Bryant Young was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, and his acceptance speech praised the virtues of “sacrifice, selflessness and integrity” that marked a career spanning 14 years with 49ers.
Young referenced his devastating knee injury in 1998, from which he made a miraculous recovery, but the audience, along with many others, was blown to tears with an inspirational message about a much greater loss.
Bryant Colby Young, one of Bryant and Kristin Young’s six children, died of brain cancer in 2016 at the age of 16. Diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 13, Colby underwent surgery to remove the tumor and returned to school eight days later.
“He had good spirits. He had the heart of a lion,” said Young.
Colby was told that radiation treatment would make it impossible to play football, so he focused on basketball instead.
“The treatments were tough. Colby showed a lot of courage,” Young said. “We were really hopeful, and the next October, Colby said, ‘Dad, I have a headache.’ The cancer had returned. ,
The cancer had spread and Colby was in critical condition.
“Colby realized where things were going and had questions,” Young said. “He was not afraid of death as much as the process of dying. Will it be painful? Will he be remembered? We assured that we would keep Colby’s memory alive and continue to speak his name.”
“On October 16, 2016, God called Colby home. Colby, you live in our hearts,” Young said as his voice was filled with emotion. “We assured Colby that we would keep his memory alive and his The names will keep on speaking.”
Young, 50, was one of seven people installed at the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio. Joining Young with local connections were former Raiders wide receiver Cliff Branch, defensive tackle Richard Seymour, who played four years with the Raiders, and former NFL coach, Calistoga native and San Jose State product Dick Vermeel.
Also becoming members of the 362-member Hall were Jacksonville Tony Bocelli, Green Bay Safety Leroy Butler, former official Art McNally, and New Orleans and Carolina linebacker Sam Mills.
Chosen by his teammates as the most inspirational player of the 49ers’ eight-time winner of the Lane Ashmont Award, all the qualities that made Young such a respected teammate were displayed during his 12-minute speech. He was underrated but deep, honest and spiritual. In his 10th year of eligibility, Young received the expected votes as a group of offensive linemen lobbied Hall of Fame voters in a Zoom call.
The audience included Hall of Famers and former teammates Steve Young and Terrell Owens. Young has become the 29th and 49th player to get the gold jacket.
Young was presented by daughter Kai and former owner Eddie DeBartolo, and in the crowd were his wife Kirsten, their father Tommy, and four children.
In 14 seasons, Young set a franchise record with 89 1/2 sacks and was a major component of the 49ers’ last Super Bowl championship since the 1994 season as a rookie starter. Young suffered a broken tibia and fibula in the 12th game of the 1998 season against the New York Giants, which not only put his career at risk but also his ability to walk. Young made a miraculous recovery, playing all 16 games of the 1999 season and being named NFL Comeback Player of the Year.
Young credits his wife for helping him get through the difficult times.
“There were complications. I could lose my leg,” Young said. “I fought back playing another nine seasons, but while dealing with my injury, Kirsten was pregnant with Kai. Few people knew it at that time. Instead of being taken care of, Kristin was taking care of me. My vulnerability and loss of control was disturbing. I learned a few things about trusting God, living with doubt, accepting help.”
Young closed with lessons he said he learned along the way.
“My pain gave me purpose. Letting someone hold my hand is as important as holding their hand,” Young said. “In a different world, personal relationships matter more than ever. I look at Christ. And I dedicate myself to good causes, including the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, and I’ve learned to live by God’s plan and time, not mine.”
Was there a message to being in orbit of 2022? Possibly. Young said that 22 was “Colby’s favorite number.”
Branch, who was selected by the senior committee, was the prototype Al Davis deep threat for the Raiders, catching 501 passes for 8,685 yards and 67 touchdowns from 1972 to 1985. A runner out of Colorado, Branch Pound at 5-foot-11 and 170 went from a raw talent to a polished receiver who kept his pace. At age 35, Branch caught a 99-yard touchdown pass from Jim Plunkett.
At the age of 77, Branch died of natural causes at the age of 77. When he missed the ceremony in the flesh, Branch’s sister Elaine Anderson noted his presence in giving an acceptance speech for her brother.
“Clifford was delayed but not denied. He never gave up on his dream,” said Anderson. “Today is bitter, because we remember our dear Clifford, and sweet because it is now history. I want to tell you that there is a lovely soul in this place today. Our Clifford, No. 21, won’t miss his establishment for nothing. He yearns for this day and is sitting front and center with Al Davis and John Madden.
The branch was presented by Raiders owner Mark Davis.
Seymour, 42, played his last four seasons with the Raiders in Oakland, where he played 53 games with 52 starts and 18 1/2 sacks in his career total of 57 1/2. He was a three-time Super Bowl champion in eight seasons with New England.
Traded by the Patriots before the start of the 2009 season, Seymour initially declined to report to Oakland, but did so just before the start of the season and was immediately named a team captain.
“I’ve become a big Raiders fan, so my last four years spent in Oakland learning as of late, the great Al Davis was an unexpected gift,” Seymour said. “Mr. Davis was a coach, commissioner, and Super Bowl champion. Above all, he was a great leader because he listened to every voice. It doesn’t matter if you are male, female, black, white, gay Or are straight. He believed that football was a game of values and Mark Davis continues to serve as a beacon to this day.”
Vermeal, 85, was 120–109 in coaching with the Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs, winning the Super Bowl championship with the Rams after the 1999 season. He was the first special team coach in NFL history, as hired by George Allen for the Los Angeles Rams in 1969.
He graduated from Calistoga High in 1954, enrolled at Napa Junior College, and then attended San Jose State, where he was a backup quarterback in 1956. His first head coaching job was at Hillsdale High in San Mateo.
“Thanks to two San Jose State football coaches who saw talent in me I didn’t see in myself,” Vermeel said. Six players from Hillsdale participated in the ceremony.