CANTON, Ohio — Being part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s class of 2022 has special — and painful — meaning for former San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Bryant Young. It is an emotional reminder of his son Colby, who died of cancer on October 11, 2016. Colby’s favorite song, his father said during his inaugural address Saturday afternoon at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, was 22.
“In this, my 10th year of eligibility, I’m entering the Hall as a member of this ’22,” Young said in a cracking voice. “2022. Twenty-two.”
Young’s voice broke even more when he spoke of how bravely his son, who was diagnosed at age 13 in 2014, handled the news after being told in 2016 that the cancer had spread and the treatments were no longer working.
It was a powerful moment that caused the audience to give Young a standing ovation.
“Colby sensed where it was going,” Young said. “He was not so afraid of death as of the dying process. Would it be painful? Would he be remembered?
“Colby… you live on in our hearts. … We will always pronounce your name.’
Young’s speech was the most moving moment of the afternoon. Joining Young in the Hall are offensive tackle Tony Boselli, receiver Cliff Branch, safety LeRoy Butler, official Art McNally, linebacker Sam Mills, defensive lineman Richard Seymour and coach Dick Vermeil.
Young was a four-time Pro Bowler, two-time First-team All-Pro, and member of the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 1990s. He was also the 1999 NFL Comeback Player of the Year after leading the 49ers with 11 sacks to go along with 20 quarterback pressures on his return from a broken leg.
Boselli was a five-time Pro Bowler, three-time All-Pro, and member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1990s before his career was cut short by a shoulder injury. He was the first choice in 1995 Jacksonville Jaguars history (second overall) and is the first player in franchise history to be elected to the Hall of Fame.
He summed up that honor with the first four words he spoke: “Well, this is great.
“…It is a great honor to be the first Jacksonville Jaguar to be welcomed as a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
Branch, who died on August 3, 2019, won three Super Bowls in his 14-year career with the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders. He was a three-time first-team All-Pro and a four-time Pro Bowler. His sister, Elaine Anderson, spoke on his behalf, saying she felt her brother was here in spirit, along with two other Raiders Hall of Famers.
“Today is bittersweet because we miss our beloved Clifford and sweet because it is now history,” she said. “I want to tell you there is a sweet spirit in this place today. Our Clifford, No. 21, wouldn’t miss his anchoring for nothing. He longed for this day and 21 sits front and center with Al Davis and John Madden .”
Butler played 12 seasons at Green Bay, won a Super Bowl and was a four-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro. A member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1990s, he is also credited with creating one of the most iconic touchdown celebrations in NFL history: the Lambeau Leap. He battled foot problems as a kid—they were in braces or casts, and he was wheelchair-bound at times—to play more games than any defense in Green Bay history.
“Playing for the Green Bay Packers opens a lot of doors,” Butler said. “When you win a Super Bowl, all doors open. If you make it to the Hall of Fame, football heaven opens up.”
McNally is the first official to be inducted into the Hall. He is considered the “father of Instant Replay” after the introduction of the replay system to the NFL in 1985, and the Manhattan command center is named after him.
“This is the best thing I need for a civil servant: do the job [and] hopefully no one will know you were alive,” McNally said via video. ‘The calls are made as they should be: with a good dose of common sense.’
Mills began his professional football career in the USFL before signing with the New Orleans Saints in 1986. Despite being only six feet, Mills quickly established himself as one of the league’s top players, making five Pro Bowls and being named All-Pro three times. Mills died of colon cancer in 2005, two years after his diagnosis. His widow, Melanie Mills, said her husband’s motto “Keep Pounding” — which was adopted by the Carolina Panthers after signing as a free agent in 1995 — was something he lived off the field as well.
“He was more than just a great football player,” said Melanie Mills. “He was a father, a friend and a husband, and a leader who always kept knocking, no matter how big the opportunity.
“Keep stomping, everyone. That’s what Sam would like you to do.”
Seymour played eight seasons with the New England Patriots and four with the Oakland Raiders. He made seven Pro Bowls and was voted to the All-Pro team three times. He won three Super Bowls and was a member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 2000s.
“I am overwhelmed with humility today, not because of what this moment says about me, but what this moment says about us and what we can do together,” Seymour said. “I am overwhelmed with gratitude today for not coming here alone. None of us did. None of us could have had it, class of 2022. They say you can judge a man by the companionship he has. couldn’t be with better company than you.
“It is a privilege to have my name forever associated with yours in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
Vermeil, who led the Philadelphia Eagles to a Super Bowl and the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl title, was named the NFL’s Coach of the Year twice by The Sporting News and once by The Associated Press. The man known for his emotions on his sleeve had the longest speech of the day. He spoke for more than 20 minutes and thanked a long list of players, coaches, mentors, friends and relatives.
“I wish I had time to go through everyone,” he said.
Vermeil said the only thing that will make him feel better is the appointment of coaches Mike Holmgren, Dan Reeves, Marty Schottenheimer, Mike Shanahan and Tom Coughlin.
“Believe me, if I deserve it, so will they,” he said.