By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 1, 2009
TAMPA, Jan. 31 -- Bruce Smith, the NFL's career sacks leader, was part of a six-member class elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. But the group to be enshrined in Canton, Ohio, in the summer did not include former Washington Redskins guard Russ Grimm, who was not selected by the media members who serve as voters.
Smith, who finished his career with four seasons with the Redskins after 15 seasons with the Buffalo Bills, was elected in his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility. So was Rod Woodson, a defensive back who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, among other teams.
Also elected were Bills owner Ralph Wilson and former players Randall McDaniel, Derrick Thomas and Bob Hayes.
Grimm failed to make the cut when the selectors reduced the field of modern era candidates from 10 to five. But he does have one consolation: He's in Sunday's Super Bowl as the offensive line coach of the Arizona Cardinals, who face the Steelers at Raymond James Stadium.
Smith goes into the Hall of Fame with Wilson, owner of the franchise for which Smith had his finest seasons. The two embraced when Wilson arrived to speak.
"I remember when Bruce first came to Buffalo," Wilson said, and added later: "Since this fellow left us, we haven't been so good."
Former Bills coach Marv Levy was on hand as well. "He said, 'Bruce, I think you'll have something to celebrate. There's no curfew tonight,' " said Smith, who was part of Bills teams that lost four straight Super Bowls in the early 1990s.
"This kind of takes away some of the pain from those Super Bowls," Smith said.
Smith spoke tearfully of his late father, George, during his comments after the announcement. He'd thought about his father during a morning workout, he said.
"I just had a moment thinking about my father," Smith said, "and all the sacrifices he and my mother made when I was a child growing up to be a man. He wanted me to have a better life than he had."
According to one voter, Smith's election was so automatic that the person who presented Smith's case to the other selectors was told to stop his speech shortly after beginning it. But Smith said he had reservations about the vote.
"You always have doubts," he said. "I just had to allow the process to unfold and take place."
Smith, a Virginia Tech alum, expressed appreciation that Redskins owner Daniel Snyder allowed him to finish his career in D.C. "I built a relationship with an incredible person in Dan Snyder," Smith said in an interview just before leaving the convention center in Tampa at which the announcement was made. "It was like a homecoming for me, being able to play three hours from my home. So many friends and family members were able to come see me play. I wish we would have won a little more."
Snyder said in a statement released by the Redskins: "We were fortunate to have Bruce as a Redskin for his final four playing years, and as a Redskin when he set the all-time sack record. He's a consummate professional in life, as he was in the locker room and on the field. He's a personal friend, and the epitome of a Hall of Famer. He still joins us at games, and Redskins fans will always feel part of his stellar career."
Woodson is the first Ravens player to be elected. "I don't think any of us started playing football to be in the Hall of Fame," Woodson said. "I started playing football because my brothers played, to be near them. This is sinking in slowly. I'm just taking it all in."
Thomas and Hayes were elected posthumously. Hayes, the wide receiver best known for his days with the Dallas Cowboys, died at 59 in 2002. Thomas, the pass-rushing linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, died in 2000 at 33 from injuries suffered in an auto accident.
"Derrick Thomas was an incredible player, an incredible person," Smith said. "He did a number of charitable things involving children. It was a great loss to all of us the day that Derrick had that car accident. As a player, he probably had the greatest takeoff of any player ever. I'm overwhelmed with joy. This is a special class."
Said Chiefs Chairman Clark Hunt: "Derrick Thomas was the cornerstone of the modern era of the Kansas City Chiefs."
Thomas's mother, Edith Morgan, attended the announcement and said: "It was a long time coming. I just thank God it's here. I knew it would happen eventually. . . . His dream was to get to this point."
Hayes's sister also attended the announcement and read a copy of a signed letter that Hayes had asked her to read if he ever was elected. In it, Hayes thanked a long list of people, and concluded: "Just thank everyone in the whole world. I love you all."
Hayes was elected as a seniors committee nominee. Fellow seniors committee nominee Claude Humphrey, a defensive end primarily with Atlanta, was not elected.
McDaniel, a guard whose best seasons came with the Minnesota Vikings, was elected over fellow offensive linemen Grimm, Bob Kuechenberg and Dermontti Dawson.
"I'm still in a little bit of shock about it," McDaniel said. "But I'm humbled. I'm overwhelmed. It feels great. I never thought it would happen, for some reason."
Eliminated in the voters' first cut from 15 modern era finalists to 10 were former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and former players Dawson, Kuechenberg, Cortez Kennedy and Andre Reed. Eliminated in the reduction from 10 to five, along with Grimm, were Cris Carter, Richard Dent, John Randle and Shannon Sharpe.