Four more go through the door
By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
CANTON -- Although Jim Brown and Walter Payton get more attention, there are a few football fans who have tried to argue that Barry Sanders was the greatest running back in NFL history.
His dad isn't one of them.
And at Sunday's Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony at Fawcett Stadium, William Sanders made sure his son knew it.
"I would like to start by saying hello to the greatest running back who ever lived ... Mr. Jim Brown," said William Sanders.
Five minutes later, he finished his speech by saying, "Now I want to introduce you to the third-best running back who ever lived, Barry Sanders."
Barry, with typical humility, just shook his head and smiled.
"My dad has an interesting way of complimenting me," he said.
Sanders, who joined fellow inductees Bob Brown, Carl Eller and John Elway, was best known for his electrifying running style that dazzled fans, confounded defenders and helped him pile up more than 15,000 yards over 10 seasons.
"He made an art form out of the 1-yard gain," said ESPN's Chris Berman. "Wait a minute, he made an art form out of the 2-yard loss."
But Sanders was also known for his quiet dignity on and off the field. Unlike most of his peers, he never celebrated after scoring a touchdown. He just flipped the ball to the referee and walked to the sideline.
"He defined class," Berman said. "They don't keep statistics for that."
Sanders, who won the Heisman Trophy as a junior at Oklahoma State, stunned the NFL by retiring in 1999 at age 31. He was just 1,457 yards away from Payton's career rushing record.
"I feel like football chose me," said Sanders, who started playing at age 9. "When I first came in contact with the game, I had to play. It wasn't that I wanted to play, I had to play.
"I was always glad to be part of a team and to be going to practice as part of a special unit with the same purpose and goal in mind. In that way, I felt special."
Eller was a six-time pro bowler as a member of the Minnesota Vikings' "Purple People Eaters" and helped lead the Vikings to 10 division titles in 11 years. The defensive lineman retired in 1979 after 16 seasons, but had to wait 25 years to enter the Hall.
"Football did give me hopes and dreams. My goal was always to be the best and I always gave my all," he said. "What can I do with this great honor? I could say I earned it; I waited all these years. But that would be a sad and big mistake."
Eller credited his teammates, his coaches and his fellow Hall of Famers as the reasons for his success. And he's committed to using his fame for a good cause.
"I believe all college athletes and pro athletes are role models," he said, "or at least they should be."
Bob "Boomer" Brown, who graduated from Cleveland East Tech High School, was also forced to wait for his induction. The offensive tackle played 10 seasons for the Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams and Oakland Raiders, retiring after the 1973 season.
"To my fellow Hall of Famers, I became a player, but I've always been a fan," he said. "All you guys are heroes to me. I am thrilled and eager to embrace you, my band of brothers."
Elway, who also retired after the 1999 season, earned a standing ovation from the approximately 10,000 Denver Broncos fans who traveled to Canton for the ceremony.
"I have to be totally honest, that's the first time I've ever heard that in Ohio," he said.
Elway passed for 51,475 yards in his 16-year NFL career -- second all-time to Dan Marino. He was best known for his late game heroics -- especially against the Cleveland Browns in the 1986 AFC title game -- and for leading Denver to five Super Bowls. He lost the first three, but finished his career with wins in Super Bowls 32 and 33.
"This is a proud day for Denver," said Elway, who was the first Broncos player to be inducted. "I only wish it would have come earlier.
"I may be the first Bronco to pass through these doors, but it's my sincere hope that others will follow."