Smith, Woodson among 2009 Hall of Fame class

The Sports Network

8/8/2009 11:12:18 PM

Canton, OH (Sports Network) - Bruce Smith, who spent most of his career chasing quarterbacks as an All-Pro defensive end with the Buffalo Bills, and longtime Pittsburgh Steelers defensive back Rod Woodson were among the six new members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame inducted Saturday.

Smith and Woodson, eligible for the first time, were inducted along with linebacker Derrick Thomas, guard Randall McDaniel, wide receiver Bob Hayes and Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson, Jr. Thomas and Hayes were inducted posthumously.

The 2009 class increases the number of all-time greats permanently honored in the Pro Football Hall of Fame to 253.

Smith, the first overall pick in the 1985 draft by the Buffalo Bills, is the NFL's all-time sack leader with 200. A member of both the NFL's All-Decade Teams of the 1980s and 1990s, Smith was named first-team All-Pro nine times and voted to 11 Pro Bowls.

"I have come full circle," Smith said. "By the grace of God I stand before you today. This induction into the Hall of Fame marks my passage into football's immortality."

The Virginia Tech product also played for the Washington Redskins in a career that spanned 1985-2003. He recorded 10 or more sacks in a record 13 seasons and helped the Bills reach four consecutive Super Bowls.

Woodson played for four different teams in 17 NFL seasons, but spent the majority of his career with Pittsburgh. The Steelers selected him with the 10th overall pick of the 1987 draft and he played 10 seasons with Pittsburgh before moving on to San Francisco, Baltimore and Oakland.

"It's an honor. I thought about what I was going to say, but to be on this stage, it's a whirlwind," Woodson said. "It's more than putting on the jacket -- it's being part of the elite team of pro football. I'm very humbled."

Woodson was a member of the NFL's 75th Anniversary Team in 1994 and was selected to the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 1990s. He intercepted 71 passes, which he returned for an NFL record 1,483 yards and a record 12 touchdowns, and was named All-Pro six times and voted to 11 Pro Bowls.

Both Smith and Woodson earned Defensive Player of the Year awards during their careers. Smith was chosen in 1990 and 1996, while Woodson captured the honor in 1993.

Thomas, who spent all 11 of his seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, amassed more sacks during the 1990s than any other player. He was selected to nine Pro Bowls, named All-NFL three times, and was All-AFC seven times in an eight-year stretch.

"The characteristics that set him apart on the football field were his endurance, his determination and his sportsmanship," said his mother, Edith Morgan. "Derrick would just come through and change the course of the game because the quarterback never knew where he was coming from."

The Chiefs selected Thomas with the fourth overall pick of the 1989 draft and the Alabama product finished his career with 126 1/2 sacks. He had 20 alone in 1990, including an NFL record seven in a game against Seattle.

Thomas was a member of the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 1990s. He tragically died from injuries sustained in a car accident in 2000 at the age of 33.

McDaniel was named All-Pro nine straight seasons and voted to a record 12 consecutive AFC-NFC Pro Bowls during his 14-season career with the Minnesota Vikings (1988-1999) and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2000-01).

"Wow. It's impossible to imagine a moment like this. It really defies words," McDaniel said. "In my wildest dreams, I could never imagine standing here today. To me, this moment (allows me to) have an opportunity to celebrate everyone who helped make this journey."

Hayes, a gold medalist track star in the 1964 Summer Olympics, combined his world class speed with great hands to change the game during his 11 seasons with Dallas and San Francisco. "Bullet Bob," a three-time All-Pro pick, caught 371 career passes for 7,414 yards and 71 touchdowns.

"He had another speed," said former Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach, who spoke on Hayes' behalf. "When I thought I overthrew him, I ended up underthrowing him. When Bob Hayes was running a route, you had to get the ball out in a quick manner. Thank you (to the selection committee) for making sure this great athlete is part of the Hall of Fame."

Known as the World's Fastest Human for his two gold medals in the 1964 Olympics, Hayes stretched the field with his speed. His 71 career TD catches remain a Cowboys club record. He died in 2002 at the age of 59.

Wilson founded the Buffalo Bills in 1959 and watched his team win back-to-back AFL titles in the mid-1960s. The Bills also became the only team ever to advance to four consecutive Super Bowls.

"(I had a choice of five different cities) of where I could place my franchise (in the AFL), and I picked Buffalo," Wilson said. "It was a lucky pick because over the years, they have supported the team in Buffalo beyond our fondest dreams. And without the support, I wouldn't be on this platform tonight."

Wilson was an integral part of the AFL's success and its merger with the NFL, and has also served on a number of important NFL committees over the years.

"There was a lot of animosity between the leagues at that time," Wilson said. "We would pool all the television money, which of course would help the smaller markets, and I was in favor of that. We would have a common ground, so we weren't bidding against each other for players. My talks didn't finalize the merger, it just set the parameters of how one would take place."

The Selection Committee made the choices from a list of 15 modern-era finalists and two Senior Committee finalists. A positive vote of 80 percent was necessary for election.

There were two reduction votes in the process. Dermontti Dawson, Cortez Kennedy, Andre Reed, Bob Kuechenberg and Paul Tagliabue were the first five names cut from the list. Cris Carter, Shannon Sharpe, Richard Dent, Russ Grimm and John Randle were then trimmed after the second vote, and only Senior finalist Claude Humphrey did not make the final cut.