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 (14 1/2). 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 126 1/2.
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.