TAMPA, Fla.—Bruce Smith, Rod Woodson, and Derrick Thomas, all witnesses for the defence. All pro football Hall-of-Famers.
The three were elected Saturday along with longtime Buffalo Bills’ owner Ralph Wilson, who at age 90 will be the oldest person ever inducted, former Minnesota guard Randall McDaniel, and the late Bob Hayes, a stand-out wide receiver for Dallas and the 1964 Olympic gold medallist in the 100 metres.
Inductions will be held Aug. 8 in Canton, Ohio.
The only candidate among the seven finalists who didn’t get in was former Falcons’ and Eagles’ defensive end Claude Humphrey.
Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue was denied entry for the third-straight year—not even making it past the first round of cuts.
Tagliabue, who retired in 2006 after 17 years in the job, has met strong resistance in his three years of eligibility despite the profitability and labour peace the league enjoyed during his tenure.
No such problem for Smith and Woodson in their first year on the ballot.
“I am overjoyed,” said Smith, the NFL’s sacks leader who spent most of his career with the Bills.
“It’s a great honour, a great feat,” echoed Woodson, the former defensive back who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers, among other teams.
“I’m still pinching myself a little bit, thinking it’s surreal.”
The moist poignant moment, however, came when Hayes’ sister, Lucille Hester, read from a thank-you letter Hayes left in case he made the hall. He died in 2002.
“It didn’t matter how long it took. . . . The day is here, and it is historic,” she said.
A defensive end, Smith retired five years ago with 200 sacks and made two all-decade teams. Drafted No. 1 overall in 1985, Smith had the most seasons with double-digit sacks (13) and the most post-season sacks (14.5).
He earned defensive player of the year honours in 1990 and 1996 with Buffalo, and concluded his 19-season career with four seasons as a Redskin.
Smith previously said making the hall would be a bigger honour if two other Bills, Wilson and wide receiver Andre Reed, also got in the same year. He got half of his wish.
“What a phenomenal class, and especially with having Ralph Wilson, the founding owner of the Buffalo Bills, to be inducted in the ’09 class, as well,” Smith said. “This is truly special.”
Wilson and the Titans’ Bud Adams are the only original AFL members who still own their franchises. Their teams will meet in the Hall of Fame game the day after the inductions.
Wilson steadfastly has kept his team in a small market while other owners bolted for the bright lights and big bucks of mega stadiums. He drew the biggest ovation at the announcement and mentioned he’d seen every hall enshrinee perform at some point.
“Pro football to me is not about making money. It’s a matter of competition, the flow of the game,” he said. “People in the community become attached to a team. It gives them a quality of life.
“I had a chance to move that team. I think it would be crazy to do that.”
McDaniel, meanwhile, was that rare guard as effective in pass protection as run blocking and could handle even the best defensive linemen single-handedly. He missed only two games in his 14-season career and was yet another member of the 1990s all-decade team.
“Randall was a beast,” Smith said. “Once he locked on to you, you couldn’t go anywhere.”