MIAMI — Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith shared a lot of experiences during their dominant careers.
Rice, the league's all-time leading receiver, and Smith, the all-time leading rusher, each won three Super Bowls. Saturday, they were elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame together.
And when the inevitable moment arrived, they shared tears when recalling how each was inspired by his father.
"My father was a great running back out of Pensacola," Smith said, choking back tears. "We're sitting backstage, and my father said, 'Son, I'm so proud of you.' He said, 'I had dreamed of doing what you're doing. But your mother got sick, and I never did go to college. You're living my dream.'
"And all I could think about at that time is that I'm living his dream. I'm fulfilling my dream, and I'm fulfilling God's purpose for me."
Rice, a first-round pick by the 49ers out of Mississippi Valley State, was perfect for the West Coast offense designed by coach Bill Walsh. He played 20 seasons with the 49ers, Raiders and Seahawks, compiling 1,549 catches for 22,895 yards, 14 1,000-yard seasons and 208 touchdowns.
Smith, a high school phenom and All-American at the University of Florida, played 15 seasons, 13 with the Cowboys, as one of the league's most durable running backs. He finished his career in Arizona with 18,355 yards and 164 touchdowns.
"They told me, 'Don't cry,' " Rice said while crediting his deceased father, a bricklayer, for his unparalleled work ethic. "It meant the world to me, just like winning a Super Bowl. On draft day, people speculated I would be drafted in the first round. My brother had a small, two-bedroom apartment in Jackson (Miss). We watched the draft together, and I never took that for granted."
Rice and Smith highlight a class that includes Vikings defensive tackle John Randle, Redskins guard Russ Grimm, Saints linebacker Rickey Jackson, Broncos running back Floyd Little and Dick LeBeau, a Lions defensive back and an innovative defensive coordinator who is credited with designing the zone blitz. Little and LeBeau were elected as senior committee nominees.
Randle revolutionized the defensive tackle position, finishing with 137½ sacks for the Vikings and Seahawks. Jackson had 128 for the Saints and 49ers.
Grimm was a member of the famed Hogs offensive line that helped win three Super Bowls.Little, who waited more than 30 years to be elected, starred with the Broncos in the AFL and NFL. LeBeau had 62 interceptions, second all time when he retired.
49ers and Cowboys defensive end Charles Haley, Broncos and Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe and Bears defensive end Richard Dent were among those who reached the final 10. But they didn't receive 80 percent of the vote from the 44 writers.
Smith and Rice were thrilled they would be enshrined together in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 7.
"This is almost perfect," Smith said. "I don't think even Steven Spielberg could have written a script this nice. So many people said I could not do it. I believed in that little giant inside of me that said I can."