2009 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class Announced

By: AP Email
By: AP Email

Career sacks leader Bruce Smith, versatile defensive back Rod Woodson and four others made the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, while former commissioner Paul Tagliabue was denied entry for the third straight year.

Joining Smith, who led Buffalo to four straight Super Bowl
appearances, and Woodson are longtime Bills owner Ralph Wilson; the
late Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas; former Minnesota guard
Randall McDaniel; and the late Bob Hayes, a standout wide receiver
for Dallas and the 1964 Olympic 100 meters gold medalist.

Inductions will be Aug. 8 in Canton, Ohio.

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 labor peace the league enjoyed during his tenure.

No such problem for Smith and Woodson in their first year on the
ballot.

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
postseason sacks (14½). He earned defensive player of the year
honors in 1990 and 1996 with Buffalo and concluded his 19-season
career with three seasons as a Redskin.

Smith previously said making the hall would be a bigger honor if
two other Bills, Wilson and wide receiver Andre Reed, also got in
the same year. He got half of his wish. The 90-year-old Wilson is
the only owner the Bills have had since they were a charter member
of the AFL in 1960.

"This is a special class. I am overjoyed," Smith said.

"Just thinking about my father and all the sacrifices he and my
mother made when I was a child growing up to be a man," he added
tearfully. "How he wanted me to have a life better than he had. I
just wish he was here. He would be extremely proud of this day."

Woodson the 1993 defensive player of the year, also made the
1990s all-decade team. He led the NFL in interceptions in 1999 and
2002 with Baltimore, and in kickoff returns (27.3-yard average) in
1989 with Pittsburgh. He played cornerback and safety for the
Steelers, 49ers, Ravens and Raiders in a 17-season career, winning
the NFL championship with Baltimore in the 2001 game and making
Super Bowls with Pittsburgh and Oakland.

Woodson is the career leader in interception returns for
touchdowns with 12.

Thomas, who died nine years ago after an auto accident while
still an active player, also was on the 1990s all-decade team and
was the 1989 defensive rookie of the year. He is 11th in career
sacks with 126½.

A rushing outside linebacker who also had responsibilities in
pass coverage for Kansas City, Thomas set an NFL mark with seven
sacks in one game against Seattle on Nov. 11, 1990, a year in which
he paced the NFL with 20 sacks.

"Derrick Thomas was the cornerstone of the modern era of the
Kansas City Chiefs and one of the most feared performers of his
era," Chiefs owner Clark Hunt said. "Every head coach and
offensive coordinator who faced the Chiefs during the 1990s knew
when they came to Arrowhead Stadium they had to account for Derrick
Thomas."

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 has steadfastly kept his team in a small market while
other owners sought bigger markets and larger stadiums. He drew the
biggest ovation at the announcement and mentioned that he'd seen
every hall enshrinee perform at some point.

"What a shock," he said. "I have made so many friends in
football over the last half century. I don't know what to say."

He quickly thought of something: "It's such an honor."

McDaniel was that rare guard who was as effective in pass
protection as run blocking and could handle even the best defensive
linemen singlehandedly. He missed only two games in his 14-season
career and was yet another member of the 1990s All-Decade team.

Hayes, who died in 2002, was the most dangerous deep threat in
pro football from 1965-75. Nicknamed "Bullet Bob," he twice he
led the NFL in touchdown catches and in average yards per
reception. He also was a brilliant kick returner.

The long wait for Hayes to get into the hall - he was a senior
committee choice - had much to do with legal problems he had off
the field.

His sister, Lucille Hester, read from a thank-you letter Hayes
left in case he made the Hall of Fame. Then she added: "It didn't
matter how long it took. ... The day is here, and it is historic."

Tagliabue's day still has not arrived; he didn't even make the
cutdown from 17 finalists to 10. Among the criticisms of the former
comissioner: his inability to put a team back in Los Angeles after
the Rams and Raiders left in 1995.

The other senior committee finalist, defensive end Claude
Humphrey of the Falcons and Eagles, wasn't elected.


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