AFC East: Derrick Thomas
|Bills legends Ralph Wilson Jr. and Bruce Smith were inducted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday night.|
CANTON, Ohio -- There was little doubt what anyone who stepped to the microphone needed to do to get a reaction from the crowd at the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony Saturday night in Fawcett Stadium.
Roger Staubach is no dummy. When he wanted to generate more applause for Bob Hayes' family, he announced they were from Buffalo. They aren't, but Staubach knew his audience.
Carl Peterson, the former Kansas City Chiefs executive who spoke for the late Derrick Thomas, made it a point to remind everyone Marty Schottenheimer played for the Buffalo Bills back in the day. Schottenheimer, already an emotional mess from listening to the memories of the great linebacker, trembled even more when the fans cheered.
And when Rich Eisen tried to tell some jokes about Rod Woodson and heard crickets, he should have just pumped his fist into the air and screamed "Buffalo!" Then he would have gotten a response. A big one.
Canton is the new South Buffalo this weekend.
Fans made the four-hour drive to watch two more of their Bills -- founder Ralph Wilson Jr. and defensive end Bruce Smith -- get inducted.
On Sunday night, the current Bills will play the Tennessee Titans in the annual Hall of Fame Game. It will be the Bills debut for future Hall of Fame receiver Terrell Owens.
Of the 12,695 fans in attendance Saturday night, a third reportedly hailed from the 716 area code.
|AP Photo/Tony Dejak|
|Buffalo fans were in full force at Saturday's Hall of Fame inductions.|
Not even a steady afternoon rain would deter them. Diehards wearing jerseys of almost every former Bills star you could imagine streamed into town to hear Wilson and Smith deliver speeches in their yellow jackets.
"Certainly feels like a home game," Smith said with a smile after he walked to the lectern. Calls of "Bruuuuuuuuuce" cascaded from the concrete bleachers.
Wilson and Smith bookended the evening. Wilson's presenter, ESPN's Chris Berman, played to the crowd by asking them to recite their favorite catchphrase with him: "No one circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills."
After Randall McDaniel, Hayes, Woodson and Thomas were honored, Smith went last.
His presenter, former Bills defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell, asked all the Bills who played on those Super Bowl teams to stand. Of course, Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, James Lofton and Marv Levy were on the stage. Mixed among the crowd were Darryl Talley, Andre Reed, Steve Tasker, Kent Hull, Will Wolford and others.
Bills fans, who haven't seen their team in the playoffs since the 1999 season, wistfully cheered each name as it was announced.
Smith's speech was wonderfully paced. He paid homage to his family and his mentors. He thanked the Washington Redskins and his agent. He mentioned each of his doctors by name.
Then, about 12 minutes into his speech, when he was supposed to be wrapping it up, he really got started, heaping praise on Buffalo.
"What a ride it was," Smith said before ticking off the accomplishments: four straight AFC titles, the K-Gun offense, the Comeback Game.
"And the record-breaking attendance set by the greatest fans in the NFL," Smith said.
Fawcett Stadium erupted.
"Thurman Thomas, you're undoubtedly the most complete running back of our era," Smith said while lauding his former mates. "My life would be a little less right if I didn't have you to laugh and joke with.
"P.S. I hid your helmet."
Fawcett Stadium erupted again. Without so many Bills fans in attendance, the crickets probably would have resumed chirping.
CANTON, Ohio -- What a night it should be at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The class of 2009 will be inducted in Fawcett Stadium, and I'll be on scene to chat with you live, beginning at 6:30 p.m. and staying on until the final tear has been shed. Perhaps by me.
I like to think of the format we're using tonight as a mosh chat.
I'll be joined by AFC West blogger Bill Williamson, AFC North blogger James Walker, NFC South blogger Pat Yasinskas and ESPN.com NFL editor John Banks in what should turn into a chaterrific free-for-all that will include live Q&A, on-site reports, polls and remembrances about the greatest players football has known.
Here is the scheduled order of enshrinement (with presenter in parentheses):
- Ralph Wilson (Chris Berman)
- Randall McDaniel (O.K. Fulton)
- Bob Hayes (Roger Staubach)
- Rod Woodson (Tracy Foster)
- Derrick Thomas (Carl Peterson)
- Bruce Smith (Ted Cottrell)
|Steve Tasker went to seven Pro Bowls as a special-teams ace.|
What other Bills from those Super Bowl years deserve inclusion? Andre Reed is an obvious response. His candidacy was debated on this blog when he was passed over again this year.
Now, let us consider Steve Tasker.
His listed position when he played from 1985 through 1997 was wide receiver. He finished with 51 receptions for 779 yards and nine touchdowns. That's one serviceable season's worth of numbers spread out over 13 years.
How Tasker contributed, however, couldn't be illustrated with stats. The 5-foot-9 missile was such an explosive special-teams player that the NFL created a position so it could send him to the Pro Bowl. He went seven times.
"Without a doubt, the greatest special-teams guy ever," said New York Jets linebacker Larry Izzo, who has been the special-teams selection to three Pro Bowls -- once for the Miami Dolphins and twice for the New England Patriots. "Steve Tasker revolutionized the game.
"We still watch tapes of him. [Jets special-teams coach Mike Westhoff] will throw on a clip of him as a gunner or on a kickoff team or blocking punts. You name it. He was a very unique player to be a player that put that kind of speed that he had and also the aggressiveness and style he played with."
I had the chance to speak with Tasker this week for a Smith retrospective that will run Friday. At the end of our talk, I asked Tasker if he thought he would get into the Hall of Fame.
"I probably will get considered again and probably won't get in again," Tasker said. "That's fine."
Special-teamers can't get into the Hall of Fame. Only one kicker, Jan Stenerud, is in. Ray Guy, considered the greatest punter of all-time, has been a finalist seven times but can't get voted into Canton. (I wrote a post in February about kickers and the Hall of Fame.)
"If anybody deserves to go into the Hall of Fame as a special-teams player, it's Steve Tasker," Izzo said.
What I found refreshing in listening to Tasker talk about his Hall of Fame prospects was his humility. So often when a Hall of Fame's latest induction class has been announced we hear the snubbed whine about not getting honored.
Tasker won't be one of those.
"It's an honor to be considered," Tasker said. "It's awesome I'm even in the conversation.
"When my friends go in, Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, James Lofton, Bruce Smith, Ralph Wilson ... You watch them get inducted and there's no doubt any of them deserve to be there. It's hard for me to sit there and say 'You know what? I belong in there.' I can't sit there and say that. If the voters vote me in, I would be thrilled. But I can't say I deserve it."
The NFL Network compiled a list of the top 10 players not in the Hall of Fame. Tasker made the list. Reed did not.
The list also included Ken Anderson, Cris Carter, Bob Hayes, Alex Karras, Jerry Kramer, Jim Marshall, Ken Stabler, Derrick Thomas and Ricky Watters. Hayes and Thomas are going in this year. Carter's induction will happen soon.
"Every player who ever put on a helmet would like to be in the Hall of Fame," Tasker said. "Who wouldn't?
"But I enjoyed my career so much. I was on a great team. I don't get caught up in it too much because -- Hall of Fame or not -- I enjoyed every bit of it. I don't feel slighted at all because I didn't make the Hall of Fame. I just feel blessed to have been a part of the NFL."
Tasker's ego never would allow him to say he belongs in the Hall of Fame.
What do you think?
The Pro Football Hall of Fame will welcome six new members Saturday when the Class of 2009 is enshrined.
Honorees Bruce Smith, Rod Woodson, Derrick Thomas, Ralph Wilson Jr., Randall McDaniel and Bob Hayes will be hailed for their accomplishments during the ceremonies in Canton, Ohio.
At 90, Buffalo Bills owner and American Football League pioneer Wilson is the oldest person ever inducted; former Minnesota Vikings star guard McDaniel is the only offensive lineman in this class; former Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Thomas and former Dallas Cowboys receiver Hayes are receiving posthumous honors.
Wilson chose ESPN anchor Chris Berman, a longtime friend, to present him. Former Bills defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell will present Smith. Woodson has chosen Tracy Foster, a business partner, as his presenter.
McDaniel picked high school athletic director O.K. Fulton as his presenter.
Former Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach will honor Hayes, and former Chiefs president Carl Peterson will salute Thomas.
How powerful it must feel to make 80,000 people, some of them wearing your jersey, ascend from their seats and cheer your effort.
How exhilarating it must feel to be completely surrounded by fans, pumping their fists and screaming their throats hoarse for you.
To consider the massive audience beyond the confines of the arena, the millions watching at home and around the world on television, or those who don't care one whit about your uniform but maybe drafted you in their fantasy leagues, the sensation must be profound.
NFL players affect the way people feel every time they snap up their Riddells and stride onto the field. In many cases, what transpires on Sunday can buoy or ruin a town's mood for an entire week.
Yet some players' greatest accomplishments happen nowhere near a stadium, aren't broadcasted and have only a handful of witnesses.
These moments often are the greatest feats players will achieve as human beings.
Overlooked too often are remarkable acts performed in the community by the same men who garner so much attention for participating in a football game. They help children, comfort the sick and encourage the destitute -- and don't expect any applause in return.
|Al Pereira/Getty Images|
|Running back Tony Richardson takes great pride in his charitable contributions off the field.|
When NFL Charities recently rewarded 89 player foundations $1 million in grants, three of the five organizations it highlighted belonged to AFC East players: Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington, New England Patriots tackle Matt Light and New York Jets fullback Tony Richardson.
"I've been blessed to do what I do for a living, but with that I think it's also a tremendous responsibility," Richardson said. "The fact I can show up somewhere and somebody's life can be impacted, at the end of the day that's how we're all going to be judged."
Richardson's jersey isn't the NFL's biggest mover, but the three-time Pro Bowler and lead blocker for five 1,000-yard rushers has sold his share over the years for the Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings and Jets.
One of his jerseys, in particular, symbolizes the influence an NFL player can have on one life.
Christopher, a 9-year-old Kansas boy, was buried in it.
"That's definitely humbling and overwhelming," Richardson said. "It doesn't even seem real. I would never think that I could have that kind of impact on one individual or family.
"You can't even put that into words that you've touched someone's life like that."
Christopher had leukemia. Richardson would visit him at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. Christopher, when his health permitted, would attend any event he could for Richardson's organization, the Rich in Spirit Foundation.
On the desk at Richardson's home in Kansas City is a picture of Christopher.
"My philosophy in life is that if you've had a bad day, that's up to you," Richardson said.
"You control how you respond to adverse situations. His picture helps me maintain that perspective. It reminds me how precious life is, how each day could be your last."
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Last week I posted an item that generated healthy debate about whether former Buffalo Bills special teams stalwart Steve Tasker belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
I was having a conversation with New England Patriots' uber-specialist Larry Izzo Thursday, and he mentioned Tasker's name in passing. With Hall of Fame induction weekend upon us, I asked Izzo to share his thoughts about Tasker's place in Canton.
"He's someone who certainly deserves to be there," Izzo said. "He definitely revolutionized the game as far as putting the focus on individuals on special teams were it hadn't been there before.
"He took the game to another level. I know from playing against him he was a challenge. I just remember watching him on film and thinking 'This guy is (expletive) great.' "
The NFL Network this week named the top 10 players not in the Hall of Fame. Tasker was ranked No. 9 ahead of Ken Anderson and behind (in order from the top) Jerry Kramer, Derrick Thomas, Cris Carter, Jim Marshall, Bob Hayes, Ken Stabler, Ricky Watters and Alex Karras.
Tasker had so much impact the NFL instituted a special-teams position for the Pro Bowl, an honor Izzo has earned three times.
"He's the best ever in my opinion," Izzo said. "He could run. He was tough. He had a nose for the football. He was a playmaker. You put him in different roles, as a gunner, as a penetrator on the kickoff.
"He was a finisher. A lot of guys you see can run down the field really fast, and that's nice if you're outside. But do they finish the play? He was one of those guys who would make those plays."
Watch this Tasker video clip from NFL.com and tell us if you agree with Izzo or not.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
|Andy Lyons/Getty Images|
|Does former Buffalo Bills special teamer Steve Tasker belong in the Hall of Fame?|
One of the all-time great Buffalo barroom debates -- right up there with "Is Zubaz acceptable to wear to work on Casual Fridays?" -- is whether Steve Tasker deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Based on a list the NFL Network will unveil next week, he probably does belong in Canton.
As part of its coverage to promote enshrinement weekend, the NFL Network will break out "The NFL's Top 10 Players Not in the Hall of Fame" at 8 p.m. Tuesday.
The names have been released; the order has not.
In addition to Tasker, the list includes Ken Anderson, Cris Carter, Bob Hayes, Alex Karras, Jerry Kramer, Jim Marshall, Ken Stabler, Derrick Thomas and Ricky Watters.
But the most intriguing mention is Tasker. He was listed as a wide receiver, finishing his career with only 51 catches and nine touchdowns.
The fact Tasker's mentioned as worthy of consideration is testament to his crazy special teams acumen for a club that went to four straight Super Bowls.
He was 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds (maybe) but a fearless hitter. He could change a game with the way he torpedoed down a field, so much so that he went to seven Pro Bowls on that alone. He was Pro Bowl MVP in 1993.
In 2000, the Hall of Fame electors voted him onto the NFL's all-time team.
But is being a special-teams superduperstar enough to qualify for Canton? And, perhaps more importantly, do you still wear Zubaz? In public?