Former San Francisco 49er Bryant Young’s emotional tribute to his son highlights Hall of Fame induction

CANTON, Ohio — Being part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2022 has special — and painful — meaning for former San Francisco 49ers defenseman Bryant Young. It’s an emotional reminder of his son Colby, who died of cancer on October 11, 2016. Colby’s favorite number, his father said during his induction speech Saturday afternoon at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, was 22.

“In this, my 10th year of eligibility, I enter the Hall as a member of these 22,” Young said, his voice cracking. “2022. 22.”

Young’s voice cracked even more as he discussed how his son, who was diagnosed in 2014 at the age of 13, bravely dealt with the news after being told in 2016 that the cancer had spread and treatments were no longer working.

It was a powerful moment that caused the crowd to give Young a standing ovation.

“Colby sensed where things were going,” Young said. “He didn’t fear death as much as he feared the process of dying. Would it be painful? Would he be remembered?

“Colby… you live on in our hearts. … We will always speak your name.”

Young’s speech was the most moving moment of the afternoon. Joining Young in the Hall are offensive tackle Tony Boselli, receiver Cliff Branch, safety LeRoy Butler, official Art McNally, linebacker Sam Mills, defensive lineman Richard Seymour and coach Dick Vermeil.

Young was a four-time Pro Bowler, two-time first-team All-Pro, and a member of the NFL’s All-Decade team in the 1990s. He was also the 1999 NFL Comeback Player of the Year after leading the 49ers with 11 sacks and 20 quarterback pressures on his return from a broken leg.

Boselli was a five-time Pro Bowler, three-time All-Pro and member of the NFL’s All-Decade team in the 1990s before his career was cut short by a shoulder injury. He was the first pick in Jacksonville Jaguars history in 1995 (second overall) and is the first player in franchise history to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

He summed up that honor in the first four words he spoke: “Well, that’s amazing.

“…It is a great honor to be the first Jacksonville Jaguar to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”

Branch, who died August 3, 2019, won three Super Bowls in his 14-year career with the Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders. He was a three-time first-team All-Pro and a four-time Pro Bowler. Speaking on his behalf, his sister Elaine Anderson said she felt her brother was here in spirit along with two other Raiders Hall of Famers.

“Today is bittersweet because we miss our beloved Clifford and sweet because he is history now,” she said. “I want to tell you that there is a sweet spirit in this place today. Our Clifford, No. 21, would not miss his mooring in vain. He’s longed for this day, and 21 sits front and center with Al Davis and John Madden.”

Butler played 12 seasons in Green Bay, won a Super Bowl, and was a four-time Pro Bowler and four-time All-Pro. As a member of the NFL’s All-Decade team in the 1990s, he is also credited with creating one of the most iconic touchdown celebrations in NFL history: the Lambeau Leap. As a child, he struggled with foot problems — they wore braces or a cast and he was wheelchair-bound at times — to later play more games than any defenseman in Green Bay history.

“Playing for the Green Bay Packers opens a lot of doors,” Butler said. “You win a Super Bowl, all doors open. When you make it into the Hall of Fame, football heaven opens up.”

McNally is the first officer admitted to the hall. He is considered the “father of instant replay” after introducing the replay system to the NFL in 1985, and the league’s Manhattan command center is named after him.

“That’s the most important thing I need for a civil servant: to do the job [and] hopefully no one will find out you’re still alive,” McNally said via video.

Mills began his professional football career in the USFL before signing with the New Orleans Saints in 1986. Though he was only 5’6″, Mills quickly established himself as one of the best players in the league, making five Pro Bowls and being named an All-Pro three times. Mills died of colon cancer in 2005, two years after his diagnosis. His widow, Melanie Mills, said her husband’s motto “Keep Pounding” — adopted by the Carolina Panthers after he signed as a free agent in 1995 — is something he also lives off the field.

“He was more than just a great football player,” said Melanie Mills. “He was a father, a friend and husband, and a leader who just kept hitting, no matter the odds.

“Keep hitting, everyone. That’s what Sam would expect from you.”

Seymour spent eight seasons with the New England Patriots and four with the Oakland Raiders. He made seven Pro Bowls and was selected to the All-Pro team three times. He won three Super Bowls and was a member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team in the 2000s.

“I’m overcome with humility today, not because of what this moment says about me, but because of what this moment says about us and what we can do together,” Seymour said. “I’m overwhelmed with gratitude today because I didn’t come here alone. Neither of us did. None of us could have done it, class of 2022. They say you can judge a man by the company he keeps. I couldn’t be in better company than you.

“It is a privilege to have my name forever linked with yours in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”

Vermeil, who led the Philadelphia Eagles to a Super Bowl and the St. Louis Rams to a Super Bowl title, was named NFL Coach of the Year twice by The Sporting News and once by The Associated Press. The man known for wearing his feelings on his sleeve delivered the longest speech of the day. He spoke for more than 20 minutes and thanked a long list of players, coaches, mentors, friends and family members.

“I just wish I had time to go through everyone,” he said.

Vermeil said the only thing that will make him feel better is the inclusion of coaches Mike Holmgren, Dan Reeves, Marty Schottenheimer, Mike Shanahan and Tom Coughlin.

“Believe me, if I deserve it, so do you,” he said. Former San Francisco 49er Bryant Young’s emotional tribute to his son highlights Hall of Fame induction

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