The Pro Football Hall of Fame welcomed eight new members on Saturday night in Canton, Ohio, with the inductees sharing emotional stories of the hard work, family support and unbreakable bonds with teammates who helped them reach football immortality.
Much of the emotion centered around the Denver Broncos, with cornerback Champ Bailey entering the Hall as a first-ballot inductee and longtime owner Pat Bowlen being enshrined posthumously, less than two months after his death.
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Bailey, who shares the NFL record among defensive backs with 12 Pro Bowls, credited Bowlen’s presence upon his arrival in Denver — via trade from the Washington Redskins for running back Clinton Portis — for taking him to new heights.
“The best thing for my career happened in 2004,” Bailey said. “I was traded to the Denver Broncos. Once I began to learn about Mr. Bowlen and the Denver Broncos, I was sold.
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.”.. Mr. B was a great man, and a great leader. He will surely be missed, but he will forever be my teammate. I love you.”
Bowlen, who bought the Broncos in 1984 and led them to seven Super Bowl appearances and three Lombardi Trophies, died in June from complications related to Alzheimer’s disease at age 75.
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Earlier in the evening, six of his children and longtime team trainer Steve “Greek” Antonopulos — who presented Bowlen for enshrinement — pulled the drape off his bust, which sat adjacent to his framed gold jacket. Bowlen’s family will receive the jacket, after jackets had previously been given only to inductees who were living at the time of enshrinement.
After Bailey’s speech, tight end Tony Gonzalez capped the night — more than four hours after the ceremony started — by reflecting on the aftermath of his own trade, which sent him to the Atlanta Falcons following 12 years with the Kansas City Chiefs.
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