The road to Canton

Former NFLers (left to right) Jerry Rice, Floyd Little and Emmitt Smith pose for photographs...

Former NFLers (left to right) Jerry Rice, Floyd Little and Emmitt Smith pose for photographs together after being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame at a news conference before the NFL's Super Bowl XLIV football game in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on February 6, 2010. (MIKE SEGAR/Reuters)

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:52 PM ET

The glory trail ends today in Canton for seven National Football League veterans. For many the glare of the spotlight will be familiar. For others, not so much.

Jerry Rice played in a fishbowl-like existance as a three-time Super Bowl champion in San Francisco and Emmitt Smith earned his place in the Hall of Fame with America’s Team, the Dallas Cowboys.

But the feel-good story at today’s induction ceremonies has to belong to John Randle.

He went from the poor, fatherless kid nobody much paid attention to; a kid who worked odd jobs and couldn’t get into a Division I school, to become the preeminent defensive tackle of his era with the Minnesota Vikings. Between 1991-2002, Randle’s 131 sacks were the most in the NFL but nobody even drafted him out of Division II Texas A&I — now known as Texas A&M-Kingsville. When he tried out with Tampa they told him he was too small.

They forgot to measure his heart.

The Vikings scouted him and they, in particular defensive line coach John Teerlinck, were intrigued enough to hang on to him. Today, Teerlinck will introduce him at Canton, as an ordinary kid with extraordinary ambition and drive who would become a trash-talking dynamo with innovative technique. Brett Favre once called him the toughest defensive player he had ever faced.

Football was never far from Randle’s mind. “I’ve seen him practice on doorways,” Teerlinck said. “One time he was at Cub Foods, and there was a woman coming toward him in the aisle. He came running up to her and put a shutter-spin move on her cart. She didn’t know what was going on. That little old lady just about had a heart attack.”

More than a few offensive linemen could identify with that feeling. Randle finished his career with 137.5 sacks. “This guy made it himself,” Teerlinck said. “One year, he took the cushions from an old couch and duct-taped them to the trees outside his home in Texas. He made a gauntlet he’d go running through in the forest.”

While Randle represents the blue collar set, Rice and Smith are this year’s Canton blue-bloods — the two most statistically-proficient players ever inducted.

Rice is a three-time Super Bowl champion. The Super Bowl XXIII MVP who holds every significant career receiving record. With 22,895 yards, Rice is 7,687 in front of No. 2 receiver Isaac Bruce, who retired recently. The next closest active player is Terrell Owens, who trails Rice by more than 7,900 yards.

Smith, winner of four rushing titles, follows Jim Brown and Walter Payton as the latest all-time rushing leader to be inducted. He won three Super Bowl rings, a Super Bowl MVP and a regular season MVP. He also has 18,355 career yards, a record that seems unassailable, with LaDainian Tomlinson, his closest rival, now 30 years old and nearly 5,900 yards behind.

“My body feels pretty good,” said Smith, who is the all-time leader in carries with 4,409. “I don’t have a whole lot of aches and pains, for which I feel very fortunate and blessed.”

The other inductees include: Russ Grimm, guard and tackle with the Redskins whose blocking helped Tim Smith run for 204 yards in Super Bowl XXII. Detroit Lions cornerback Dick LeBeau had 62 interceptions, more than 15 of the other 20 defensive backs in the Hall of Fame. He had seven against each of Bart Starr and Johnny Unitas.

Linebacker Rickey Jackson established himself as an elite pass rusher in 1983 with 12 sacks and led the Saints to their first division title in 1991. Floyd Little became the Broncos’ first 1,000-yard rusher in 1971 and scored 32 TDs between 1971-’73.


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