NFL announces new Hall of Fame class


Published: Saturday, January 31, 2009 at 3:23 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 31, 2009 at 3:23 p.m.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Career sacks leader Bruce Smith, versatile defensive back Rod Woodson and four others made the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, while former commissioner Paul Tagliabue was denied entry for the third straight year.

Joining Smith, who led Buffalo to four straight Super Bowl appearances, and Woodson are longtime Bills owner Ralph Wilson; the late Chiefs linebacker Derrick Thomas; former Minnesota guard Randall McDaniel; and the late Bob Hayes, a standout wide receiver for Dallas and the 1964 Olympic 100 meters gold medalist.

Inductions will be Aug. 8 in Canton, Ohio.

Tagliabue, who retired in 2006 after 17 years in the job, has met strong resistance in his three years of eligibility despite the profitability and labor peace the league enjoyed during his tenure.

No such problem for Smith and Woodson in their first year on the ballot.

A defensive end, Smith retired five years ago with 200 sacks and made two all-decade teams. Drafted No. 1 overall in 1985, Smith had the most seasons with double-digit sacks (13) and the most postseason sacks (14). He earned defensive player of the year honors in 1990 and 1996 with Buffalo and concluded his 19-season career with three seasons as a Redskin.

Smith previously said making the hall would be a bigger honor if two other Bills, Wilson and wide receiver Andre Reed, also got in the same year. He got half of his wish. The 90-year-old Wilson is the only owner the Bills have had since they were a charter member of the AFL in 1960.

"Just thinking about my father and all the sacrifices he and my mother made when I was a child growing up to be a man," Smith said tearfully. "How he wanted me to have a life better than he had. I just wish he was here. He would be extremely proud of this day."

Woodson the 1993 defensive player of the year, also made the 1990s all-decade team. He led the NFL in interceptions in 1999 and 2002 with Baltimore, and in kickoff returns (27.3-yard average) in 1989 with Pittsburgh. He played cornerback and safety for the Steelers, 49ers, Ravens and Raiders in a 17-season career, winning the NFL championship with Baltimore in the 2001 game and making Super Bowls with Pittsburgh and Oakland.

Woodson is the career leader in interception returns for touchdowns with 12.

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