It was a long but fruitful wait for native son Dan Dierdorf, one of five men inducted Saturday into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"I did a little homework, and this is my 20th enshrinement ceremony " Dierdorf said from the dais set up on the front steps of the Hall. "I can tell you the view up here is a lot better than I had the previous 19."
Dierdorf, a longtime St. Louis Cardinals offensive lineman and analyst for Monday Night Football, was inducted along with Detroit Lions lineman Lou Creekmur, Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, Dallas Cowboys defensive back Mel Renfro and wide receiver Charlie Joiner, who played for San Diego, Houston and Cincinnati.
Creekmur had to wait 32 years after first being eligible, Renfro 19, Joiner 10 and Dierdorf 8. Gibbs was elected in his first year of eligibility.
Dierdorf's father took him to the ground-breaking ceremonies for the Hall in 1962. Dierdorf said he visited the locker rooms before and after the annual exhibition game that follows the induction ceremony, and came to realize that pro football players were gods.
"I used to walk down here from my house," Dierdorf remembered after being presented by his former coach, Jim Hanifan. "It's about a mile from here, and I can walk it in about 15 minutes."
Dierdorf spent 13 years in the league with the Cardinals. Never on a championship team, he nonetheless was one of the top offensive linemen of his era.
Creekmur, who played guard and tackle from 1950-59, came out of William & Mary to help the Lions to NFL championships in 1952, '53 and '57.
Gibbs, who led the Redskins to three Super Bowl titles, was presented by his former mentor, Don Coryell.
Joiner played for Houston (1969-72), Cincinnati (1972-75) and San Diego (1976-86), catching 750 passes for 12,146 yards and 65 touchdowns. The Grambling graduate played more games as a wide receiver than any other player. "I'd like to tell the selection committee, "It took you a long time, but you finally got it right,'
" Joiner said.
Renfro, renowned as a cornerback, safety and kick returner for the Cowboys from 1964-77, was selected to the Pro Bowl his first 10 seasons. The former Oregon running back played in four Super Bowls, finishing his career with a victory in the 1978 game.
"Here I am, and I can't tell you how much this means to me," said Renfro, presented by former Cowboys coach Tom Landry.
Even as they cheered Dierdorf and the others, fans also vented their anger.
About 50 members of a Browns fans group protested just across the street from the Hall. Closer to the Hall, protesters booed and shouted down commissioner Paul Tagliabue when he was introduced at the outset of the ceremonies.
Signs hanging from a retaining wall next to adjoining Fawcett Stadium said, "No Browns, No NFL!" and "Browns Fans Demand Expansion."
"We just want to show up, let the NFL know we still haven't gone away and that we're still mad," one protester said.