TAMPA — Two towering figures from the Bills and a man once dubbed the "World's Fastest Human" highlighted the Hall of Fame's Class of 2009 announcement Saturday, with Bills owner Ralph Wilson Jr., former defensive end Bruce Smith and late Cowboys receiver "Bullet" Bob Hayes among six inductees.
The other three whose bronze busts will grace Canton are defensive back Rod Woodson, a longtime fixture with the Steelers; guard Randall McDaniel, who starred for the Vikings; and Kansas City's nine-time Pro Bowl linebacker Derrick Thomas, who died from injuries sustained in a car accident in 2000.
Smith, the first overall pick in 1985, has the most sacks in NFL history with 200, so his selection was not unexpected. Still, he was filled with emotion at a packed news conference.
"I just had a moment," he said, pausing as he gathered himself on the podium, his voice breaking. "Just thinking about my father, all his sacrifices. … I just wish he was with me. He would be extremely proud of this day."
Smith terrorized quarterbacks from 1985-99 and was defensive player of the year in 1990 and 1996.
Perhaps the most riveting moment occurred when Lucille Hester spoke of Hayes, her brother who died in 2002 of kidney failure. Hester produced a letter Hayes wrote and signed in case he was inducted.
"I want to thank everybody who supported me to get into the NFL Hall of Fame, the Dallas Cowboys organization, all of my teammates and everyone who played for the Cowboys," the letter began.
The room was still as Hayes, who last was a finalist in 2004 and likely would not have gotten another chance, thanked those he knew from the east side Jacksonville, where he grew up, and throughout his life. "I love you all," it concluded.
Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt, son of late owner and AFL pioneer Lamar Hunt, appeared on behalf of Thomas, a Miami native who had 1261/2 sacks in 169 games over 11 seasons and holds the single-game record of seven.
Woodson thanked all of the teams he played for: the Steelers, 49ers, Ravens and Raiders. During his 17 seasons, he had 71 interceptions and 17 touchdowns and made 11 Pro Bowls.
"That's amazing to me," he said at the thought of joining the 253 players now enshrined.
McDaniel, who spoke via phone from Minnesota, was the rock of the Vikings offensive line for 12 years before finishing his career with the Bucs in 2000 and 2001.
Wilson, who formed the Bills and has been a key figure in the league, joined Smith on stage.
"It's a great honor," Wilson, 90, said. "I don't know what to say."
His accomplishments, as with the other five inductees, said it all.
The enshrinement ceremony is Aug. 8 in Canton, Ohio.