Rice and Smith lead a class of seven into Hall of Fame
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - All-time greats Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith led a class of seven into the Pro Football Hall of Fame yesterday.
The NFL’s career receiving and rushing leaders were joined in the Hall by John Randle, Russ Grimm, Rickey Jackson, Floyd Little, and Dick LeBeau. Little and LeBeau were elected as senior committee nominees.
“I am just honored . . . to stand up there with greatness,’’ Rice said before breaking down in tears.
Rice and Smith both made it in their first year of eligibility. They were elected a day before the Super Bowl, a game they each won three times.
“This is almost perfect,’’ Smith said. “I don’t think even Steven Spielberg could have written a script this nice.’’
They will be inducted into the Canton, Ohio, shrine Aug. 7.
Nobody could stop Rice, the league’s top pass catcher and all-time touchdowns leader, when he played for San Francisco, Oakland, and Seattle. Rice made 1,549 catches for 22,895 yards, had 14 1,000-yard seasons, and scored 208 touchdowns.
Nor could they handle Smith, who rushed for 18,355 yards and 164 touchdowns for Dallas and Arizona. Like Rice, he won an MVP award in the NFL’s championship game.
And no one could deny them immediate entry into the Hall. A nominee needs 80 percent approval from the 44 media members who vote, and they were slam-dunks.
“We were rewarded on this day and the both of us get the chance to do what we want to do,’’ Smith said.
“It’s just like playing in that big game,’’ said Rice. “This is something you think about, and it is happening.’’
Steve Young, one of two Hall of Fame quarterbacks who threw to Rice, got the first hug from the new Canton member, then said, “They made ‘yards after the catch’ a stat because of Jerry Rice.’’
Two other all-time top receivers, Cris Carter and Tim Brown, were not elected.
Carter, in his third year of eligibility, is third in career receptions with 1,101, while Brown, in his first year on the ballot, made 1,094.
Jackson, a do-everything linebacker with a great burst off the line who was a six-time Pro Bowler, finished his 15-season career for New Orleans and San Francisco with 128 sacks.
Randle was that rare defensive tackle who was a premier pass rusher. Randle had 137 1/2 sacks for Minnesota and Seattle, tied for sixth overall, and led the league with 15 1/2 in 1997. He played in seven Pro Bowls.
Grimm, a member of the Redskins’ famed Hogs offensive line, won three Super Bowls. A guard, he made four Pro Bowls.
LeBeau, the current defensive coordinator of the Steelers, is considered one of pro football’s great defensive innovators as a coach. But he was voted in for his outstanding work for the Lions from 1959-72. LeBeau finished with 62 interceptions, second among cornerbacks when he retired.
Little starred for the Broncos in the AFL and NFL, leading the NFL in rushing in 1971 with 1,133 yards and in touchdowns rushing in 1973 with 12. He waited 30 years to get elected.
“My dad used to take me to games to watch Jerry play,’’ Little joked, cracking up Rice.