|Thomas, Matthews, Sanders, Hickerson and Wehrli inducted into Hall of Fame|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 04 August 2007 15:04|
And Gene Hickerson's son, Bob, accepted on behalf of his father, who suffers from Alzheimer's disease. Then Gene was brought onto the stage in a wheelchair guided by former teammates Jim Brown, Leroy Kelly and Bobby Mitchell - all running backs he helped into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
On an emotional Saturday evening for six new Pro Football Hall of Fame members, the focus was on family.
Also enshrined were Bruce Matthews and Roger Wehrli. Still to be inducted was former Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin.
Thomas, a second-round pick in 1988, set a record by leading the NFL in total yards from scrimmage four consecutive seasons. The 1991 league MVP, he rushed for 12,074 yards in his career, and only all-time rushing leader Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders ran for more yards in the 1990s.
Thomas rubbed the head of his hall bust when it was unveiled, and mentioned ``it's really, really scary up here.''
He spent most of his time at the podium at Fawcett Stadium thanking the dozens of people who helped him get to Canton. He later turned to wife Patti, seated in the audience, and asked if, after nearly 20 years together, she would marry him again.
Finally, Thomas saluted the thousands of Bills fans in the crowd.
``In closing, to the fans of Buffalo,'' he said to a huge big cheer, ``every guy that probably has stood here in all these Hall of Fame jackets and said they had the best fans supporting you, I am here to say that's hogwash. No fans are like my fans, Bills fans.
``It was a ride that none of us will ever forget. Unfortunately, we can't buy tickets for that ride again, but we will always have those memories.''
Citing what he called a ``simple but memorable life,'' Sanders entered the hall by thanking a mother he never knew - she died when he was 2 years old.
Noting how players often mug for the camera and salute their mothers, a teary-eyed Sanders said: `I thought it was something that was always special and I would want to do, but couldn't. So I take this time, right here and right now, in Canton, Ohio, at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, to say, `Hi Mom.' ``
To climax his speech, the tight end with the Detroit Lions from 1968-77 read from a poem, ``The NFL: Just Passing Through,'' that he wrote in 1976.
``So give your all and nothing less, today we win, tomorrow we rest.
``You are not just my teammate, but my very best friend. Let's play together until the very end.''
The 74th player chosen in the 1968 draft, Sanders foreshadowed the era of pass-catching tight ends that spawned fellow Canton inductees Kellen Winslow and Dave Casper. As a rookie, he made 40 receptions for 533 yards, almost unheard-of numbers for his position. He was selected to the NFL's all-decade team of the 1970s.
``Charlie is what you look for today at that position. He was a pioneer,'' said Lions owner William Clay Ford, his presenter. Sanders, currently an executive with the team, has spent all 40 of his years in pro football with the Lions.
Speaking for his father, who was too ill to talk or sit on stage, Bob Hickerson remembered his dad as ``still leading the way for'' Brown, Kelly and Mitchell. Then those three great runners turned things around by leading Hickerson onstage.
As a 248-pound guard, Hickerson played 15 seasons for the Browns, and Cleveland never had a losing record in that time. He made five straight All-Pro teams (1966-70). In 1964, he helped Cleveland to the NFL championship.
``It's a tremendous honor and the crowning achievement of his career,'' Bob Hickerson said.
Hall of Famer Mike Munchak, who introduced his former mate on the offensive line, lauded Matthews' ``work ethic, competitiveness and passion for the game, which were contagious. He raised the standard for all of us.''
Matthews' set an enviable standard for blockers. He played in more games than any positional player in NFL history, starting 292 of 296, and 15 playoff games. The most starts came at guard (99 on the left side, 67 on the right) and at center (87). Matthews had 22 starts at right tackle, 17 at left tackle.
``If someone had told me when I was a kid that I would play in the NFL and make it to the Hall of Fame, I would not have believed it,'' he said. ``Having your name mentioned with the all-time greats in the game is very humbling.''
Matthews also joined the family theme, campaigning for his brother, former linebacker Clay Matthews, to join him in the hall.
Wehrli was a shutdown cornerback from 1969-82 who also excelled as a punt returner. He recovered a franchise record-tying 19 fumbles during his career and made the NFL's all-1970s team, plus five All-Pro teams.
Wehrli was elected in his final year of eligibility with the regular selection committee.
``The Hall of Fame is never a given. I never for once took it for granted that I would be or should be here,'' Wehrli said. ``I believe I was elected at this time of my life so my children ... and three grandchildren could be here and enjoy this, and remember something special about their grand dad.''
The ceremony was held at night for the first time, and 62 Hall of Famers were in attendance, including such greats as Jim Brown and Mean Joe Greene, and recent inductees Troy Aikman and Harry Carson.