With video: Sights, sounds from Michigan Sports Hall of Fame ceremony

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
The living members of the 2018 Michigan Sports Hall of Fame class: From left, Mick McCabe, Robert Porcher, Kate Sobrero-Markgraf, Todd "T.J." Duckett and B.J. Armstrong. The ceremony was Friday night at MotorCity Casino Hotel.

Detroit — Robert Porcher sure racked up the sacks, and he was darn proud of it. His 95.5 remain a Lions career record, and his 15 in 1999 remain a team single-season record.

But ask him about the hardest hit he ever leveled, and you've stumped him.

Truth is, Porcher said he never concerned himself with having the opposing quarterback seeing stars.

"Just like I have a family, I always, in my mind, their wives or their mothers, their sisters, their brothers are watching," Porcher, the All-Pro defensive end, said Friday night before he was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame at MotorCity Casino Hotel as part of a class of eight. "I just wanted it to be, at the end of the game, we just all go home."

That's an interesting take, given the state of the game today — as the NFL works harder to protect the quarterback. Roughing-the-passer penalties are way up, drawing the ire of some hardcore fans.

The internet even has been flooded lately with memes and videos mocking how "soft" the NFL has become. One video showed the "correct" way to sack a quarterback, by gently putting a baby in the crib. 

To Porcher, though, it's not a laughing matter.

More:Grand Valley's Cullen Finnerty was everybody's 'Superman,' up until tragic end

"I think it is definitely needed," said Porcher, who played his entire 12-year NFL career with the Lions. "I was telling people, you see me, I look good. But a lot of people don't understand, man, I'm 49 years old and one of the biggest, hardest things you have to deal with are the headaches. It's just part of it.

"Now, I don't have one right now, today, but they're there. And I think that's what the NFL is working on. The only way you're gonna start and try to help with some of these post-career injuries that so many guys are suffering from is you're going to have to change the way things are done.

"You can't continue to allow some of the head shots, some of the body shots. You just can't. The only way you're going to have to change that is you're going to have to get players to understand you can't do it like that. You just can't."

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B.J. Armstrong still gushes about Detroit. He still wears Detroit clothing wherever he travels around the world. He remembers Boblo Island, and riding down Woodward with his eyes closed, trying to guess the make and model of the classics during Dream Cruise week. He gushes about Tommy "Hitman" Hearns.

The former Birmingham Brother Rice star also grew up a big fan of the Pistons.

But he spent much of his pro career as a rival of his idols, as a key cog for the Chicago Bulls in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He was on the receiving end of the non-handshake heard round the world, when the Pistons walked off the floor at the end of the 1991 Eastern Conference finals.

"You know, at the time, I didn't think twice about it, because I knew all the players on the team. They were all my friends, so it was really no big deal until I read about it the next day," said Armstrong, 51. "It was a treat for me growing up here. I grew up watching Isiah Thomas, I grew up watching Joe Dumars, I remember when Dick Vitale, and Terry Tyler, and John Long, and Earl Cureton, and all of those guys. Those were like my heroes growing up in the city, watching Pistons basketball.

"You know, when I see Isiah and all those guys now, they give me a hug now, so it's water under the bridge."

So, then, was the snub — the old guard Pistons dissing the new guard Bulls — actually overblown?

"I don't know if it was overblown," said Armstrong, a former point guard who won three NBA championships with Chicago. "You know, it's part of sports, and it was a great rivalry.

"That was a great, great period of basketball. And there's a lot of things that we all probably look back on in our life, we wish we could've done differently. But, certainly, I respect Dennis Rodman and John Salley. When we see each other, it's nothing but love. It was great then, and it's great now.

"I just have such fond memories of that entire time."

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Kate Sobrero-Markgraf didn't start playing soccer because she dreamed of fame and fortune. Women's soccer certainly wasn't then what it is today. In fact, she started playing for survival.

"I have three older brothers that liked to torment me and hurt me and push me into walls," she said, laughing. "But because of that, I got really, really tough. And they played soccer, and I looked at them as the coolest things, and the coolest people in the world. They played, therefore, I played."

Did she ever.

Sobrero-Markgraf, who won a state title at Detroit Country Day, became a star for the United States national team, something you don't often say about a defender. 

She won three Olympics medals gold in 2004 and 2008, silver in 2000, and three World Cup medals (gold in 1999, bronze in 2003 and 2007). The 1999 World Cup match at Giants Stadium in New Jersey really stands out most among the more than 2,000 matches she played for the United States national team. They got stuck in traffic on the way to the stadium, where 90,000-plus were in attendance.

"We were so naive," said Sobrero-Markgraf, 42, "that we had no idea the traffic was for us."

Always a popular question: Where do you keep the medals?

"My gold medals are nowhere cool. They are in my house and they are worn very often," she said. "My kids fight over who gets the silver, because I have two golds and a silver.

"Our World Cup one broke the minute we got it, so I don't even know where that one is."

Wait, they didn't replace it?

"It's FIFA women's soccer. Yes, I said that!" Sobrero-Markgraf said, laughing. "Back then, that's how it was."

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Todd "T.J." Duckett was a legend at Michigan State, for "The Catch" in the 2001 game against Michigan — a game known just a bit more for "The Longest Second." He had a lengthy NFL career that netted him millions. But when it was all over after being released by the Seahawks in 2009, there were some dark days. He didn't know how to cope with his new life — a struggle too many athletes relate with.

"(When it's over), it is equally difficult as it is to achieve," said Duckett, the former star running back. "When you've given your life to something for so many years and you can no longer do it, you have searching to do."

Duckett said he figures it took him five or six years to get himself in a good place, mentally — a big part of that his decision to quit drinking. He also has talked about battling depression.

"In 2011, 2010-11ish, I had a rough night, and that night I could see a future that — friends have gone down that path, other athletes have gone down that path, and I was literally taking steps down that path," said Duckett, 37, a prep star in Kalamazoo before bursting onto the scene at Michigan State. He also played for the Lions.

Duckett actually went on a fast of nothing but water, 40 days and 40 nights.

He then started searching for other ways to enrich his life. He found that "helping, giving, sharing, volunteering, that's all that matters." That made him happy again, gave his life renewed purpose.

Duckett also opened a screen-printing business, "The Print King," in Lansing.

"Touchdowns are great, but that's not what motivates my life anymore," said Duckett, who also ditched his college moniker, T.J., in favor of Todd to help signal a fresh start. "I didn't understand that. That's what I had to figure out.

"I think no matter what age you are, you are always figuring out what life's about. Athletes just happen to have an accelerated version of that whole process."

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►Other members of the 2018 Hall of Fame class: Daedra Charles-Furlow, a Detroit native who went on to star for Tennessee and Team USA basketball; Charlie Coles, a longtime high-school basketball coach in Saginaw who also was as an assistant coach at Detroit Mercy and Central Michigan; Cullen Finnerty, a record-setting quarterback at Grand Valley State; and Mick McCabe, a longtime sports writer at the Detroit Free Press. Charles-Furlow (2018), Coles (2013) and Finnerty (2013) were inducted posthumously.

►Dean Look, a member of the Hall of Fame's Class of 2017, also was inducted, as he wasn't able to attend last year. A Lansing native, he played quarterback at Michigan State, then played for the Chicago White Sox before moving on to a 29-year career as an NFL referee. He worked three Super Bowls.

►The Hall of Fame also honored Ryan Shay as part of its "Michigan Treasure" series. Shay, of Central Lake, was a standout distance runner who died suddenly at the age of 28 during U.S. Olympic trials.

►The newspaper "war" took a night off, as former Detroit News sportswriter Tom Gage, himself a member of the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame, presented McCabe with his award.

►McCabe figures he wrote more than 17,000 stories during his four-decade career with the Free Press.