Hall of Fame inductees Tom Flores, John Lynch and Charles Woodson display range of emotions on their big night

In the end, Tom Flores and John Lynch stayed in character on their night of immortality. Charles Woodson, on the other hand, lost his legendary composure in a most appealing way.

The trio with Bay Area ties were joined by former Colts and Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson, Pittsburgh guard Alan Faneca, Cowboys wide receiver Drew Pearson and former Pittsburgh super scout Bill Nunn as inductees to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Sunday in a ceremony in Canton, Ohio.

Flores and Pearson were senior committee selections, while Nunn, who helped scout talent for the Pittsburgh Steelers dynasty of the 1970s, was named as a contributor.

Flores, 84, needed the help of a wheelchair and then a cane to take the podium. As usual, the two-time Super Bowl-winning coach and a trailblazer as the first Hispanic coach and general manager was modest, understated and self-effacing.

He chronicled his arrival in the Central Valley town of Sanger, where his father moved the family when Flores was 12 to work in the fields. His first home had dirt floors and no plumbing.

His Central Valley experience included Sanger High School, Fresno City College and finally College of the Pacific (later UOP).

It was at Pacific where Flores met his future wife Barbara, and he had a one-liner for that as well.

“She was the cutest gal I’d ever seen,” Flores said. “We both came from hard-working parents who created better lives for us. We were both among the first to graduate from college. Barbara and I dated for five years. It took me five years to convince her I was the guy.”

When the mention of Sanger drew cheers from the crowd, Flores said, “It’s a long way to come. You ever try to get here? It’s not an easy place to get to. I’ve been trying for a long time to get here.”

The decision to pursue a football career didn’t immediately go over well with Flores’ family.

“My mother cried when I told her I was going to play professionally instead of coming home to be a teacher as I had studied for in college,” Flores said. “But in the end, she was proudest of all because I followed my passion, and that’s what brought me to this stage tonight, passion.”

Flores, who never needed or wanted to be the center of attention in an ego-driven profession, was introduced in a video by Carol Davis, wife of late Raiders’ owner Al Davis, and current Raiders owner Mark Davis.

“The late Al Davis was my mentor, my coach. I love his wife Carol dearly,”  Flores said. “His son Mark, who’s with me, now running the team, used to come to camp as an 8-year-old and he used to create havoc because we only had two balls and it was a very low budget.”

Tom Flores speaks at the podium on the occasion of his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

Lynch, 49, made a living striking fear into the hearts of wide receivers and unsuspecting offensive players as a nine-time Pro Bowler for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Denver Broncos. At the same time, Lynch, has always been polite, humble, treating people as he would want to be treated through his pro career as well as the 49ers general manager.

Known among his friends as “Captain America,” there was more than a little patriotism weaved in with the sport he loves.

“The NFL is the greatest metaphor for life I’ve ever known . . . it compels every  man that puts on a uniform to not only do their best but be their best. In football, we quickly discover we’re only as strong as our weakest link, and we must all learn to play together.

“Each of us comes from a different walk of life, but when we huddle up, we huddle up as a team. It doesn’t matter where you come from or your background. Tonight I advocate that we take the lead of football and huddle up as a people, as a great nation. Let’s find the common ground through our shared values. Let’s celebrate and learn from our differences.”

Lynch recounted arriving at Stanford as a quarterback and how he moved to defense under Denny Green and then was coaxed into staying rather than pursuing a baseball career with the Florida Marlins by his successor Bill Walsh.

At Tampa Bay, influences included head coach Tony Dungy and assistant Herm Edwards, the latter who was Lynch’s co-presenter along with his son Jake.

“It takes a lot of belief to get to this stage,” Lynch said. “Belief is not something that simply happens. It has to be nurtured a million times over. A note, a pat on the back, a piece of advice, coaching. These are the things that foster belief in ourselves.”

Woodson, 44, immediately broke into tears when he opened the final speech of the evening with a musical ode to Georgia Woodson, his mother and presenter.

“I think I lost a bet,” Woodson said in reference to crying.

Woodson was one of the most outwardly confident athletes of his era. His 18-year career included 65 interceptions, 20 sacks, 13 defensive touchdowns, honors for being the top rookie and top defensive player and a Super Bowl ring.

But rather than extol the myriad statistics and accomplishments that made him special, Woodson dished off credit instead. He cited family, friends and former teammates dating back to his days as a youth in Freemont, Ohio, and thorugh his career at Michigan, the Raiders and the Green Bay Packers.

When talking about his mother, who raised Charles, his brother and sister as a single mom, Woodson even dropped the lone profanity of the night.

“You say a woman can’t raise a man?,” Woodson said. “I call (B.S.). When talking about his sister Shannon, Woodson revealed she was at home fighting COVID-19, Woodson’s voice cracked again.

“Big moment for our family. Dealing with COVID. She’s fighting,” Woodson said. “Throughout my career I can remember getting calls from my sister periodically whether I was riding down the 880 freeway in Oakland or Lombardi Avenue in Green Bay, and she would just hit with these three words — hey little brother, I love you. It always seemed to hit me at the right time to get me through the day or get me through the week.”

Woodson’s career and took off when he left Oakland for Green Bay, met his wife April, and helped change his outlook with the help of his two young sons.

“You lift me up. You keep me humble. You make me honest. You’ve allowed me and made me the best version of myself and I love you for that,” Woodson said. “To my boys Charles and Chase, you guys don’t quite understand it right now. You haven’t been through anything. You haven’t fought for anything as long and as hard as I have, as these men up here. But once you go through life you’ll go through your own journey, and when life turns obstacles at you and you turn 35, 40 years old, you’ll begin to understand why a grown man would stand up here and cry.”












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Author: Jerry McDonald