Skip to comments.Elway, Sanders elected to Hall of Fame (Carl Eller and Bob Brown too!)
Posted on 01/31/2004 6:41:41 PM PST by NormsRevenge
HOUSTON (AP) -- The stirring comeback and spectacular escape were unnecessary this time around. John Elway and Barry Sanders were elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame without a sweat.
As expected, two of the NFL's most dominating and exciting players made it in Saturday on their first attempt.
Elway, the king of the comeback, and Sanders, the master of escape, cemented their status among the all-time greats, and were joined by Bob Brown and Carl Eller.
``Until you said no way, or I was in the locker room taking my uniform off, I was going to try to find a way to win it,'' said Elway, the winningest quarterback in NFL history with 148 victories.
``I want to tell every guy I played with, `Thanks,' '' he said.
Elway played in five Super Bowls, losing the first three then winning two in a row as his 16-year career wound down.
Sanders was the first player to rush for 1,000 yards in his first 10 seasons, leading the league four times. In 1997, he was co-MVP with Brett Favre after rushing for 2,053 yards, only the third player to exceed 2,000 yards in a season. He ran for 100 yards or more in 14 consecutive games.
Sanders retired at 31, in his prime, calling it ``the right time.''
``When I think about the Hall of Fame, it seems like that's something that happens to someone else,'' Sanders said. ``You think Dick Butkus, Walter Payton, names of that light. To be here, I truly feel, in some ways a little out of place.''
Speaking about himself and Elway, he said: ``They saw something that was unique in us, something they might not see on any old Sunday.''
What was unique was that Elway and Sanders made the extraordinary look easy.
``When the game was on the line, he was like Michael Jordan,'' said Dan Reeves, who coached Elway in Denver's three Super Bowl losses. ``He wanted the football. In those situations, I don't know if I know anyone that did a better job.''
That's not how life in the NFL began for Elway.
Though he was the top pick in the 1983 draft, he was benched at halftime in his first NFL game -- and really didn't mind.
``I said, `Auntie Em, take me home,'' Elway recalled. ``I don't want to be here any longer, staring at Jack Lambert drooling spit.''
Even if he'd lost those final two Super Bowls, in 1998 and '99, Elway would have been a slam-dunk Hall of Famer. And it's hard to believe he would have been satisfied if he hadn't won at least one.
``Of course, I lied. I said it would be complete,'' Elway said. ``Then we won one.''
Sanders, who never played in a Super Bowl, simply walked away from the game five years ago -- even though Payton's NFL rushing mark of 1,457 yards was well within reach.
``The guy would have held every record in the NFL if he hadn't retired,'' Elway said. ``It's truly an honor to go in with a guy like Barry.''
Said linebacker Dwayne Rudd: ``Barry Sanders is the only guy who can go east and west at the same speed at the same time.''
``God only put one pair of feet like that on a human being,'' said Fritz Shurmur, former defensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers.
Brown, a six-time Pro Bowl tackle for the Eagles, Rams and Raiders, was one of the most fearsome blockers of his time. The second overall pick in the 1964 draft, the 6-foot-4, 280-pounder -- small by today's standards -- was a dominant player until retiring in 1973.
``I am just flabbergasted,'' he said. ``I was up all night. It is like waiting on a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. ''
Eller, a mainstay of the Minnesota Vikings' Purple People Eaters defensive line, played 16 seasons and 225 games. A five-time All-Pro, he used speed and guile to trap quarterbacks long before the sack was an official statistic.
``This is a great moment for me,'' Eller said. ``It took a long time to come, but it made me understand that some things just do take a long time.''
Eller, who played in four Super Bowls, joins Vikings defensive linemate Alan Page in the hall.
``Carl was ahead of his time,'' former Vikings quarterback Fran Tarkenton said. ``He was a huge man, he had great speed, he had great athletic ability, he had great intellect. He understood the game, and he was the dominant outside pass rusher of his day.''
Two other finalists, Dallas tackle Rayfield Wright and wide receiver Bob Hayes, didn't receive enough votes to get in.
Also denied entry after making the final 15 were Harry Carson, Richard Dent, Cliff Harris, Lester Hayes, Bob Kuechenberg, Jim Marshall -- a teammate of Eller and Page -- Art Monk, George Young and Gary Zimmerman.
The family of the late Bob Hayes was disappointed, but not surprised, that he failed to make the final cut.
Hayes, a double Olympic sprint champion who went on to redefine the role of wide receiver, made it further than ever in the selection process.
His family believes his problems with drug addiction after his retirement in 1975 hurt his chances, even though he had turned his life around long before he died in September 2002.
``We're in America, and I think the people who were making the decisions are making it in regard to the environment they live in,'' said Hayes' sister, Lucille Hester. ``We have to accept that.''
Because Brown needed 26 years to make it through the veterans' committee, Hester believes her brother still has a chance.
``He was an impact player,'' she said. ``He helped get other impact players in the Hall of Fame, and he changed the game.''