CANTON, Ohio - Marvin Harrison's professional football journey ended Saturday night right where it began exactly 20 years ago, beneath a blue August sky on the field adjacent to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Harrison, the Roman Catholic and Syracuse product who became a spectacular NFL receiver with the Indianapolis Colts, was one of eight men inducted Saturday into the Hall, to football-shaped top of which was visible just beyond the stage where they all addressed a large and boisterous crowd as well as a national television audience.
As a boiling sun descended behind him at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium, where he debuted in an 1996 exhibition game, the historically mute Harrison turned his calm and heartfelt leadoff speech into a wide-ranging thank-you to teachers, coaches, teammates, his grandmother and two sons.
Knowing his penchant for reticence, Peyton Manning and some of the inductee's other Colts teammates had conducted an over-under pool on how long Harrison might talk. Manning had 9 minutes, 20 seconds. It lasted 11:02.
"Marvin talked with hands and feet, not his mouth," fellow Hall of Fame wideout Michael Irvin said before the ceremony.
Harrison acknowledged his taciturn reputation when, after embracing Colts owner Jim Irsay, his presenter, he stepped to the podium.
"Records are made to be broken, but I want to tell you one thing," he began, turning to the Hall members who shared the stage, "I'm not going to break any records for the shortest speech in Hall of Fame history. That's not going to happen."
The North Philadelphia native neglected any personal history, except as it related to all the coaches and teammates he thanked. Harrison, who still lives in the city, did mention his roots several times, at one point comparing his hometown's notoriously impatient sports fans with those in Indianapolis.
"You [Indianapolis] fans are the best in the world," he said, eliciting a roar from the Colts fans in a crowd dominated by Packers supporters in Brett Favre jerseys. "You never booed me. I'm from Philadelphia. And if you get the coin toss wrong in Philadelphia, they want to trade you Monday morning."
He cited Roman teacher Joe Ferraro, who was in attendance Saturday. Ferraro, he said, helped him prepare for the SATs and came to at least one of his Colts game every year. And ironically for someone known for silence, he also thanked the Syracuse speech teacher who convinced him as a reluctant freshman to address the class.
"Someday you're going to have to give the biggest speech of your life," he recalled her saying, "and you'll look back at this and be thankful."
In introducing him, Irsay called Harrison one of the fiercest competitors he'd ever encountered.
"And yet," he added, "he was also an artist."
Mentioning Tony Dungy, another Class of 2016 enshrinee, Harrison said his former Colts coach "taught us how to be teammates and men and more importantly fathers."
In those 13 years in Indianapolis, the speedy, precise but modestly sized Harrison caught 1,102 passes for 14,580 yards and 128 touchdowns.
At training camp in 2003, the year after he set the all-time single-season receptions mark of 143, Harrison recalled, Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore approached him and said he was disappointed in that total.
"You should have had 150," Harrison remembered him saying.
While Harrison's talk might have stretched longer than expected, it still was shorter than those delivered by the five other living inductees on a gorgeous summer night in this city where the NFL began nearly a century ago.
Longtime coach and guard Dick Stanfel and Raiders QB Ken Stabler were inducted posthumously. But tackle Orlando Pace, pass-rusher Kevin Greene, owner Eddie DeBartolo, Dungy, and Favre all went much longer than Harrison, although their desire to thank past coaches, teammates and family members was just as evident.
Favre, the class' biggest name, came last, improvising his noteless and emotional talk the way he ad-libbed as one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.
Earlier in the day, Manning, who in 2021 figures to join Harrison and Dungy in the Hall, now undergoing a $500 million renovation, remembered the first pass he threw to the man who would become his favorite target.
"It was in my first exhibition game as a rookie," he said. "I hit him on a little 6-yard slant pattern and he turned it into a 48-yard touchdown. I thought, 'Hey, this NFL thing is going to be pretty easy if I can keep throwing passes to Marvin Harrison.' "