One of the best-kept secrets of the Pro Football Hall of Fame weekend here is the annual Friday luncheon at a local country club attended by the new inductees and any Hall of Fame members who care to attend. Many do care -- deeply.

Mostly, it's a time for the game's greatest players to share war stories in two hours of good fellowship. But there's also a portion of the program devoted to the old Hall of Famers talking to the new men in their fraternity about the responsibility they have as members of this elite group.

Former Los Angeles Rams defensive end Deacon Jones usually stands up and reminds the inductees that this is one team in which there are no salary disputes and no one ever gets cut. Last weekend, with Jones not attending, that role was filled by second-year man Dan Dierdorf, who spoke along similar lines.

The session is supposed to be off the record. But several of the new inductees said publicly this week they were deeply moved by what they heard, and didn't grasp what enshrinement truly represented until they heard several passionate speeches from those who came before them, including one by Redskins assistant general manager Bobby Mitchell.

During his acceptance speech, Eric Dickerson pledged to Hall of Fame voters, "I promise you'll always get a fair shake from me. I will never do anything that makes you not proud of me as a Hall of Famer."

Many here over the last four days wondered if Lawrence Taylor would also take the old Hall of Famers' message to heart, especially after he showed up for the induction ceremony Saturday wearing sandals and a designer T-shirt under his yellow blazer. Taylor has been in and out of trouble since he retired as arguably the greatest outside linebacker to play the game, and there was considerable controversy attached to his selection. Taylor said in a news conference before the ceremony that he definitely took the words of the old-timers to heart but also indicated that he didn't see it as a "life-changing experience."

Still there was a touch of humility in Taylor's formal talk, particularly when he said: "I want to thank my kids for understanding that people do make mistakes in life. But they have the ability to forgive me, and love me."

George Young, the former Giants general manager who drafted Taylor, said he hoped "this is the beginning of a lot better things for him. I think he's beginning to understand the responsibilities that go along with being a Hall of Famer."

Stay tuned.

Kuehl Getting Chance

Let it be recorded that the first man officially to hit the field Monday night in the Cleveland Browns' first preseason game was none other than Ryan Kuehl, the Bethesda native who spent the 1997 season as a starting defensive tackle with the Redskins but was cut at the end of camp last summer. Kuehl, who did not hook up with another team last season, had been taking classes at American University for his MBA, and was planning to return to school full time this fall to finish the program.

Last January, however, he got a call from the Browns. They promised him he'd get a fair look on the defensive line and also would work as a long snapper, another specialty he's developed over the years.

Kuehl had been on the 49ers' practice squad the year after he graduated from Virginia and said he felt that Browns President Carmen Policy, who occupied the same position when he was in San Francisco, "would put together a first-class organization. I really am getting a good shot here, and I'm doing a lot of snapping. That won't hurt."

At the moment, Kuehl is a backup defensive end, but because he also can play tackle, he has a decent chance to make the team and continue his football career.

"I came out here in mid-March, went through the offseason program, and I feel a lot better about how things are going," Kuehl said. "I just have great confidence in this organization. They're trying to build a winning-type culture right away, and when people have confidence in the organization, you work that much harder. It's nice to see."

Kicker Pressure Cooker

The NFL is looking for place kickers, not place cookers.

To prevent punters and place kickers from tampering with footballs to get them to fly higher and farther, the league will seal all game balls until game day. In previous years, 36 game balls were delivered to home teams on Fridays. Quarterbacks liked to throw them around in Saturday's final practices, but league officials suspected kickers also were getting the footballs and doctoring them to suit their styles.

"Microwave, rubbing the balls with Carnation milk, the clothes dryer," Browns Coach Chris Palmer said recently when asked how kickers have tried to alter footballs to their liking. "Everyone has his own ingredients."

Now, anyone caught microwaving a football will be fined $25,000.


Around the League

The Denver Broncos' Mark Schlereth underwent surgery on his left elbow in July, the second time since the end of last season he had surgery on that elbow to remove bone chips. More significantly, it was the 25th time the former Redskins guard has gone under the knife, surely an NFL record. Schlereth has missed only 13 games in his career because of operations. . . .

Policy said he and other high-ranking Browns executives did not attend Saturday's induction ceremony that included Ozzie Newsome, now vice president of the Baltimore Ravens, to avoid making Newsome feel the least bit uncomfortable during the proceedings. Policy and team owner Al Lerner did attend several events in Canton on Friday, and both offered personal congratulations to the greatest tight end in Browns history. They'll also honor Newsome at halftime of their game against the Bears on Aug. 21 in Cleveland, where he'll get his Hall of Fame ring. . . .

Johnny Mitchell, out of football for almost two seasons, ended his comeback attempt with the Jets, his original team, after one day. But he still collected $75,000 in offseason and workout bonuses.