CANTON, Ohio — It was the pinnacle of Bryant Young’s accomplishments as a football player, but his thoughts — and emotions — were focused more on his late son when the former 49ers All-Pro was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday.
Young’s voice cracked and he needed several moments to compose himself as he dedicated his speech to his sixth child. Bryant Colby Young died of pediatric cancer at age 15 on Oct. 11, 2016.
Young spoke of Colby’s brave fight against cancer, of his will to persevere when he originally was diagnosed with the disease. And then of the uncertainty and sadness that overcame Colby when the cancer returned, the questions about whether he would be remembered.
“Colby, you live on in our hearts,” Young said as he wept. “We will always speak your name.”
The fans in attendance stood and cheered for Young, one of the NFL’s top defensive linemen, who overcame a career-threatening leg injury to eventually earn a place in Canton.
“During a November 1998 [game] versus the Giants, my right leg was badly broken,” he said. “There were complications. I could have lost my leg. I fought back and played another nine seasons . . . I learned some things about trusting God, living with doubt and accepting help.”
Young was joined in the Class of 2022 by Jaguars tackle Tony Boselli, Philadelphia Stars, Saints and Panthers linebacker Sam Mills, Raiders wide receiver Cliff Branch (representing the Senior Committee), Packers safety LeRoy Butler, Patriots and Raiders defensive lineman Richard Seymour, former NFL supervisor of officials Art McNally and former Eagles, Rams and Kansas City coach Dick Vermeil.
Vermeil closed out the afternoon ceremony with a 23-minute speech that extended well beyond the recommended time limit of eight minutes. He thanked dozens of fellow coaches, players and family members, tearing up while talking about his wife of 66 years, Carol.
“Gosh darn, I just wish I had time to go through everyone,” said Vermeil, who spoke about players and coaches from his days as a high school coach and then on to UCLA and the NFL. He led the woeful Eagles to a Super Bowl appearance in 1980 and then won the Super Bowl with the 1999 Rams, who played in St. Louis at the time. Vermeil won 120 regular-season games and had a .545 winning percentage.
Seymour, who helped the Patriots win three Super Bowl titles, thanked coach Bill Belichick for setting the foundation for his success.
“This wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for Coach Belichick,” said Seymour, a seven-time All-Pro. “The lessons that I’ve learned from you set me up for success not just in the game but in life.”
Butler, who created the “Lambeau Leap” when he scored a defensive touchdown and jumped into the stands at Lambeau Field, spoke of overcoming childhood disabilities and developing into an All-Pro with the Packers.
“When you make it to the Green Bay Packers, some doors open up,” he said. “When you win a Super Bowl, all doors open up. When you make it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the heavens open up.”
Boselli, widely regarded as the NFL’s best left tackle during his injury-shortened career with the former expansion Jaguars, expressed sadness that his father couldn’t be here.
“Thank you, Dad. Thank you for everything,” Boselli said of Tony Sr., who died in May 2021 after a 10-month battle with cancer. “I’m happy you’re in the comfort of God. I know you’re here, but man, I wish you were here with me. I miss you. I love you. And on this, one of the greatest days of my life, I honor your memory and thank you for the greatest gift of all, and that’s family.”
Mills, who died of cancer in 2005 at age 45, was inducted in his final year of eligibility as a modern-day player. Jim Mora, Mills’ former head coach with the USFL champion Stars and the Saints, and Melanie Mills, Sam’s widow, presented Mills, a free agent out of Montclair State in New Jersey, for enshrinement. Melanie spoke of Sam’s irrepressible spirit, even in the face of cancer, and how he adopted the phrase “keep pounding” while battling the disease during his time as a Panthers assistant coach.
“Thank you for this honor, for believing in Sam and for helping to keep his story alive,” she said. “Keep pounding, everyone. That’s what Sam would want you to do.”
The class of 2022
Name Position Team
Tony Boselli OT Jaguars
Cliff Branch WR Raiders
LeRoy Butler S Packers
Sam Mills LB Saints, Panthers
Richard Seymour DL Patriots, Raiders
Bryant Young DL 49ers
Dick Vermeil Coach Eagles, Rams
Art McNally Official/Administrator