, which included Harry Carson, Rayfield Wright, Warren Moon, Reggie White and Troy Aikman.

"We're always going to be connected with each other. We'll always be the Class of 2006."

Madden's most memorable words

Madden talked about the immortality of being chosen for enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.

"We always talk about immortality. Some of us think maybe we will be immortal, that we'll live forever. When you really think about it, we're not going to be," Madden said in his speech. "But I say this, and this is overwhelming, mind-blowing, that through this bust, with these guys, in that Hall, we will be forever."

Madden asked the crowd to "stay with me a moment on this one" when he proceeded with his words. He predicted that some listening would think "there is old Madden being goofy again." Still, he said, "the more I think about it, the more I think it's true."

"Now I know it's true and I believe it," he said. "Here is the deal: I think over in the Hall of Fame, that during the day, the people go through, they look at everything. At night, there's a time when they all leave. All the fans and all the visitors leave the Hall of Fame. Then there's just the workers. Then the workers start to leave. It gets down to there's just one person. That person turns out the light, locks the door."

Then, Madden said, "I believe that the busts talk to each other."

"I can't wait for that conversation, I really can't. Vince Lombardi, Knute Rockne, Reggie, Walter Payton, all my ex-players, we'll be there forever and ever and ever talking about whatever. That's what I believe. That's what I think is going to happen, and no one's ever going to talk me out of that."

Reach Gary at On Twitter: @gbrownREP

This article originally appeared on The Repository: Gary Brown: Recalling the words of John Madden

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