CANTON, Ohio – Six members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2015 made pitches for candidates to join the 295 who’ve already been inducted. Former Packers general manager Ron Wolf favors three.
“There are several people deserving to be in. There are two guys with the Raiders, Lester Hayes and Cliff Branch. The guy from Green Bay is Bobby Dillon,” Wolf said at Sunday’s “Gameday Roundtable,” an annual day-after-enshrinement event for members of the current year’s class.
Dillon is the Packers’ all-time interceptions leader with 52, but his performance was largely overshadowed by a decade of losing in the 1950’s.
“For me, it starts with Eddie DeBartolo,” former 49ers and Cowboys defensive end Charles Haley said of the former 49ers owner. “Jimmy Johnson took the youngest team to the house twice. I think he should be here. Darren Woodson.”
Steelers star Jerome Bettis, who was made the headliner of the weekend by an invasion of Steelers fans that packed Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium on Saturday night, pitched for three former Steelers, safety Donnie Shell, guard Alan Faneca and coach Bill Cowher. Bettis credited Cowher with keeping the Steelers on top despite a penchant for losing 5-7 free agents every year.’
Chiefs guard Will Shields stayed true to his roots.
“I’d have to go with Orlando Pace and Ruben Brown. Faneca would be one of those guys, too. There are a lot of good offensive linemen that need to wear that jacket,” Shields said.
Tim “Mr. Raider” Brown made a pitch for recently deceased quarterback Ken Stabler. “Tom Flores is another,” Brown said of the former Raiders coach, who won two Super Bowl titles. “I have a friend who’s been on the ballot for a lot of years, Kevin Greene.”
Flores attended Wolf’s post-enshrinement party on Saturday night. Wolf, of course, began his personnel career and achieved early fame with the Raiders.
Bill Polian, who helped rebuild the Bills and Colts and built the Panthers from an expansion team to an NFC title game finalist in just the franchise’s second year, pitched hard for former commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
“The contributor category is loaded. There is one that is absolutely a no-brainer and that’s Paul Tagliabue. He and Gene Upshaw developed a partnership to grow this game. There had been nothing but acrimony until Paul became commissioner. The Rooney Rule is probably the greatest sociological advance we’ve had in sports since Jackie Robinson. Also, Steve Tasker from the Buffalo Bills. He played on every special team. Marv (Levy) wouldn’t let him play receiver because he was afraid he would get hurt.”
Junior Seau and Vikings center Mick Tingelhoff are the other two members of the Class of 2015. Seau died at age 43 and Tingelhoff did not participate in the roundtable. He stood next to former Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton as Tarkenton spoke for Tingelhoff at Saturday’s enshrinement ceremonies.
Wolf spoke for Tingelhoff on Sunday.
“What he meant to that team is what pro football is all about. Tough, determined,” Wolf said of Tingelhoff. “To me the fascination of the game of football is a guy like Mick Tingelhoff. This guy played for 17 years. It doesn’t matter if you’re a No. 1 or a free agent like Mick Tingelhoff.”
The 2015 inductees spoke emotionally of their experience.
“All I could do was cry when I heard what he said, ‘You’re in the Hall of Fame,’ ” Brown said.
“I thought it was going to be another disappointment so I didn’t get excited about it,” Haley said. Haley was the most emotional of the inductees this weekend.
“No. 295, by the way, folks,” Wolf joked, opening his jacket to expose a patch. There are now 295 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “It’s a wonderful feeling.”
“To go to the Nitschke luncheon and be welcomed by the heroes when I was a kid. To have so many come back; it’s a family reunion. We’re with our football family far more than we are with our biological family,” Polian said.
The Nitschke luncheon, named for Packers great Ray Nitschke, is a members-only event.
“These are all the men I wanted to be like when I was playing the game,” Shields said.
Bettis played on Steelers fans whose waving towels created Saturday night’s most stunning visual.
“I knew they were coming to support me. I didn’t want to disappoint them. It took me back. It was homefield advantage,” Bettis said.
Polian spoke for Seau.
“He’s a player that transcended the game. There are only a few of them. Junior was one of the few players whose instincts would take over and he would be where you never expected him to be, and he would come with a fury that frightened you. You could never tell where Junior was going to be, but he was going to make a play nine times out of 10,” Polian said.
Seau’s daughter, Sydney, stole the show with her eloquent acceptance speech for her father. Her poise brought the audience to tears.
“He was always my nemesis. It was me against Junior. You had to game plan for Junior; that’s how great a player he was,” Bettis said.
“I can’t believe I’m going to be in the same room with Vince Lombardi,” Polian said.
It was a fitting way to end the induction weekend.