2020 Pro Football Hall of Fame induction takeaways: Steelers Nation takes over, Edgerrin James gets ovation

Table of Contents Steelers Nation takes over Canton Polamalu gets jacket and amazing bust, promotes Hines

CANTON, Ohio — A record 20 former players, coaches and contributors were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in its Class of 2020 on Saturday night after the ceremony was pushed back more than a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Each member received a gold jacket, a bronze bust and a place in football immortality. 

Fans from everywhere packed into Tom Benson Stadium on a relatively cool evening in Northeast Ohio. It was the first of back-to-back Hall of Fame induction nights, as the Class of 2021 is set for Sunday. A majority of the fans were decked out in black and gold, as a slew of Steelers fans made their presence felt throughout the evening. There were also a fair share of Colts, Broncos and Cowboys fans in the stands to cheer on their respective inductees. 

Twelve of the 20 spoke: Troy Polamalu, Cliff Harris, Steve Atwater, Paul Tagliabue, Steve Hutchinson, Donne Shell, Isaac Bruce, Jimbo Covert, Edgerrin James, Harold Carmichael, Jimmy Johnson and Bill Cowher. The other eight — Bobby Dillon, Winston Hill, Alex Karras, Steve Sabol, Duke Slater, Mac Speedie, Ed Sprinkle and George Young — were elected posthumously. 

Here’s a look at some of the most memorable moments from the first of the two induction ceremonies this weekend. 

Steelers Nation takes over Canton 

Three of Saturday nights inductees were former Steelers, so it was that Pittsburgh fans came in droves to Canton to cheer on Bill Cowher, Donnie Shell, and Troy Polamalu. Several other former Steelers made the trip to Canton. The list includes fellow Hall of Famers Mel Blount, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Dermontti Dawson and Rod Woodson. It sounded like the fourth quarter of a playoff game when Polamalu took the stage for his Hall of Fame speech. 

Polamalu gets jacket and amazing bust, promotes Hines Ward

Before the festivities officially kicked off, former Steelers safety Troy Polamalu received his gold jacket in front a partisan Steelers crowd. Polamalu was unable to receive his jacket on Friday night after testing positive for COVID-19 last week. After arriving in Canton after getting medical clearance, Polamalu received the loudest ovation of the night. He also made a point to champion former teammate Hines Ward for Hall of Fame induction. 

Polamalu’s bust was amazing — you can read all about it here. Check it out for yourself. 

The Edge brings down the house 

One of the most well-received speeches of the night was delivered by Edgerrin James, who was humorous and insightful during his time at the podium. James spoke about how he was often stereotyped for his dreadlocks and gold teeth. James said that he remained true to himself while embracing those who accepted him. Of Manning, James said: “We couldn’t have been more different as people, but when we took the field, we connected as brothers.” 

James brought the crowd to its feet near the end of his speech when discussing how to bring the country closer together.

“If you just do your job, the world would be a better place.”

Harold Carmichael’s pitch

The night’s first speaker, former Eagles receiver Harold Carmichael, made his case for Dick Vermeil to receive his Hall of Fame enshrinement. Vermeil, who led the Eagles and Rams to Super Bowl appearances (the Eagles lost Super Bowl XV but his Rams won Super Bowl XXXIV) was on hand to see Carmichael receive his gold jacket. 

Cliff Harris’ inspirational message 

Former Cowboys’ defensive back Cliff Harris capped off his speech by explaining how a former Division II athlete who went undrafted reached the Hall of Fame. A Pro Bowler each of his last seasons, Harris played in five Super Bowls with the Cowboys, winning two. 

The (former) champs are here 

Near the end of his speech, former Broncos safety Steve Atwater asked his former Broncos teammates to stand up. Among the members of the Broncos’ back-to-back Super Bowl championship teams of the late ’90s included John Elway, Terrell Davis, Rod Smith, Bill Romanowski, Mark Schlereth and Neil Smith. 

A quick Walter Payton story 

Jimbo Covert is now the second member of the 1985 Bears’ offense to receive a gold jacket. The first was Walter Payton, who retired as the NFL’s all-time rushing leader. Covert shared one story about Payton, who tragically passed away in 1999. Covert said every player shared a hotel room on the road except for Payton, who still found a way to hang with his former teammates. Covert said that Payton would routinely sneak into Covert and fullback Matt Suey’s room, jump on (a still sleeping) Covert’s bed and say in his high-pitched voice, “Good morning, Sunshine. Time to kick some ass.” 

Johnson’s HOF pitch

Jimmy Johnson lobbied for Zach Thomas and Darren Woodson — pillars of his defenses in Miami and in Dallas — to receive their own bronze busts and gold jackets. Johnson also shared a coaching philosophy that allowed the Cowboys to go from 1-15 to Super Bowl champions in just three years. 

Cowher Power 

The night’s final speaker, Cowher spent a good portion of his speech thanking several people who have passed away: his parents, his first wife, Kaye, former Steelers president Dan Rooney, former Steelers linebacker and 2016 Hall of Fame inductee Kevin Greene, and longtime NFL coach Marty Schottenheimer. Schottenheimer coached, then hired Cowher on his staffs in Cleveland and Kansas City. 

“Thank you coach for doing so much for so many for so long,” Cowher said. “One day you will be in the Hallo of Fame.” 

Best of the rest 

  • Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue echoed James’ sentiments as it relates to listening and learning from today’s athletes. “As Edge [Edgerrin James] put it, don’t speak out until you learn,” he said, via NBC Sports. “Don’t act before you know. The voices of the players need to be heard. They need to be debated. And, and, and they need to be criticized if their views are not well grounded. But listen to the players, because they have a lot to teach all of us.” 
  • The night’s most emotional moment may have occurred when Steve Hutchinson spoke about his six children. While he showed his softer side Saturday night, Hutchinson’s treatment opposing defensive linemen for a dozen seasons resulted in his gold jacket. 
  • Isaac Bruce must have been watching “The Last Dance” when writing his speech. The former Rams wideout channeled his inner Michael Jordan when recalling his previous doubters. 

If you want to read more about each of the 2020 inductees, check out our live blog below to re-live the ceremony: