Bryant Young could have rambled on about former teammates and shared more inside stories, but he carved out 2 1/2 minutes of his Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech for a more meaningful reason.
Young, a four-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle with the San Francisco, provided the most emotional moment of the festivities on Saturday in Canton, Ohio when he paid tribute to his son Colby, who died of cancer at age 15 in 2016.
“I’d like to let you meet Colby,” Young said. “Born in August 2001, Colby loved life. He had an infectious smile, many interests, including football. He was a happy kid. In Fall 2014, when he was 13, Colby started having headaches. A CAT scan revealed a brain tumor. … Five days later, surgeons removed a tumor and told us it was cancer.”
Colby Young initially recovered but the cancer later returned.
“Doctors tried immunotherapy, but it had spread too far, too fast,” Young said. “Colby sensed where things were heading and had questions. He didn’t fear death as much as the process of dying. Would it be painful? Would he be remembered? We assured Colby we’d keep his memory alive and continue speaking his name.
“On October 11, 2016, God called Colby home,” said Young, fighting through tears. “Colby, you live on in our hearts. We will always speak your name.”
Young played 208 games over 14 seasons (1994-2007), all with the 49ers. The first-round pick in 1994 out of Notre Dame had 89.5 sacks in his career.
Young was one of six players inducted Saturday, along with offensive tackle Tony Boselli, cornerback LeRoy Butler, defensive end Richard Seymour, the late receiver Cliff Branch and the late linebacker Sam Mills. Coach Dick Vermeil and official Art McNally also were inducted.
Butler called it a long wait for his induction after his standout career. He played 181 games over 12 seasons (1990-2001) with the Green Bay Packers as a second-round draft pick out of Florida State and picked off 38 passes in his career.
“When you play for the Green Bay Packers, a lot of doors open up,” Butler said. “When you win a Super Bowl, all the doors open up. When you make the Hall of Fame, football heaven opens up. Want to know why? It’s rare company.”
Seymour, who played 164 games over 12 seasons with the New England Patriots (2001-08) and Oakland Raiders (2009-12), was the sixth overall draft pick in 2001 out of Georgia. He had 57.5 career sacks and was on seven Patriots teams that won at least 10 games.
Boselli is the first Jacksonville Jaguars’ player to be inducted. The five-time Pro Bowler played 91 games over seven seasons (1995-2001) after he was the Jaguars’ first-ever draft pick, selected No. 2 overall in 1995 out of Southern California.
Branch, who died in 2019 at age 71, was a three-time Super Bowl champion and four-time Pro Bowler in 14 seasons with the Raiders (1972-85). He had 501 career receptions for 8,685 yards and 67 touchdowns.
Mills, who died from cancer in 2005 at the age of 45, played the first nine seasons of his 12-year career with the New Orleans Saints (1986-94). He finished with the Carolina Panthers (1995-97) and totaled 1,265 tackles with 22 forced fumbles, 20.5 sacks and 11 interceptions.
Vermeil went 120-109 in 15 seasons as head coach with the Philadelphia Eagles (1976-82), St. Louis Rams (1997-99) and Kansas City Chiefs (2001-05). His Rams won the 1999 season’s Super Bowl.
Vermeil’s biggest influence was a college basketball coach. When he coached at UCLA, he got to watch and learn from legendary John Wooden, long considered the best of his trade.
“I took every opportunity I had to spend time with John Wooden,” Vermeil said. “Yes, he’s coaching basketball, but when you watch him practice, the intensity and the discipline and the structure was there of a great football practice and a great football coach and it was so exciting and I learned so much from him.
“A philosophy he implanted in me in conversation, I think about it all the time. One time I was complaining about the players we lost in recruiting. He said sit down. I sat down. When John Wooden says sit down, you sit down. He says, ‘Now listen Coach, don’t worry about those players you don’t have. Just make sure you do a great job of making those who you have the best that they can possibly be.’
“And I’ve operated under that simple philosophy the rest of my coaching career. It is so true. So true. Gosh darn it, thank you John Wooden.”
McNally, 97, became the first official inducted into Canton. He started as an official in 1959, served as referee from 1960-67 and was supervisor of officials from 1968-1991. He oversaw the implementation of instant replay in 1986.