CANTON, Ohio — Andre Reed delivered the emotion and managed to hook up for one more catch from Jim Kelly on the Pro Football Hall of Fame stage.
And leave it to Michael Strahan and his familiar gap-toothed grin to bring the laughs in closing the ceremony honoring the seven inductees the night of Aug. 2.
The defensive end cracked he was still a little scared of former New York Giants teammate Lawrence Taylor. Strahan singled out former Philadelphia tackle Jon Runyan in the crowd and referred to him as his toughest opponent and “350 pounds of twisted steel and non-sex appeal.”
And Strahan even had a kiss blown to him on stage from Kelly Ripa, his morning TV show co-host. “Thank you, baby,” he said.
Strahan, one of the game’s most dominant pass-rushers, closed the ceremony that ended just before midnight — nearly two hours later than scheduled.
The ceremony went so late that Strahan noted that it was past his bedtime and joked that if the event lasted any longer he and his fellow inductees would be considered the 2015 class.
Also inducted were offensive tackle Walter Jones, linebacker Derrick Brooks, defensive back Aeneas Williams, defensive end Claude Humphrey and Ray Guy, who became the first full-time punter to be selected.
It was Reed, the former Buffalo Bills receiver, who stole the spotlight by closing his induction speech with a poignant surprise.
Turning his back to the crowd, Reed caught a pass from Kelly before sharing a lengthy hug with his former teammate and now fellow Hall of Famer.
It was a fitting finish for a tandem that set a then-NFL record by hooking up 663 times in Buffalo. And it was a moment that paid homage to the quarterback, who has spent the past 14 months battling cancer.
“You taught us not to quit,” Reed said about Kelly. “You have endured a lot in your life. The loss of your son, and most recently your battle with cancer. You’re an inspiration to all you touch.”
Kelly was near tears, and the thousands of Bills fans in the crowd cheered.
Even louder cheers went up when Reed delivered a message to any Bills prospective ownership group having an intention of buying and relocating the franchise. “Oh yeah, and the Bills will stay in Buffalo, too,” Reed said.
The Bills are on the block after founder and Hall of Fame owner Ralph Wilson died in March.
The ceremony began with Brooks, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers star, who was selected for induction in his first year of eligibility, and followed by the 70-year-old Humphrey, who retired after the 1981 season.
“Now they tell me I only had 10 minutes up here, but let me start off by telling you that I’ve waited 30 years to get to this podium, so don’t rush me guys,” said Humphrey, a six-time Pro Bowl selection who split 13 NFL seasons between the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles.
Guy’s wait was nearly as long. The seven-time Pro Bowl selection spent his 14-year career with the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders. At 64, he was selected for induction in his 23rd year of eligibility.
“It’s been long, long overdue, but now the Hall of Fame has a complete team,” said Guy, who had as many as 20 former punters in the crowd to help him celebrate. “To know my legacy will be forever part of pro football history and that my bust will be alongside the greatest athletes of all time, it leaves this old punter speechless.”
Williams livened up the mood late in his speech during which he had one side of Fawcett Stadium chanting: “Begin with the end in mind,” to remind people how important it is to set goals.
And he had the other side chanting: “Die empty,” to remind people to give their all.
It was a fitting message from an eight-time Pro Bowl selection. He was an accounting major at Southern University, who walked on to the football team a week before the start of his junior season.
Selected in the third round of the 1991 draft, he proceeded to split 14 seasons between the Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams. Williams retired after the 2004 season and was selected for induction in his fifth year of eligibility.
“If you would have told me, ‘Aeneas, you have to the potential to be one of the best cornerbacks,’ I would have thought you were crazy and hit you with my right hand,” Williams said. “I’ll just take a moment to soak this all in.”
Brooks, an 11-time Pro Bowl selection, paid tribute to family members, teammates and coaches, from his Pee-Wee playing days to his 14 NFL seasons in Tampa Bay.
He thanked his late mother Geraldine Brooks-Mitchell for instilling humility in him. He referred to former Buccaneers coach Tony Dungy as his mentor. And Brooks thanked Dungy’s successor, Jon Gruden, for helping the Buccaneers believe they could be champions.
It was under Gruden when the Bucs blossomed into Super Bowl winners during the 2002 season in which Brooks earned NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors. “There is no higher place to go in this game, and I thank you guys,” Brooks said.
Jones, a nine-time Pro Bowl selection who spent his 12-year career in Seattle, thanked Seahawks fans for their overwhelming support.
And he was honored to be only the third player who spent their entire careers in Seattle, joining receiver Steve Largent and defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy.
(JOHN WAWROW, AP Sports Writer)