CANTON, OH - Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith highlighted the 2010 Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Saturday.
Joining the only first-year eligible players elected in the class were Russ Grimm, Rickey Jackson, John Randle, Dick LeBeau and Floyd Little — the latter two both senior nominees.
The Hall of Fame Selection Committee had little trouble welcoming Rice, the NFL’s all-time leading receiver, and Smith, the league’s leading rusher, back in February. Each finalist had to receive a minimum vote of 80 percent.
Rice, a 13-time Pro Bowl selection over 20 seasons, holds numerous NFL receiving records by a wide margin, including receptions (1,549), yards (22,895) and touchdowns (197). The Mississippi Valley State product won three Super Bowl rings while playing for the San Francisco 49ers, with whom he spent the first 16 years of his illustrious career.
“I was afraid to fail. The fear of failure is the engine that has driven me my entire life...The reason they never caught me from behind is because I ran scared,” said Rice, also citing the younger days of helping his father lay brick as setting the standard for his work ethic.
Rice, much like basketball great Michael Jordan in his Hall-of-Fame speech, stated he still believed he could play pro football at 47 years old.
Smith was the last speaker of the night, and, in a rousing speech, was stoic in thanking all those involved in his success. Over 15 NFL seasons, Smith became the NFL’s all-time rushing leader with 18,355 yards, and his 164 rushing touchdowns are 26 more than his closest competitor, LaDainian Tomlinson. He also won three Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys in the early 1990s.
“Most people only dream. I not only had my childhood dream, I did everything I could to fulfill it...`and~ now the all-time leading rusher,” an emotional Smith said while singling out Hall-of-Fame teammates Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin, fullback Daryl Johnston and his prolific offensive line in Dallas.
Grimm earned notoriety as a guard for a Washington Redskins’ offensive line that was affectionately nicknamed “The Hogs.” From 1981-1991, Grimm led the ’Skins to three Super Bowl victories and was named to four Pro Bowls.
“There’s no greater feeling than moving a man from point A to point B against his will,” said Grimm, who noted he will have “The Hogs” names embroidered on the inside of his Hall of Fame jacket. “It’s a privilege to play in the NFL and it’s an honor to be selected here in Canton.”
Jackson, who along with Grimm was a University of Pittsburgh product, was a six-time Pro Bowl selection at his linebacker position during his career with the New Orleans Saints (1981-93) and San Francisco 49ers (1994-95).
“I think I deserve to be up here. Football has always been my life. I see that in these guys up here,” said Jackson, who went on to thank his church and Saints owner Tom Benson for keeping the team in New Orleans after recent adversities.
Randle, a pure sack specialist at defensive end, wound up going to seven Pro Bowls and finished with 137 1/2 sacks in his 14-year career with the Minnesota Vikings (1990-2000) and Seattle Seahawks (2001-03).
“I’d like to thank the Minnesota Vikings who gave me a shot when most thought I was undersized and wouldn’t make the team,” said the 6-foot-1 Randle, who went undrafted out of relatively unknown Texas A&I University. “I’d also like to thank the fans for giving me the strength to play hard, practice hard and go out and play 100-percent every day.”
LeBeau played his entire career (1959-72) with the Detroit Lions and recorded 62 interceptions, good for eighth on the all-time list. He later became one of the most successful defensive coordinators in the NFL, having helped the Pittsburgh Steelers to wins in Super Bowl XL and XLIII.
“I want to commend the NFL for giving us a vehicle to get veterans like me and Floyd in here,” opening-speaker LeBeau said of the senior committee process.
Despite being inducted as a player, LeBeau spent most of his speech deflecting his individual accolades and complimenting his disciples. He noted that the entire Steelers team leaving training camp to attend the ceremony was ”the highest compliment I’ve ever had in my life...I wouldn’t have wanted to be here without them.”
Little was the Denver Broncos’ first-round draft pick in 1967 out of Syracuse and logged 6,323 rushing yards through his career (1967-75).
“There are no words to describe the joy of experiencing this chapter. It is the highest honor...everything else pales in comparison,” said an inspired Little, who focused primarily on his family and religious messages to the youth.
ESPN host Chris Berman was also honored on Saturday as the 2010 recipient of the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award. Berman, a six-time winner of the National Sportscaster of the Year award, has been with the all-sports network since 1979. The 2010 National Football League season will mark Berman’s 25th straight as studio host of ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown.
The 2010 NFL preseason begins on Sunday with the Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals battling at Fawcett Stadium in the annual Hall of Fame Game.