Football

Woodson, Smith, Bills owner selected for football hall

Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson and Bruce Smith, the team's dominant defensive lineman of the 1980s and 1990s, are among a class of six headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson and Bruce Smith, the team's dominant defensive lineman of the 1980s and 1990s, are among a class of six headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Rod Woodson joined Smith as first-year eligible players who made the cut. The other inductees will be Bob Hayes, Randall McDaniel and the late Derrick Thomas. 
Rod Woodson's 71 interceptions place him third on the all-time NFL list. ((Jamie Squire/Getty Images))

Woodson ranks third all-time with 71 interceptions and returned 12 of those for touchdowns, a record. He reached the Pro Bowl 11 times in his 17 seasons of play and was named to the NFL's all-time team in the mid-1990s.

For good measure, he scored four touchdowns from kick and punt returns in his career and scooped up 23 fumbles, returning one for a TD.

Most of Woodson's best years came with Pittsburgh (1987-1996), but he was still very effective in subsequent stops with San Francisco, Baltimore and Oakland.

Woodson was able to transition from playing cornerback to safety and finally won a Super Bowl as a member of the Baltimore Ravens in 2001.

"I don't think any of us started playing football because we wanted to be in the Hall of Fame," Woodson said. "I started playing football because my brothers played."

A list of 17 finalists was whittled down to seven contenders Saturday. The hall's selection committee includes over 40 sportswriters and broadcasters.

Selected first overall by Buffalo in the 1985 draft, Smith finished his career as the all-time NFL sack leader, dropping opposing quarterbacks 200 times.

Thirteen times in his 19-year career Smith recorded at least 10 sacks in a season. He finished his career with four seasons with the Washington Redskins. 
Bruce Smith, seen in Buffalo in September, played 19 seasons in the NFL, all but four with the Bills. ((Rick Stewart/Getty Images))

"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," said a tearful Smith.

"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."

Thomas died at age 33 in a single-vehicle accident in 2000. By that time, the speedy linebacker had racked up 126½ quarterback sacks in an 11-year career for the Kansas City Chiefs.

"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 co-ordinator who faced the Chiefs during the 1990s knew when they came to Arrowhead Stadium they had to account for Derrick Thomas."

Difficult feat

McDaniel performed the difficult feat of making the hall as an offensive lineman, among the least flashy positions in the game. He spent 12 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings before retiring in 2001 after two years with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Hayes, known as Bullet Bob, made the transition from the track to the gridiron after winning the 100 metres in a world record-tying 10 seconds at the 1964 Tokyo Games. He also won gold in the 4x100 relay for the United States.

Hayes routinely blew away cornerbacks who attempted to cover him one-on-one. His world-class speed forced opposing teams to implement several zone defences that are common in today's game.

He went on to make 371 catches, mostly for Dallas, in an 11-year career. He retired with San Francisco in 1975. The Florida native died of kidney failure in 2002 and also battled liver ailments and prostate cancer. 

Hayes was nominated by the seniors committee ahead of defensive end Claude Humphrey, who played for Atlanta and Philadelphia in a career that spanned from 1968 to 1981.  

Sister reads moving note

Lucille Hester, Hayes's sister, read a note her brother wrote before his death in case he was given football's greatest individual honour. 

"Tell all my teammates I love them," Hayes wrote.

"It didn't matter how long it took," said Hester, donning a grey baseball cap with the inscriptions "Bob" in red and "Hayes" with blue stitching.  "Today is here, and it is historic."

Wilson, 90, was picked from the builder category. He founded the Buffalo franchise, which came into the American Football League in 1960 and won two championships in the nascent league.

Along with Kansas City's Lamar Hunt and Al Davis of Oakland, among others, he was among the most influential of the owners from the league, which merged by the end of the decade with the NFL.

"What a shock," said Wilson. "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 honour."

Team fell short

The Bills were a power for over a decade beginning in the mid-1990s, reaching the Super Bowl in four consecutive years — only to fall short each time.

Despite playing in one of the smallest markets in the NFL, the team has consistently sold out Ralph Wilson Stadium, which has more capacity than nearly all other league facilities. But the Bills now play some of their games at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, charging much more for tickets.

With the six entrants, there will be 253 enshrined in Canton.

Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who reigned over the league through a period of expansion, labour peace and soaring television revenues, was passed over for the third consecutive year in the builder category.

First-year candidates also up for consideration were tight end Shannon Sharpe and defensive tackle John Randle.

Andre Reed was unable to make it a Bills triumvirate, passed over again along with fellow receiver Cris Carter, who starred with Minnesota.

Other candidates who were hoping another look might gain them entrance included Chicago defensive end Richard Dent, Seattle defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy, Pittsburgh centre Dermontti Dawson, Washington guard Russ Grimm and Miami guard Bob Kuechenberg.

The hall of fame festivities will take place Aug. 8-9 in Canton. The Bills will face the Tennessee Titans in the Hall of Fame Game on Aug. 9.

With files from the Associated Press