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Smith, Rice lead 7 new football Hall of Famers

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All-time greats Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith led a class of seven into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday.

The NFL’s career receiving and rushing leaders were joined in the Hall by John Randle, Russ Grimm, Rickey Jackson, Floyd Little and Dick LeBeau. Little and LeBeau were elected as senior committee nominees.

“I am just honored … to stand up there with greatness,” Rice added before breaking down in tears.

Rice and Smith both made it in their first year of eligibility. They were elected a day before the Super Bowl, a game they each won three times.

“This is almost perfect,” Smith said. “I don’t think even Steven Spielberg could have written a script this nice.”

They will be inducted into the Canton, Ohio, shrine on Aug. 7.

Nobody could stop Rice, the league’s top pass catcher and all-time touchdowns leader, when he played for San Francisco, Oakland and Seattle. Rice made 1,549 catches for 22,895 yards, had 14 1,000-yard seasons and scored 208 touchdowns.

Nor could they handle Smith, who rushed for 18,355 yards and 164 touchdowns for Dallas and Arizona. Like Rice, he won an MVP award in the NFL’s championship game.

And no one could deny them immediate entry into the Hall. A nominee needs 80 percent approval from the 44 media members who vote and they were slam-dunks.

“We were rewarded on this day and the both of us get the chance to do what we want to do,” Smith said.

“It’s just like playing in that big game, this is something you think about, and it is happening. I never thought I would go in …. with this guy here,” Rice added about Smith.

Steve Young, one of two Hall of Fame quarterbacks who threw to Rice, got the first hug from the new Canton member, then said: “They made yards after the catch a stat because of Jerry Rice.”

Two other all-time top receivers, Cris Carter and Tim Brown, were not elected. Carter, in his third year of eligibility, stands third in career receptions with 1,101, while Brown, in his first year on the ballot, made 1,094.

Jackson, a do-everything linebacker with a great burst off the line, finished his 15- season career for New Orleans and San Francisco with 128 sacks. A six-time Pro Bowler, Jackson sparked the first turnaround by the Saints from Aints to contender, in the late 1980s. He helped the Saints to their first division title and playoff berth.

Now, a day before the Saints appear in their first Super Bowl against the Indianapolis Colts, Jackson is Canton-bound.

Jackson, however, was introduced as Randy instead of Rickey — a bad omen for the Saints?

Randle was that rare defensive tackle who was a premier pass rusher. An undrafted free agent out of Texas A&I, Randle had 137 1/2 sacks for Minnesota and Seattle, tied for sixth overall, and led the league with 15 1/2 in 1997. He played in seven Pro Bowls.

Grimm, a member of the Washington Redskins’ famed Hogs offensive line, won three Super Bowls. A guard, he made four Pro Bowls and was selected to the all-decade team of the 1980s.

The two senior committee inductees did not get enough support from the regular panel of media members when they were eligible.

LeBeau, the current defensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers, is considered one of pro football’s great defensive innovators as a coach. But he was voted in for his outstanding work for the Lions from 1959-72. LeBeau finished with 62 interceptions, second among cornerbacks when he retired.

“I would like to congratulate Dick on his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” Steelers president Art Rooney II said. “Few men in the history of the NFL have contributed more to the league as a player and coach than Dick LeBeau during his 51 years in the league.”

Little starred for the Denver Broncos in the AFL and NFL, leading the NFL in rushing in 1971 with 1,133 yards and in touchdowns rushing in 1973 with 12. He waited 30 years to get elected.

“My dad used to take me to games to watch Jerry play,” Little joked, cracking up Rice.

“It’s been a long journey. This is truly my dream. You can’t explain the emotions of the way you feel at this moment.”

© 2010 Associated Press. Displayed by permission. All rights reserved.

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