Aug. 4, 2003
CANTON, Ohio - As Hank Stram's image appeared on the video screen and his voice filled the stadium, many of his former players hugged and cried.
Their former coach was finally a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a tribute all the Kansas City Chiefs felt was long overdue.
"It was too late, but now he's in there forever," running back Ed Podolak said. "Thank God he was here when it happened."
Stram's induction was the emotional high point of Sunday's enshrinment ceremony for the Class of 2003: Stram, Marcus Allen, James Lofton, Joe DeLamielleure and Elvin Bethea.
There were cheers from every corner of the stadium for Lofton, who played for Green Bay, the Los Angeles Raiders and Buffalo Bills during 16 seasons in the league and starred at Stanford from 1974-77. His son, David, who is a redshirt freshman football player on The Farm, also took part in the ceremony.
During a news conference before his speech, Lofton said it would have been difficult if he had to choose one team to represent as he entered the Hall.
"I would split it down the middle, Green Bay on one side, Buffalo on the other and a Raiders emblem in the back," he said.
The 80-year-old Stram had to be pushed onto the stage in a wheelchair as 115 of the NFL's greatest names and 8,500 fans welcomed him with a standing ovation.
Wearing his gold Hall of Fame blazer, Stram then watched his prerecorded induction speech that showed a fiery, charismatic and innovative coach who would one day be immortalized in Canton.
On a day filled with emotional speeches, Stram's was the shortest, sweetest and most touching.
"Look at all the red eyes," Podolak said. "I cried like a baby, and so did everyone else."
During a 17-year pro coaching career that began in 1960 with the Dallas Texans and ended with the New Orleans Saints, Stram led the Chiefs to three AFL titles and a Super Bowl upset over Minnesota in 1970.
He was presented by Hall of Famer Len Dawson, his friend of 50 years and the best quarterback Stram has said he ever coached.
Dawson spoke lovingly of Stram, focusing on the coach's passion for football and his unwavering commitment to players.
"He had the ability to make each and every one of us feel special," Dawson said. "I wear a Super Bowl ring on this hand, and a Hall of Fame ring on this one, and it's all because of Hank Stram."
Shortly before Dawson's speech, the steady rains that threatened to move the ceremony indoors stopped, and the sun briefly peeked through, allowing fans to strip off ponchos and rain gear.
At about the same time, Stram's speech - a video montage of career highlights with his induction remarks providing the voiceover - was played in Fawcett Stadium.
Suddenly, there was the gregarious Stram screaming, "Come on boys, put it in there, baby" during Kansas City's 23-7 upset of the favored Vikings in Super Bowl IV.
The video was vintage Stram, pounding his rolled-up game plan into his hand while cheering for his players, demanding an official's explanation of a call, and above all, winning games.
Stram, who was elected by the Hall's seniors committee, briefly stood and waved to the crowd but left the ceremony before the other enshrinees' speeches.
It was fitting that Stram's induction speech was taped.
He was the first coach to wear a microphone during a Super Bowl and Stram's sideline antics, captured by NFL Films, helped bring the league into the video age.
Allen, one of the game's flashiest running backs, rushed for 12,243 yards during a 16-year career with the Los Angeles Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs.
After being presented by his father, Red, Allen began and ended his remarks by thanking family members.
"Every inch, every yard, every hit, every hurt, every pain, every run, I did because of you guys," Allen said, his voice choked with emotion.
Allen also acknowledged Raiders owner Al Davis, whose ugly rift with the former Super Bowl MVP led to Allen's benching and ultimately to him joining the Chiefs.
DeLamielleure had the day's most lighthearted speech.
The former guard with the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns gave a special nod to his blue-collar roots, which began in Detroit as the son of a bar owner and the ninth of 10 children.
"Team work came from this: one bathroom, no lock, 10 kids," said DeLamielleure, whose blocks helped O.J. Simpson run for more than 2,000 yards in 1973. "We ran the ball because we couldn't pass."
Bethea, who had 105 sacks while playing in 210 games during 16 seasons with the Houston Oilers, cried while thanking his deceased parents.
Bethea laughed while recounting that he outlasted seven coaches in Houston, and he paid tribute to two of them - Sid Gillman and Bum Phillips, whose advice Bethea followed every time he snapped on his helmet.
"One of his favorite lines was, 'You play like you practice'," Bethea said. "And that's what I did every day."