'Football heaven' welcomes seven new members

CANTON, Ohio -- On an unseasonably mild summer evening in the birthplace of the National Football League, seven men were enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Saturday night, swelling the Hall's busts to 280 strong.

Friday night, at the annual dinner, the enshrinees wore their gold jacket for the first time, but gave it back afterward. Saturday, they got their jackets to keep forever.

"This is football heaven," running back Marshall Faulk said when he joined the hallowed group two years ago. That sentiment was supported in the emotion shown by this year's class in addition to the 120 Hall of Famers that descended on Canton this weekend as part of the 50th anniversary celebration of the Hall's opening in 1963. All living Hall of Famers, of which there are 163, got new gold jackets this year.

A group photo of everyone present was taken on the steps of the Hall Friday morning with several hundred fans watching and taking photos. That preceded the annual Nitschke Luncheon, named after Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Nitschke, in which the newest class remains silent while those returning speak of what being in the Hall means.

Tackle Jonathan Ogden was one of the seven enshrined. He was presented by Hall-of-Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome, the Baltimore Ravens general manager who made him the franchise's first draft choice in 1996.

"It's somewhat overwhelming," Ogden said before the induction ceremony. "You look around and there's Joe Greene and Joe Namath. Heck, they are all there; you can't stop naming names."

Selected to the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 2000s, Ogden played 177 games and was named to participate in the Pro Bowl 11 times in his 12-year career.

In thanking those who supported him, Ogden mentioned his grandmother Margie Sneed, who would "always tell me, Jonathan, you are special. S-P-E-C-I-A-L. She would always spell it out for me. It was probably one of the first words I knew how to spell as a kid."

Ogden was one of three first-time eligibles in this year's class, joining defensive tackle Warren Sapp and guard/tackle Larry Allen.

Presented by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Allen played 12 seasons for the Cowboys (1994-2005) and then two for the San Francisco 49ers. He entered the league as a second-round draft choice, played 203 games, was named to the Pro Bowl 11 times and was selected to the All-Decade team in the 1990s and 2000s.

Singling out Cowboys Hall of Famers who were his teammates, Allen noted, "Troy Aikman showed me how to come to work every day and be a professional. ... My goal was simple; to earn a seven-letter word called respect. The respect of my teammates, opponents and the NFL. Today, my mission is complete."

Sapp was a large part of the transformation of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from being a futile franchise to becoming a consistent competitor.

A first-round choice in 1995, Sapp had 96.5 sacks in his career and registered four seasons of double-digit sacks. Named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1999 when the Buccaneers advanced to the NFC Championship Game, Sapp also was voted to seven Pro Bowls in a career that included nine seasons with the Bucs and four with the Oakland Raiders.

Like Allen, he was on the All-Decade team in the 1990s and 2000s. Sapp was presented by his daughter, Mercedes.

He said, "I never played this game to get in the Hall of Fame. I played this game to retire my mother, because my mother worked so hard, and I wasn't going to allow her or myself to be in that position again."

As for the Bucs' turnaround, Sapp acknowledged coach Tony Dungy in the crowd and said, "A young man walked in the door, Tony Dungy, and he showed us structure, and a path and a vision. How to get it done, day in and day out."

Clearly the most emotional of this year's class, Cris Carter shed tears in a Friday press conference and was passionate during the Saturday night gold jacket dinner.

For good reason.

Despite a career in which he amassed 1,101 receptions, 13,899 yards and 130 touchdowns, Carter wasn't elected until his sixth year as a finalist.

A paragon of durability during his 16-year career, Carter played all 16 games 13 times and totaled 234 games. In 1994 and 1995, Carter had 122 receptions each season. In 1995, he also had 1,371 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Carter was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the fourth round of the supplemental draft, and played three years for the Eagles, 12 for the Minnesota Vikings and one for the Miami Dolphins. He was on the 1990s All-Decade team. Carter was presented by his son, Duron.

He apologized to Ohio State fans for hiring an agent and missing his senior season, and thanked those who stood by him during his battle with substance abuse.

Then, asking his mother Joyce to stand, Carter showed admiration for her raising seven kids after dropping out of high school, then getting her high-school degree at the age of 40 and her master's at 50.

He said, "But mom, I've got to tell you. I'm so sorry for the bumpy flight and the bumpy ride. But I got to tell you, it's a smooth landing. Sit down mama; you're in the Hall of Fame."

Known as a turn-around coach, Bill Parcells was a head coach for 19 seasons for four teams: the New York Giants (1983-90), New England Patriots (1993-96), New York Jets (1997-99) and Dallas Cowboys (2003-2006).

He had just five losing seasons, and each of his four teams improved after his arrival and made the playoffs. Parcells' overall record was 172-130-1, including 11-8 in the postseason. The Giants won two Super Bowls with Parcells as head coach, while the Patriots were in the Super Bowl and the Jets in the AFC Championship Game during his tenure.

Noting the importance of working for teams committed to winning, Parcells said, "Every organization that I worked for supported me to the fullest, and I'm grateful to the ownership of those places, because that's what allows you and the players to succeed and go forward and become champions. Without that, you've got no shot, but I was lucky to have that all the time."

Named NFL Coach of the Year in 1986 and 1994, Parcells was presented by former Giants defensive end George Martin.

Nose tackle Curley Culp and linebacker Dave Robinson were enshrined via the Seniors Committee.

Selected by the Denver Broncos in the second round of the 1968 draft, Culp was put at guard before quickly being traded to the Kansas City Chiefs. He played nine seasons for the Chiefs, then seven for the Houston Oilers. Culp ended his career playing two seasons for the Detroit Lions.

He played 179 games and was named to five Pro Bowls. Culp was presented by his son, Chad.

The 67-year-old Culp said while his parents Frank and Octavia have been gone for more than 20 years, "Their influence and spirit still remains within me."

A playmaking outside linebacker during his 12 NFL seasons, Robinson had 27 interceptions for 449 yards and one touchdown. He joined the Green Bay Packers as a first-round pick in 1963 and played 10 seasons for the Packers, followed by two with the Washington Redskins.

Robinson played 155 games and was on the All-Decade team of the 1960s. He was presented by his son, Dave.

Robinson said when he got to Green Bay, Marie Lombardi, the wife of coach Vince Lombardi, told his wife, "Vince only hollers at people with potential. When he stops hollering, you're on your way out of here. So, starting the next day, he hollered. I said, 'He loves me.'"

To be sure, on this magnificent night, love was in the air.