Cheers welcome White into Pro Football HOF
CANTON, Ohio -- The glory of the newest Hall of Famers' achievements was punctuated by a steady stream of tears and a singular chant:
Nearly all of them choked up or cried during the four-hour ceremony, even the usually unflappable Aikman. Most poignant was the way White, also an ordained preacher who died in December 2004, was honored.
His son, Jeremy, was White's presenter, and his widow, Sara, made the acceptance speech. Both crying, they shared a long hug after unveiling Reggie's bust before a rapt audience.
"Reggie was an honest, humble, honorable, dedicated, determined, passionate and caring man," Sara White said. "He is inducted today not only because of his athletic achievements, but because he was a great player on the field in accordance with being a great person throughout life."
Often, the fans chanted Reggie's name. It didn't matter if they were dressed in Packers or Eagles green -- a collection of current Eagles, including Donovan McNabb, sat in the crowd wearing White's No. 92 -- or even Cowboys, Giants or Oilers blue or Raiders black.
They all stood and cheered for the Minister of Defense, including Aikman, Dallas' three-time Super Bowl champion quarterback.
"I too am saddened by the absence of Reggie White, a great player and a man who left us too soon," Aikman said. "It's an honor to be a member of the Hall of Fame class that includes five men I have so much admiration and respect for. They played the game the way it should be played, and John Madden coached the game the same way."
Aikman's voice cracked as he explained his emotions:
"I was able to live a dream. I played professional football," he said. "That I was able to do so with so many great players and coaches and win three championships and wind up here -- it is almost too much to believe. I am humbled to be welcomed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame."
White was a two-time defensive player of the year who made 13 straight Pro Bowls. He was the career sacks leader with 198 when he retired -- Bruce Smith since has passed him -- and won a Super Bowl with Green Bay in 1997 after starting his illustrious career in the USFL, then moving to Philadelphia.
"It's not how we die, it's how we live," Sara White said. "I encourage you to live like Reggie lived. His legacy will live on through you."
Aikman won 90 games in the 1990s, the most by any quarterback in one decade.The top overall pick in the 1989 draft, he guided the Cowboys to three Super Bowl titles in four seasons and made six Pro Bowls.
He saved his strongest praise for his teammates, including NFL career rushing leader Emmitt Smith, who was in the audience and certainly will be on the stage for his own induction someday.
"I did what was asked to help the team win," he said, "and after a career of putting team goals first, it is so extremely gratifying to receive the highest individual honor a player can receive."
Moon became the first black quarterback in the Hall. The only one of the inductees not to win an NFL title, he captured five straight Grey Cups for the Edmonton Eskimos after being undrafted out of the University of Washington.
"I was not really invited to the combine and no coaches came out to give me workouts," Moon said. "It was a foregone conclusion quarterback was not in my future in the NFL, but changing positions was. I was going to play quarterback and I was looking for somebody who would let me do that.
"Thank you Canada."
Moon came back to the United States as a free agent in 1984 and spent 10 seasons in the Houston Oilers' run-and-shoot offense. He also played for Minnesota, Seattle and Kansas City in 17 NFL seasons and passed for more than 70,000 yards (over 42 miles) before he retired at age 44.
"A lot has been said about me being the first African-American quarterback in the Hall of Fame," he said. "It's a subject I am uncomfortable with at times, because I want to be judged only as a quarterback.
"But significance does come with that, I accept that. I remember all the guys before me who blazed that trail to give me the inspiration. I always had that extra burden that I had the responsibility to play the game for my people. I carried that burden proudly."
It took nearly a quarter century for Madden to make it to the Canton shrine. When the moment came Saturday, he got "goofy."
"I started thinking about this after I was voted to the Hall of Fame, and now I know," said Madden, elected by the senior committee for a 103-32-7 coaching record, no losing seasons and the 1977 Super Bowl championship. "At night, when the fans and visitors all leave, then the workers start to leave, then just one person turns out the light, locks the door, and I believe the busts talk to each other. And I can't wait for that conversation.
"We'll be there forever and ever talking about whatever. That's what I believe will happen and no one is ever going to talk me out of that."
Madden might be best known now for his announcing and his video game, but Madden was 36-16-2 against other coaches in the Hall.
Carson became the first inside linebacker from a 3-4 defense to make it to Canton. It was a long-awaited honor -- he retired in 1988 after 13 seasons, nine Pro Bowls and a Super Bowl title with the New York Giants -- that Carson recently had given up on.
Two years ago, after making the final 15 candidates for the sixth straight year but not being elected by a panel of sports writers, Carson asked to have his name withdrawn from consideration.
Carson gave his presenter, son Donald, a long hug before addressing the crowd. Donald Carson suffers from a rare blood disorder.
"This isn't about me, this is about my family," Carson said. "I am so thankful my son presented me this afternoon; he is definitely a man. He's been through so much in the last seven months, more than I could ever have gone through. I never knew needles could be so long."
Wright also played 13 seasons, and won two Super Bowls. He retired in 1979 and was voted in by the seniors committee.
A former college basketball player expecting to play in the NBA, Wright was a tight end who was "stunned" when coach Tom Landry said he was being moved to tackle. "Big Cat" went on to make six consecutive Pro Bowls and help the Cowboys win 10 division titles.
Wright cited the poem "The Road Not Taken" for inspiring his career.
"Through this poem I discovered life would give me choices. It was recognizing those choices that proved to be the greatest challenge," he said in a teary speech. "My instinct was to always take the easy road, but the easy road never came my way.
"I'm privileged to be in such a stellar class."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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