Curtis Martin's speech was an emotional show-stopper. (Getty Images)One of the most emotional aspects of any Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech happens when a former NFL great receives his ticket to immortality and thanks those who were most important to his development along the way -- specifically, the parents who taught him the best way to success. For most of the six members of the 2012 HoF class, that was very much the case, and it was a great scene to see the parents of Cortez Kennedy, Willie Roaf and others, beaming up at the stage as their sons remembered just how important they were in the development of great football players -- and quality human beings.
Former Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy had the crowd rolling with laughter at his stories of mother and father.
"To my dad, Joe Harris, you've always been a great balancing factor in my life," Kennedy said. " I can remember not doing my chores right, cutting the yard. I didn't cut the yard right, and you made me cut the grass at 5 a.m. in the dark. You said, 'Do it right the first time, and you won't have to do it again.' I got the point. Don't take the shortcut. But since I'm older, if I would have cut it right in the daytime, what the heck am I going to do in the nighttime? I'm just throwing that out there right now. That don't seem right to me."
Once the laughter died down, "Tez" remembered that his mother was even more formidable. "I'll never forget when you made me quit football my sophomore year for having bad grades," he said. "Do you remember that? My high school football team went to the state championship. My mom sent me a postcard saying, 'Wishing you were here.' I tell you what, that was a turning point in my life, because you know how much I love football. But when you sent me that postcard, it said you wanted me there, you should have took me there. But I understand. You care about me as a son more than a football player. I love you so much."
Willie Roaf's father, a dignified man who inducted his son into the Hall, was remembered with emotion and pride.
"You know, my dad always found time to be a part of my life," the former New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs great said. "A successful dentist with a busy schedule, he drove from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, to every one of my home games in college and my pro career. He only missed one game, and that's because my brother had another game in St. Louis at the same time. He put a lot of miles on his cars, and he didn't sell them. He would overhaul them and get a new motor most of the time. So he put another hundred thousand miles on it when he got done with that hundred."
Curtis Martin, whose family circumstances were more complicated through his youth than could be said of most people, put together a stunning speech in which he revealed the details of a dangerous and tragic childhood.
"I grew up in a pretty bad neighborhood. But the household that I lived in was even worse. I had a father who I love him dearly and he's passed and gone on, but he was my guy before he died. But when I was 5 years old, I remember watching him torture my mother, I mean, literally. I don't necessarily have notes, so I'm going to bare my soul and just bear with me.
"But I remember watching him torture you. He had my mother locked in the bathroom. Had her sitting on the edge of the tub, and he turned on all the hot water and stopped the tub up so that the hot water would eventually flow on her legs. He dared her to move. As the hot water flowed up and started going on her legs and going on her feet and she would flinch a little bit, he would rush into the bathroom, take her hair and burn it with a lighter. He would come back out, watch her some more, she'd move again, and he would go in there with a cigarette and put cigarette burns all over her legs which she still bares to this day. I've seen him beat her up like she was a man. I've seen him throw her down the steps. I've witnessed this woman go to they got a bet on whether I'm going to cry or not. So I'm going to hold it in.
"I've watched my mother get punched in the face, have a black eye and then go to work with makeup on just to support our family. I've watched this. She did everything to raise me and in hindsight when you're a kid and your mother's tough on you, you don't necessarily understand why. I used to think it was because my dad was so tough on her that it would just naturally make her tough on me.
"I heard a saying one time that says, 'Hurt people, hurt people.' And my mother was dealing with so much hurt and pain, and I know that she had to take some of that out somewhere. Mom, I'm so grateful that I was there for you to even take some of that pain out on, because you deserved it.
"By the time I was 5, my dad was gone. My mother, because we couldn't afford it, she would work two and three jobs. She tied a shoe string around my neck with a key and taught me how to come in the house. I'd come from kindergarten and first grade almost for two years and stay in the house by myself till like 9:30, 10 at night, and my mother said it broke her heart every single day walking up those steps. We lived in sort of a low income housing project type environment, and I would always be sitting in that front window because I was scared.
"So I was so petrified of being in the house by myself. I didn't even watch 'Scooby Doo.' I was that scared. The ghosts on "Scooby Doo" scared the heck out of me.
"But my mother made a way for me to start staying in between her and my grandmother. When I was 9, my mother, she walks into my grandmother's bedroom and found her murdered. Found her murdered with a knife in her chest, and her neck was broken and everything, eyes wide open, blood everywhere.
"And for me as a little kid, all the other family, they come in and you hear the whispers from adults as a little kid, and they affect you a certain way. I just heard everyone saying, 'If that happened to me, I would go crazy. I would lose my mind.' For me, crazy was kind of like what my dad was. So in my mind, as a 9-year-old, my mother told me the only thing that got her through that was I came up to her and grabbed her hand and said, 'Mom, are you going crazy?' And she looked down at me and said, 'No. Why do you ask me that?' And I just said, 'Well, that's good because if you go crazy, nobody's going to be here to take care of me.' I'm so grateful to my mother.
"That is the strongest individual that I've ever known, and I appreciate her so much."
Defensive end/linebacker Chris Doleman, who played for the Minnesota Vikings, San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons, illustrated the value of family for those lucky enough to have the right kind of supportive environment.
"Finally and importantly, a friend once asked me what made me smile throughout my career, and that's pretty easy. That's pretty easy. We all play the game for different reasons, but playing the game for the people that you love and care about, your mother and father, John and Mary Lee Doleman, who were there for me and for all of us boys. There were five of us, including myself. Week in, week out, they made many sacrifices. They took us to practice every day. All of us didn't play football. Some of us played basketball and baseball, but they were always there to take us and make sure that not only to drop us off, they sat there and watched practice while we were doing it. And that was before cell phones, so they weren't sitting there on the phone.
"I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart, because I do appreciate the sacrifice and what it takes to get it done. My dad had one rule, if he signed you up for something, you had to finish. He didn't like wasting money, you know? So right there alone taught me the commitment of what it means to make a commitment. I love you both. Thank you for teaching me the importance of finishing what you started. And if it's any indication today, I finished the game I signed up for, and I want to thank everyone for coming out.
"I really appreciate it. Thank you so much."