Sunday, January 26, 2003
Allen heads list
of newly inducted
By Cindy Luis
SAN DIEGO >> Being selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame is very much like making it to the Super Bowl. Some players make it in their first season. Others wait decades.
Some never make it at all.
Yesterday morning, it took the 39-member selection committee nearly five hours to make its choices. From the original list of some 70 candidates, 15 finalists remained for the first round of voting at 7 a.m. By noon, just five got the call they had been waiting for.
Marcus Allen, Elvin Bethea, Joe DeLamielleure, James Lofton and Hank Stram can now book their trips to Honolulu. The five members of the Class of 2003 will be officially introduced during festivities at next Sunday's Pro Bowl.
It was especially sweet for Allen, who grew up in San Diego, site of today's Super Bowl. The former standout at Southern California, Heisman Trophy winner, NFL Rookie of the Year and Super Bowl XVIII MVP was chosen in his first year of eligibility.
"Today is a great day," said Allen, the first player in NFL history to rush for over 10,000 yards and catch passes for 5,000 yards. "It's the greatest day in my athletic career. It's a dream come true to have this happen in my home town and so great for my parents, the first people who bought me football shoes and paid the initiation fee for Pop Warner football.
"Yes, I thought I'd be inducted some year. I had that vision, just like I did about winning the Heisman. I had the vision of going to the Hall of Fame, of having to make an acceptance speech. This was something I looked forward to."
Allen said his father Harold "Red" Allen will make the presentation speech on Aug. 3 at the enshrinement at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
"In this day of so many fractured families, particularly in the black community, I want everyone to know that my father was there for me," said Marcus Allen. "I remember being there when Ronnie Lott was inducted (in 2000) and his father was the presenter. That was something special.
"And on that same day, I was paid the highest honor by the great Mel Blount. When the pictures were being taken, he said to me, 'You might as well come up now.' "
During yesterday's press conference, giant replicas of Topps trading cards were unveiled for each player. Allen was pictured in a Kansas City Chiefs uniform, the team with which he closed out his career (1993-1997); he stared for the Los Angeles Raiders from 1982 to '92.
Allen said he'd like to be inducted as a member representing both teams. (An NFL representative later said that players are inducted by position and class, not as a team member).
Allen is the first native San Diegan elected to the Hall.
"My high school (Lincoln) had a lot of great players who went on to the NFL, like Art Powell and Wally Henry before me," he said. "I wasn't the first to do well. I was handed the baton and I think I did a good job to hand it off.
"I hope that this gives the youth of San Diego something to reach for."
ELVIN BETHEA HAD BEEN hoping to reach for the telephone for the past 14 years. In his 15th year of eligibility, the all-pro defensive end for the Houston Oilers got the call.
"I've been nervous all day," Bethea said by phone from his home in St. Louis. "I've taken two showers already.
"It's being a long ride. I cannot believe it. I'm so excited. After all the years of people saying, 'You deserve it,' today is the day. And I'm happy to be going to the Pro Bowl again."
Bethea was selected to eight Pro Bowls between 1970 and '80. At the time of his retirement in 1983, he held three club records: most seasons played (16), most regular-season games played (210), and most consecutive regular-season games played (135).
JOE DELAMIELLEURE WAITED until his 13th year of eligibility to be selected. It's a lucky number for him -- he said he signed his contract with the Buffalo Bills on Friday the 13th in 1973, and his last name has 13 letters.
"I'm overwhelmed; I gave up hope seven years ago," said DeLamielleure, who was present for the announcement. "I was fortunate to be part of the greatest running team in history and with the greatest passing team in history.
"I'm a lineman, nobody knows your stats. I was blessed to be on teams with players like O.J. Simpson, Brian Sipe and J.D. Hill. And I loved the game. I would have played for a T-shirt and a cap."
DeLamielleure said he'd like to break one record, which coincidentally has the number '13' in it. When Jim Kelly was inducted last year, the former Buffalo quarterback brought 1,300 people to the ceremonies.
"We have a large family," said DeLamielleure. "I'm one of 10 kids, my wife is one of eight. When I asked what the record was and they told me '1,300', I told them I had that many at my wedding."
DeLamielleure admitted to being just a pound down from his playing weight (260 pounds) with the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns from 1973 to '85. He works out every day except Christmas and Easter.
JAMES LOFTON IS still working. Yesterday, he was filming a segment for ESPN and missed the news conference.
Reached later by the New York Times, he said: "When I entered the game as a rookie in 1978, I can honestly say I had never heard of the Hall of Fame," said Lofton, the first NFL receiver to surpass 14,000 receiving yards in a career. "But when you come to Green Bay, you immediately learn about the Hall of Fame."
In 16 seasons with Green Bay, the Los Angeles Raiders, Buffalo, the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia, Lofton caught 764 passes for 14,004 yards -- an average of 18.3 yards per catch. That was an NFL best at the time of his retirement in 1994.
Lofton was the first NFL player to score a touchdown in three decades: the 1970s, '80s and '90s. Many of his 75 touchdowns came on long passes where the former Stanford track standout outran the opposition.
WHILE LOFTON was working here yesterday, former coach Hank Stram was at home in Kansas City. His plans for the evening included answering the phone, "breaking bread and walking the dog," he said in a phone call.
"It's so heart-warming, such a wonderful feeling," said Stram, who coached the Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs for 14 years and New Orleans Saints for three. "But players win games, not coaches. My greatest contribution was to stay ahead of the posse."
Stram's Chiefs were part of the inaugural Super Bowl, losing to the Green Bay Packers. Three years later, the Chiefs beat the Minnesota Vikings 23-7, something that gave the AFL credibility and helped the merger of the two leagues.
Stram said his former quarterback at Kansas City, Hall of Famer Lenny Dawson, will make his presentation speech.
In the audience yesterday was Kansas City owner Lamar Hunt, who spoke with Stram during the teleconference.
"Everything that happened was because you gave me a chance to coach for 14 years," Stram told Hunt. "It's a great compliment to you that I'll be in the Hall."
Stram will be inducted under the "Senior" category.
Yesterday's vote began with 15 finalists. Not making the first round of cuts were Lester Hayes, Art Monk, Ken Stabler and Ralph Wilson. Cut during the second vote were Randy Gradishar, Claude Humphrey, Bob Kuechenberg, George Young and Gary Zimmerman, with Harry Carson the last cut of the third vote.
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