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Hall of Honor banquet speeches were candid and emotional


Steve Smith Sr. put together an all-time great career through gritty determination, toughness and brawn.

But on Saturday night as he gave his speech at the Hall of Honor induction ceremony, he began with an admission. That he didn't want the night to come, because he knew he'd finally be vulnerable.

The moment was emblematic of four speeches from four very different individuals that were drawn together by their passion, dedication to each other and excellence on the football field.

As Smith wove stories from his career with words of thanks for his wife, family, agent, pastor and others, he continued to show his vulnerability in admissions about weakness amid the considerable strength he displayed throughout his remarkable career.

Unlike his quarterback Jake Delhomme, who talked about his joy and love of the game, Smith played for other reasons.

"One of the things I always struggled with in my career, that a lot of men don't know, was I never wanted to let you guys down," Smith said. "I didn't love the game. I loved the men. And I loved beating up other men for my teammates."

Smith's ready admission that he didn't expect to be back in Carolina blue became a heartfelt thank you to general manager Marty Hurney and owner David Tepper. His actions on Sunday by displaying his jersey from under his blue blazer reinforced how emotional he felt about coming home again.

Home was a theme of Delhomme's speech as well.

"This place adopted us," Delhomme said fighting back tears. "I became their 'Carolina Cajun' and I loved it. I felt there was a certain responsibility for me to uphold a certain standard for them. Everything about Carolina, it was just always home."

Delhomme described his connections with all of the different people in the Panthers organization, imploring the crowd to realize how special the place is.

"I've played with three other teams," he said. "And I tell people all the time that there's something different in Carolina. It's special."

Wesley Walls had a similar experience, as both he and Delhomme excelled in Carolina after coming from New Orleans.

"My career never really flourished until I stepped off the plane in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1996," Walls said. He went on to speak about the struggles he faced in injuries and adversity before Carolina called him in 1996. He spoke about Sam Mills convincing him that Carolina was special and different, helping convince him to sign.

And like all good pass catchers, Walls was grateful to his quarterbacks, Kerry Collins and Steve Beuerlein, who were in attendance.

"My two favorite photos of my entire career were with them. One was with Kerry on the sideline and we were laughing about something. And the other was walking off the field with Steve with our arms draped over one another."

Jordan Gross' speech, much like his personality on Panthers media outlets for so many years, was a mix of humor and introspective sincerity.

"The story of my life and my career is a story about people. I was given a lot of gifts from God," Gross said. "I never really knew why stuff seemed to go my way. My responsibility to those gifts was to pay it back. I was so fortunate to have people along the way that believed in me. All these wonderful people. I knew that my job while I was here to do good back to other people."

He told a story about a rite of passage in his family, how everyone needs to know how to slalom water ski.

"It's hard. It takes a lot of grit and determination and you have to try and try and try," Gross said. "And when you're out there in the water trying to learn like my daughter was...she was out there and she was scared and she was trying. And we were encouraging her and throwing her the rope. And then she got up this year and she made the club. I couldn't believe how proud I was over her success."

And after telling his fellow inductees about special moments and things that he shared with them, Gross returned to the water skiing story.

"My whole life I've felt like I was the one in the water. Everyone was just rooting for me and they had the rope, the life jackets, the spotter. And when I got up and everyone was cheering, it's just beautiful being here and looking back at the boat and seeing everybody in there smiling. I only wish that you guys know how I feel about everybody and how appreciative I am. It's not me, it's everybody that's up here."

View photos from the Hall of Honor banquet on Saturday night as the four new inductees received their jackets and gave speeches.