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In Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech, DeMarcus Ware shares the powerful journey of his life

CANTON, Ohio — Aside from his extraordinary ability as a pass rusher, DeMarcus Ware's defining characteristic during his 12-year career may have been his brilliant smile.

Family, friends, teammates, NFL fans and countless others who happened to cross paths with him have been lucky enough to see it, and it is immediately endearing. Thousands upon thousands saw it Saturday afternoon as Ware was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2023, and more will see it for years to come when they see his bronze bust in the Hall of Fame's museum.

That grin, as so many know, effectively expresses Ware's warmth and love for life. But few could know it also at times hid the pain he endured, the hurt that he lived with since his childhood, as he detailed in his captivating and moving enshrinement speech.

"People say that you are a product of your environment, but that doesn't have to be true," Ware said. "I used mine to put me here, just like all the other guys behind me. No matter what our circumstances, we made a choice and worked to be great. I was blinded by my environment as a child. Domestic violence, drugs, gangs. But my surroundings taught me how to be relentless, limitless and resilient."

The same could be said for Ware's mother, who worked three jobs to support her family, he said. Because of that, their routine moments together were fleeting. In the wee hours of the morning, she'd stop by his bed to tuck him in. In the daytime, she'd see him at school as a worker in the cafeteria, later saving leftover lunches for Ware and his sister to take home for dinner.

"Somehow, you always managed to tuck me in at 2 a.m. in the morning after working three jobs, shielding me from worrying while I knew I wasn't going to see you before I went to school in the morning," Ware said. "I knew I would see you every single day working in the school cafeteria in elementary school, middle school and even high school. We always exchanged that big smile that grandma gave us. You showed me how to serve and smile through anything. When you don't have any other choice, you just have to do it."

As Ware grew up, his football dreams seemed unlikely but he was undeterred in his pursuit of them. A lanky teenager yet to build out the frame necessary to stand up to elite linemen, Ware received little attention from Division I college programs. He decided to commit to Troy University, the only school that offered him a scholarship.

Take a look inside the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement festivities, as DeMarcus Ware unveiled his bust and gave a speech to the crowd in Canton, Ohio.

From there, the improbable dream took root, as Ware became one of the country's top collegiate players. During this time, though, Ware was faced with a singular moment of terror, now one that he was willing to share with the world.

"Often, there is something in our lives that pushes us to make a real change," Ware said. "For me, that one single frightening moment was when I was in college. I was attending a parking lot party when I was visiting home. My uncle was in his car. Without warning, he was knocked across the head with a gun. And a knife dropped to the ground and I picked it up. When I looked up, all I could see was the potential shooter's eyes and a gun barrel pressed against my head. All I heard was my family say, 'Don't kill him.' There was an eerie silence, after which I simply said, 'This isn't me,' and I dropped the knife. At that moment, I knew God gave me a second chance, and I had to do something with it.

"That was my turning point. The memory of those parking lot lights and the sounds of those screams — 'Don't kill him!' — became the fire that empowered me. You can't imagine how many years that night echoed in my head. When I trained, I was motivated by the memories of those parking lot lights. And when I ran onto the field and the crowd cheered, those memories of those screams began to fade. Every sack I made to help ease the memory of that frightful night and replaced it with positive energy."

Positive energy became a calling card of his, especially as he made his way to the NFL, where he became one of the game's legendary players. He racked up sacks at a remarkable pace, becoming the third-fastest player to reach 100, and he also picked up four first-team All-Pro selections and nine Pro Bowl nods.

While he spent the majority of career with the Cowboys, Dallas parted ways with him after the 2013 season, putting in motion the wheels that would bring Ware to the Broncos as a free agent.

"Sometimes [your light] just needs to shine somewhere else, and that was Denver, Colorado," Ware said. "Dallas taught me how to be a best-in-class leader because I was surrounded by so many of them. So when I went to Denver, I had a huge opportunity to once again let that light shine — that light and leadership shine. It started with a call from John Elway, the Bowlen family and Peyton Manning. I remember that call. [Manning] said, 'Let's go win this thing.' And we did it, brother. Whether it was Miller time with Von or if I had to call on the 'No Fly Zone,' that 'Orange Crush' spirit helped bring home Super Bowl 50. My teammates that year were unstoppable, and I'm so proud to be part of that legacy. As we always said, iron sharpens iron, and another man sharpens another."

After telling the story of his career, Ware then returned to his personal life to share the message that he intended to leave on the audience's mind.

"This might sound crazy, but the NFL taught me how to forgive," Ware said. "First, I forgave myself and then I forgave my dad. Dad, all the times I didn't understand why you weren't there, it doesn't matter. You're here now. I've learned that guilt rots in a person and forgiveness heals. How can I expect God to forgive me if I don't forgive you? You once said two simple words to me: 'I'm sorry.' I'm not sure if I responded, but I'm telling you now, on the biggest platform of my life, I forgive you.

"The light that shines on my village reflects all the people who have watched over me. My story is one of gratitude, forgiveness, brotherhood and humility. It could have ended up a different way. But I made a choice to work hard and accept God's will. And enshrinement, by definition, is to cherish the sacred. I cherish every trial and tribulation that has gotten me here. I am His sacred work. This is and has been God's work through me. May He always do sacred work through me, but also through you."

And with that, DeMarcus Ware officially was ushered into football immortality, again flashing that easy smile, this time hiding nothing.

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