Marvin Harrison was never an outspoken person during his playing days with the Indianapolis Colts, and he’s said even less since retiring. All week, people were debating just how long his speech would be. Robert Mathis said seven minutes. Peyton Manning said nine minutes, thirty seconds. Even that seemed too long of a prediction to many.
It turns out that Marvin Harrison proved everyone wrong, again. He spoke for eleven minutes, one second.
It wasn’t the first time Harrison exceeded expectations, however. Colts owner Jim Irsay said in Harrison’s intro video that the team took the receiver in 1996 draft thinking he might at least be a good punt returner. Two decades later, Harrison ranks among the all-time best wide receivers in NFL history. 1,102 receptions. 14,580 yards. 128 touchdowns. Eight Pro Bowls. Eight All-Pro Teams. 28 Colts career franchise records. A part of the most prolific quarterback/wide receiver duo in NFL history. Harrison’s career speaks for itself, and tonight in Canton he was honored for it.
“I don’t think I knew a fiercer competitor,” Irsay said of Harrison. He spoke about Marvin’s work ethic and dedication, adding that, “I’m so thankful for Marvin. I owe a great deal of gratitude and thanks for setting that example for our young players to come.”
Then Harrison took the stage, establishing the expectations right from the beginning: “I’m not going to break the record to have the shortest speech in Hall of Fame history. That’s not going to happen.”
That’s one record that Harrison didn’t break, as he mentioned several people who had the greatest impact on his life and career. He began, believe it or not, with some of his high school teachers - including one who came to a game every season of his playing career. A teacher at Syracuse told him that her class was 50% attendance, 25% exams, and 25% presentations - Marvin told her “I’m going to do the best I can do to get 75% in this class,” telling her that speeches weren’t his thing. He wound up passing the class, and she told him that one day he’d look back on the class with gratitude as he was giving the biggest speech of his life. Tonight, he did just that.
Harrison then began thanking his coaches: Lindy Infante, his first head coach, who told the receiver to practice making tough catches. Harrison said that the catches shown on the highlights tonight “may look tough, [but] to me they were routine.” He thanked Jim Mora, who he called “my best friend as a head coach.” Harrison said that he could talk for ten or fifteen minutes about Tony Dungy, but added that, “you taught us how to be teammates; you taught us how to be men; but the most important thing is you taught us about fatherhood. And I think that’s more important than anything a head coach or any coach can tell his players [is] about fatherhood.” He thanked his position coach, Clyde Christensen, and said that the only problem the two had was that Harrison wasn’t going to come out of practice or a game. Harrison thanked Tom Moore too, and explained that after his record-breaking 143 catch season Moore was upset because he thought Harrison should have had 150. “He played an extremely big role in me being here today,” Harrison said of Moore.
He thanked Bill Polian, his Hall of Fame general manager, who would say, “what’s up, Hall of Famer?” only a few years into Harrison’s career. “It’s been a great run, and I just thank you for all that you’ve done for me,” Harrison said. He then thanked Jim Irsay, praising him for all the owner has done for the city of Indianapolis and the Harrison family. The best thing Harrison could do to thank him, he said, was to let Irsay present him tonight.
Harrison thanked Colts fans, calling them “the best fans in the game.” Why? Well, Harrison’s from Philadelphia, where Eagles fans want to trade you if you get the coin toss wrong. In Indianapolis, fans never booed him even after a drop or a loss.
Then came his teammates. He thanked Peyton Manning, with whom he had so much success and broke records. He thanked Edgerrin James, with whom he would talk about life and life after football during their playing days. He thanked Reggie Wayne, too, saying “I couldn’t ask for a better partner than you. I mean, I trusted Reggie with my life. If I had to go across the middle, and I knew Reggie had to clear it out for me, I knew full well he was going to get his job done. We came in, we watched each other, we worked hard, we challenged each other in practice, and Reggie just like I said I want to thank you for all that you’ve done for me. There’s not another receiver in the game that I’d rather have on the other side of me than you, Reggie. So I just want to say thank you buddy.”
He thanked the guy who made his bust, and he thanked Michelle who let him go first in the speaking schedule. And then he thanked his family. “Retirement was easy for one reason: I have two sons, Marvin and Jett,” he said. He said there’s nothing that he’d rather to than to be their father, their coach, and their friend. And last, he thanked his grandmother - who he called “the single most important person for me here today.”
At the end of his speech, Marvin Harrison described Canton as his “new home.” And he’s absolutely right, because now it’s official: Harrison is immortalized among the NFL’s all-time greats as he takes his rightful place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.