Wel­comed into an ex­clu­sive club

Six are in­ducted into Foot­ball Hall of Fame with an emo­tional ap­peal for unity.

Los Angeles Times - - FOOTBALL -

CAN­TON, Ohio — As he so of­ten did on the field, LaDainian Tomlinson stole the show.

With a pow­er­ful speech call­ing for “Team Amer­ica” to be a place for in­clu­sion and op­por­tu­nity, the great run­ning back of the San Diego Charg­ers was in­ducted into the Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame on Satur­day night.

The 2017 ros­ter of en­trants into the shrine was deeply impressive: fel­low run­ning back Terrell Davis; quar­ter­back Kurt Warner; de­fen­sive end Ja­son Tay­lor; safety Kenny Easley; place­kicker Morten Andersen; and Cow­boys owner Jerry Jones.

All spoke elo­quently, with bursts of hu­mor and heart­warm­ing sto­ries. But Tomlinson’s words res­onated so strongly that he drew sev­eral stand­ing ova­tions not only from the crowd of 13,400, but from his now-fel­low Gold Jack­ets.

“Foot­ball is a mi­cro­cosm of Amer­ica,” Tomlinson said. “All races, re­li­gions and creeds, liv­ing, play­ing, com­pet­ing side by side. When you’re part of a team, you un­der­stand your team­mates — their strengths and weak­nesses — and work to­gether to­ward the same goal, to win a cham­pi­onship.

“Let’s not choose to be against one an­other. Let’s choose to be for one an­other. I pray we ded­i­cate our­selves to be­ing the best team we can be . ... Lead­ing the way for all nations to fol­low.”

Tomlinson and Tay­lor were elected in their first year of el­i­gi­bil­ity.

A third-round draft pick from Akron, Tay­lor’s 139½ ca­reer sacks helped him make the All-Decade Team of the 2000s. He also was the NFL’s man of the year in 2007.

“I hon­estly can’t be­lieve I am here,” said Tay­lor. “It took 20 years to travel 20 miles to put on this jacket. It was worth ev­ery step.”

The long­est wait, 24 years, was by Easley, cho­sen for en­shrine­ment by the se­niors com­mit­tee. The hard­hit­ting Sea­hawks safety out of UCLA, a mem­ber of the NFL’s 1980s All-Decade Team, played only seven sea­sons and 89 games. But what an im­pact he made. The 1981 NFL de­fen­sive rookie of the year, Easley was the league’s top over­all de­fender in 1984 when he had a league-lead­ing 10 in­ter­cep­tions, a ca­reer high.

“I thank you for wel­com­ing me into your ex­clu­sive club,” he said.

Andersen joined Jan Stenerud as the only place­kick­ers in Can­ton.

A na­tive of Den­mark, Andersen played an in­cred­i­ble 25 pro sea­sons, a league record.

“My story isn’t only about my love for my coun­try of Den­mark and its peo­ple, but also my deep ap­pre­ci­a­tion and re­spect for what I dis­cov­ered here in the United States of Amer­ica,” he said.

It took Warner years to get dis­cov­ered. Warner stepped in when Trent Green tore up his knee in a 1999 pre­sea­son game. He went on to win two NFL MVP awards and one league ti­tle, rein­vig­o­rat­ing the Rams and then the Car­di­nals.

“Peo­ple say Hol­ly­wood couldn’t have writ­ten it any bet­ter,” Warner noted.

Davis’ mer­cu­rial NFL stay had been some­thing of a hin­drance for en­try into the Hall. But he was the cat­a­lyst for the NFL ti­tles Den­ver won in 1997 and ’98 with an­other Hall of Famer, John El­way, at quar­ter­back.

David Richard As­so­ci­ated Press

KENNY EASLEY, left, with Hall of Fame pre­sen­ter Tommy Rhodes. A safety for the Sea­hawks who was drafted out of UCLA, Easley waited 24 years to be picked.

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