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Sunday, August 9, 2009
Bruce Smith's Hall of Fame speech


The transcript of Bruce Smith's speech at the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

BRUCE SMITH: This certainly feels like a home game. Thank you, Ted. My God, where has the time gone. As vividly as yesterday I can remember arriving in Buffalo with Andre Reed for my first mini camp in 1985. At the first practice in the middle of May, we noticed dark clouds off at a distance. And within minutes, it began to rain, hail, and snow. After 30 minutes of downpour, the sun began to shine and I thought, what in the hell have I gotten myself into?

I had never seen weather so extreme before in the month of May. And yet the irony of it was it actually mirrored the gamut of emotions that I was experiencing at that time. As a young man of 21, I felt the fear and trepidation of embarking upon new territory. I also felt the weight and expectation that comes along with being the number one draft pick. And yet at the same time, I was thrilled and excited about the prospects of what my new career in the NFL might hold.

Now I've come full circle. By the grace of God, I stand before you today, humble and honored because this induction into the Hall of Fame marks my passage into pro football's immortality. I can't imagine a more fitting time than on this weekend. When the doors of the hall are finally open for Mr. Ralph Wilson.

As an early pioneer, Mr. Wilson's contributions were pivotal in the league's ultimate success. As fans and players, we're all indebted to Mr. Wilson. There couldn't be a more deserving enshrinee. Also the rest of the members of 2009. The presence that have served to remind me of what an honor this truly is. This is a service on behalf of our nation's youth that will ensure that your legacy lives on.

As an African-American kid growing up in the 1960s and '70s in Virginia, I learned early that my parents had many challenges and struggles that they had to overcome. But commitment and strong work ethic, my parents persevered. Together they made a solid and stable home.

My father, George, was a God-fearing man, who believed in family and education. He was strong and courageous, and I aspired to be like him. He didn't tell me what it means to be a man. He showed me by example. I treasure the countless hours I spent with my father hunting in North Carolina and fishing on the Chesapeake Bay, because I knew I was important to my father, I understood my significance in the world. And in the spring of 2000, my beloved father passed away, but his spirit dwells within me always.

My mother was a capable woman who was equally strong. She worked long and serious hours. Though my mother worked outside the of the home, her responsibilities on the home front were never neglected. She still managed to come home every evening and prepare a home cooked meal for us.

With all that she had to do, she was never too tired to nurture and encourage or guidance guide us with her down home Christian values. Her ability to balance work and home so harmoniously is a testament to who she is as a woman.

My sister, Linda, is a kind and loving and generous woman. She and I are ten years apart. But despite our age difference, she was never above spending quality time with her little brother. I always knew I could confide and depend on her. I hope that I am as good an uncle to her sons, Kevin and Robert, as she was a sister to me.

My older brother, George, is a strong and caring man with a great sense of humor, we spent our youth together playing basketball and ping pong. Known as King George in the 757 because he is a 6'9" DJ, I credit him with my appreciation for all kinds of music. George, I am fortunate, indeed, to have you as a brother.

Though it appears that I stand here alone accepting an honor for an individual achievement, nothing could be further from the truth. I feel the presence of men like Cal Davidson and Zeke Avery, my high school football and basketball coach, whose tutelage and dedication helped to mold me in those critical teenage years. In the beginning, I had no desire to play football because my first love was basketball. My agility and speed on the court convinced my coaches and friends like Andre that I would be stellar in football.

After much duress, I surrendered and decided to give it a try. After the first practice I had coaches scouring the inner city field for broken bottles and debris that could potentially harm us. The temperature was hot. It was in the mid 90s. The humidity was high, and the training was rigorous. The first day was a nightmare, the second day I quit.

Cal called my house on that day and spoke with my father. After the conversation my father came and asked me, 'son, why weren't you at practice today? Are you sick? Is something wrong?' I answered 'no, sir. Football is just too hard. It's too hot, and it's too painful. My father gave me a look that I never will forget. And in this baritone voice he said, son, whatever you do in life, don't ever quit.'

My father's words resonated with me. And in that moment, I decided to commit myself to every endeavor. That was one of the defining moments of my life. With us today are a group of high school kids from my alma mater, Booker T. Washington High School. I have the pleasure of serving them with my late brother-in-law, Everett Layton. A coach, a mentor, and dedicated his life to leveling the playing field for young people who start out life with a disadvantage.
As you share this experience with me today, I want you and the kids at home watching to be encouraged inspired, and certain in the knowledge that greatness is within your reach.

You may sometimes feel discouraged by the challenges you face, but never give up. The journey may be difficult, but press on in the face of adversity. Have faith in your capabilities. Set your goals high, and then work diligently, diligently to achieve them. Keep your heads head high, and above all, trust in God. Because all things are possible to those who believe.

During my senior year of high school I received scholarship offers all across the nation in both basketball and football. But at 6'3", 260 pounds, it seemed as if my destiny was already etched out for me. I decided to pursue a scholarship in football. When I was recruited by Virginia Tech, Coach Bill came to visit me. And at that time the Hokies were not known as the football powerhouse that they are today.

But Coach Bill left a lasting impression on me when he said, 'if you come to Tech, you will receive an excellent education. And if you can play, they will find you.'

Coach, you were right. In 1985, the Buffalo Bills selected me as the number one pick in the NFL draft.

I'd like to thank my agent Brig Owens for successfully navigating my transition from tech to the NFL. Representing Virginia Tech today, President Steiger, Coach Frank Beamer, Coach Billy Hite, and other Tech officials. Thank you for your leadership and commitment to making Virginia Tech one of the finest institutions of higher learning in the country. Go Hokies. While attending Virginia Tech, I had a chance to meet a fellow student named Carmen. The moment I laid eyes on her, I knew she was the one for me. I was drawn to her by her beauty and intelligence and class. This God-fearing woman became my wife and the mother of my child.

The morals and values that were instilled in her by her parents, have led her to leave an honorable life. She is charitable, faithful, trustworthy and honest. She's an excellent mother, a gracious hostess, and an exceptional cook. Thank you for your love, support and understanding you've given over the course of our 19-year marriage. I am so blessed to have you as my life's companion.

Alston, my son. The
unconditional love that I have in my heart is like nothing I've ever experienced before. I still remember you as a cute little toddler that would jump into my arms after a long day at practice. And now you're a handsome young man. I am so proud of the respectful, empathetic human being that you've become. The path that you will follow in life is yet unknown. But I know this for sure, that your courage, intelligence, and strength in character will be your guiding compass.

The crowning achievement in my career in terms of statistics occurred when I broke the NFL All-Time sack record while playing for the Washington Redskins. This record of 200 sacks sets the benchmarks for all aspiring pass rushers. To Dan Snyder, I will forever treasure the special relationship that you and I forged when you extended the opportunity for me to play for the Washington Redskins, I am honored by your presence here today. I feel privileged to have the opportunity to play for a team with such a rich heritage. I also want to thank my talented team of doctors who helped me to sustain my 19-year career. Dr. Andrews, Dr. Yochum, and my dear friend Dr. Richard Steadman who is in attendance today.

I'd also like to thank Leigh Steinberg for his handling of my contractual affairs with such skill. In the NFL history, the sum total of my career will forever be defined by the 15 years that I spent playing for the Buffalo Bills.

And what a ride it was. Four consecutive AFC championships. The no-huddle offense. The greatest come back in NFL history. And record-breaking attendance set by the greatest fans in the NFL.

That was the golden era, but our beginnings were more humble. In 1985 we suffered through a 2-14 season. The team failed to improve until 1986 when Mr. Wilson decided to hire Marv Levy as head coach. In his efforts to restructure the team, Mr. Wilson also hired Bill Polian as the new general managers. These two would work in concert to orchestrate one of the greatest teams in NFL history.

Darryl Talley and I were on defense. Jim Kelly and Andre Reed were on offense. And Steve Tasker was in place other special teams. Then Cornelius Bennett, Nate Odomes and Thurman Thomas were added to the roster, and the nucleus of our team was formed.

By 1988, we made it to the playoffs and would go on to be fierce competitors in the postseason for the next seven consecutive seasons.

I and my fellow Bills fans should pay homage to the legendary coaches and teammates who made our success possible. To Marv Levy, my mentor and friend. Your strength and grace as a leader is unparalleled. To Ted Cottrell, my defensive line coach, thank you for making me a well-rounded player and true student of the game. Darryl Talley, my patient friend, who endured horrors of my sleep apnea for ten years as my roommate.

You are the most unselfish player on our team. You never hesitated to sacrifice your own personal statistics for the overall good of the of team, and I thank you.

Andre Reed, we share the second spot, and all of sports history. One day you will be at this podium accepting this great honor. Jim Kelly, the offensive general with the machine gun arm and the linebacker mentality. You are the quintessential quarterback. As much as I admire you as a player, I admire you more as a man.

Thurman Thomas, known to his teammates as Squatty, you undoubtedly are the most complete running back of our era. My life would be a little less bright if I didn't have you to laugh and joke with. P.S. I hid your helmet.

Cornelius Bennett, aka, Biscuit. I've never seen a linebacker so large run with such ease and speed. It was a joy having you as a bookend for all those years.

We had so many talented players and employees in our organization that I would be remiss if I failed to call the names out. Hall of Famer James Hoff. Future Hall of Famer Reuben Brown, Phil Hansen, Ted Washington, John Butler, Chris Moore, Kent Hull, Will Woolford, Thomas Smith, Henry Jones, Jim Richter, Steve Christie, Scott Norwood, Dr. Weiss, Ed Borowski, Dr. Moe's, Hojo, Woody, Scott Berchtold, Jerry Ferrand, Rock Corrie, Wade Phillips, Rusty Jones, and the late Elijah Pitts.

In closing, once again, I'd like to thank you the fans, Mark Gaughan of the Hall of Fame voting committee, and the Hall of Fame voting committee as a whole. I wish to express my love and appreciation to my family and friends who journeyed to Canton to share with me this special moment.

If there were anything that I could share or report that I've learned over the course of my career, it would simply be one's value in life is not determined by accolades or worldly success. One's worth as human beings resides in our willingness to gladly extend ourselves in service to our fellow man. It is in this greater spirit of humanity that I shall carry forward.

Good night, and God bless you all.