Tearful Rice, Smith lead seven into Hall of FameMIAMI - National Football League all-time rushing leader Emmitt Smith and all-time receiving leader Jerry Rice broke into tears Saturday after leading seven gridiron legends into the American Football Hall of Fame.
Also voted into the honor shrine by a 44-member selection committee were guard Russ Grimm, defensive tackle John Randle, linebacker Rickey Jackson, cornerback Dick LeBeau and running back Floyd Little. Rice and Smith, who will be inducted with the rest in August ceremonies, were excited that they would be enshrined together while leaders atop two of the NFL’s most hallowed lists.
“Nobody could write a script this perfect,” Smith said. “For Jerry Rice and I to go in at the same time, it’s just incredible.”
Smith and Rice, each a three-time Super Bowl champion in his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility, both wept when talking about their fathers, Rice’s having died and Smith’s having watched his own dream realized by his son.
“Backstage he told me, ‘I had the dreams of doing what you’re doing but my mother got sick and I never did go to college,’” Smith said as tears flowed. “He said, ‘You are living my dream.’”
Rice broke down and cried when asked what role his parents played in his career.
“What they instilled in me was hard work and appreciation, a love of the game,” he said. “I felt it was important for me to set the example.”
Rice, 47, helped the San Francisco 49ers win three Super Bowl titles and set NFL all-time marks of 1,549 catches for 22,895 yards and 197 touchdowns, as well as the all-time touchdown record of 208, over a 20-season career.
“It means the world to me, just like winning the Super Bowl,” Rice said. “I’m just honored to be here among the legends who made football what it is.”
Smith, 40, helped spark the Dallas Cowboys to three Super Bowl titles and passed Walter Payton in 2002 as the National Football League all-time rushing leader. He ended a 15-season career in 2004 with all-time NFL records of 18,355 yards and 164 touchdowns on 4,409 carries.
“It’s such a honor,” Smith said. “This is such a special moment. It’s like your walk through these open doors and this group of men is waiting there with their arms open to embrace their brothers.”
Grimm played 11 seasons for the Washington Redskins and was part of three Super Bowl championship squads as well. Randle played 14 seasons, 11 of them with Minnesota and three with Seattle, and made 137 sacks while Jackson spent 12 seasons with the New Orleans Saints and two more with San Francisco, making 128 career sacks.
Little, a star rusher in the 1960s and 1970s with Denver, and LeBeau, a star cornerback with Detroit from 1959 through 1972, were both selections from the seniors list, players whose careers ended more than 25 years ago.
Voters eliminated defensive lineman Charles Haley, receivers Tim Brown and Cris Carter, rusher Roger Craig and coach Don Coryell in a first voting round. In a second cut from 10 to five, the committee rejected tight end Shannon Sharpe, center Dermontti Dawson, defensive end Richard Dent, receiver Andre Reed and defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy.
Former NFL player Emmitt Smith smiles 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 Feb. 6. [REUTERS]