CANTON, OHIO – Receiver Andre Reed delivered the emotion and managed to hook up for one more catch from quarterback Jim Kelly on the Pro Football Hall of Fame stage.
And leave it to Michael Strahan and his familiar gap-toothed grin for bringing the laughs in closing the ceremony honoring the seven-member 2014 class of inductees.
The defensive end cracked he was still a little scared of former New York Giants teammate Lawrence Taylor. Strahan singled out former Philadelphia Eagles tackle Jon Runyan in the crowd and referred to him as his toughest opponent and “350 pounds of twisted steel and non-sex appeal.”
And Strahan even had a kiss blown to him on stage from Kelly Ripa, his morning TV show co-host.
“Thank you, baby,” he said with a smile.
Strahan, one of the game’s most dominant pass-rushers, closed the ceremony which ended just before midnight — nearly two hours later than scheduled.
The ceremony went so late that Strahan noted that it was past his bedtime and joked that if the event lasted any longer he and his fellow inductees would be considered the 2015 class.
Also inducted were offensive tackle Walter Jones, linebacker Derrick Brooks, defensive back Aeneas Williams, punter Ray Guy and defensive end Claude Humphrey.
It was Reed, the former Buffalo Bills receiver, who stole the spotlight by closing his induction speech with a poignant surprise.
Turning his back to the crowd, Reed caught a pass from Kelly before sharing a lengthy hug with his former teammate and now fellow Hall of Famer.
It was a fitting finish for a tandem that set a then-NFL record by hooking up 663 times in Buffalo.
And it was a moment that paid homage to the quarterback, who has spent the past 14 months battling cancer.
“You taught us not to quit,” Reed said, referring to Kelly. “You have endured a lot in your life. The loss of your son, and most recently your battle with cancer. You’re an inspiration to all you touch.”
Kelly was near tears, and the thousands of Bills fans in the crowd cheered.
Even louder cheers went up when Reed delivered a message to any Bills prospective ownership group having an intention of buying and relocating the franchise.
“Oh yeah, and the Bills will stay in Buffalo, too,” Reed said.
The Bills are on the block after founder and Hall of Fame owner Ralph Wilson died in March.
The ceremony began with Brooks, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers star, who was selected for induction in his first year of eligibility, and followed by the 70-year-old Humphrey, who retired after the 1981 season.
“Now they tell me I only had 10 minutes up here, but let me start off by telling you that I’ve waited 30 years to get to this podium, so don’t rush me guys,” said Humphrey, a six-time Pro Bowl selection who split 13 NFL seasons between the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles.
Guy’s wait was nearly as long. The seven-time Pro Bowl selection spent his 14-year career with the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders. At 64, he was selected for induction in his 23rd year of eligibility.
“It’s been long, long overdue, but now the Hall of Fame has a complete team,” said Guy, who had as many as 20 former punters in the crowd to help him celebrate. “To know my legacy will be forever part of pro football history and that my bust will be alongside the greatest athletes of all time, it leaves this old punter speechless.”
Williams livened up the mood late in his speech during which he had one side of Fawcett Stadium chanting: “Begin with the end in mind,” to remind people how important it is to set goals.
And he had the other side chanting: “Die empty,” to remind people to give their all.
It was a fitting message from an eight-time Pro Bowl selection. He was an accounting major at Southern University, who walked on to the football team a week before the start of his junior season.
Selected in the third round of the 1991 draft, he proceeded to split 14 seasons between the Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams. Williams retired after the 2004 season and was selected for induction in his fifth year of eligibility.