For once a Hall of Fame gets it right.

Pro Football Hall of Fame

OK, Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith were first ballot shoo-ins. They were kickass players that pretty much everyone liked. Even better (to those old enough to remember) both came into the NFL without ringing endorsements. Rice wasn’t fast and didn’t have good hands (wow. Someone looks pretty stupid now, huh?). Smith was too small and not tough enough (ok. someone feeling stupid number two.)

Anyway. The 44 Hall of Fame selectors spent a lot of time debating the other 13 finalists, but these two all-time record-holders who epitomize the very best of the NFL were the worthiest of first ballot recipients.

Jerry Rice

Nobody could stop Rice. He is the league’s top pass catcher and all-time touchdowns leader mostly as a 49er. The bottom line is he’s first in touchdowns (208), pass receptions (1,549) and receiving yards (22,895), besides the most touchdowns in a single season (22) in 1987 and had 14 1,000-yard seasons and scored 208 touchdowns. Beyond the numbers the dude caught balls everywhere … in the middle, in traffic, slants, screens, posts, wherever Montana or Young put the ball. He always seemed to be open and he always seemed to hold onto anything he got a hand on.

emmitt smith

Nobody could stop Smith. Like Rice, he won an MVP award in the NFL’s championship game. Smith, who led the Cowboys to three Super Bowl titles, retired in 2004 with the most carries (4,409), most rushing yards (18,355) and most rushing touchdowns (164). He also owns the most rushing touchdowns in the playoffs. Once again, beyond the numbers Emmitt was just always “there” … I just don’t remember him missing a game. And I remember 75 yard games where the Cowboys won and I remember 75 yard runs to win a Cowboys game. He was the unselfish running back that I wish today’s running backs would aspire to emulate.

Records are made to be broken, but Rice’s and Smith’s will take a while.

But I thought his year’s class was even more special because of the two nominees from the seniors’ committee:

– Steelers defensive coordinator (and Detroit Lions cornerback) Dick LeBeau

– Broncos running back Floyd Little

Now, many will question Little and LeBeau’s selections because they were another generation (and that makes them “out of sight out of mind”).

Dick LeBeau

But LeBeau did retire from the Detroit Lions with 62 interceptions, which ranked third in history at the time. He has been a coach for 37 years in the NFL and is considered a defensive genius. He should be remembered as a ballplayer not a coach. Most importantly Lebeau reminds me of the old black and blue division (Lions, Bears, Packers, Vikings). Oh, and when the Lions actually won games. Dick Lebeau was a cornerback ball hawk but in the old school of bringing the big hit. And those were the days that the Lions uniforms (although they almost look exactly the same today) somehow just looked cool. Lebeau embodied the old school big hit but smart ballplayer.

Floyd Little

Floyd Little. Another little man like Emmitt but probably a little shiftier. Looking good in the old AFL style Broncos orange crush uniforms chewing up yardage by disappearing in crowds and appearing somewhere downfield. As a running back, Little was the only great player on subpar teams, and many said his greatest runs were getting back to the line of scrimmage after being hit in the backfield. Little is the only runner on a last-place team to ever lead the NFL in rushing. He had no quit in him and still got his share of yards.

Off the field Little may have saved the Broncos in Denver. He went door-to-door trying to persuade voters to improve their stadium before the AFL-NFL merger, and if new taxes weren’t approved, the Broncos, who have since played in six Super Bowls, might have relocated.

Awesome Hall of Fame class this year. All class acts. All deserving. All non-fancy schmancy, hard working, hard playing players. I do not believe a single player in the class ever avoided a hit.

Nice job NFL. You got it right.

Written by Bruce