Tue, Aug 10, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Elway, Sanders, Eller, Brown in Hall


Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees for 2004, from left: Barry Sanders, John Elway, Carl Eller and Bob Brown at the enshrinement ceremony in Canton, Ohio, Sunday.


There was no escape this time for the resourceful John Elway and the slippery Barry Sanders. And they were thrilled about being caught flatfooted.

Elway and Sanders, along with Carl Eller and Bob Brown, were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Sunday.

Both Elway and Sanders made a mockery of defenses throughout their record-setting careers, while Brown was one of the premier blockers of his era in the late 1960s, early 1970s. Eller was a star defensive end with the "Purple People Eaters" of the 1970s Minnesota Vikings.

"I'll call him the best ever to play the game," Elway said of Sanders. "I wish I could have played with Bob Brown, and I am glad I didn't have to play against Carl Eller."

Elway is the first Denver Bronco to be inducted, and thousands of fans wearing blue or orange No. 7 jerseys filled Fawcett Stadium. They chanted his name, cheered every time he was shown on the scoreboard, and listened intently as Elway's daughter, Jessica, 18, told them how her father taught his children to be tough.

Then Elway took the stage for what seemed like a Broncos home game.

"I have to be totally honest, I have never heard that in Ohio before," he joked at the beginning of an emotional speech in which he paid tribute to his late father, Jack, his first coach, and the rest of his family; to his city; to his team; and to his teammates.

"For every guy who ever stepped on the field with me, I accept this honor today on behalf of all of you," Elway said. "Thanks for protecting me, catching my passes, defending our goal line, sharing our highs and lows. And thanks for not losing confidence in me when I lined up for a snap as a rookie behind the left guard."

When he retired after guiding Denver to its second straight NFL title -- and his fifth Super Bowl appearance -- he had led his team to more victories (148) than any quarterback in history. Elway engineered 47 game-winning or tying drives in the fourth quarter or overtime. He threw for 51,407 yards, more than 48km, and 300 touchdowns.

Sanders rushed for more than 1,000 yards in all 10 of his seasons with the Detroit Lions. But at 31, he walked away from the game in 1999 and, Sunday, became the third-youngest Hall of Fame inductee, behind Gale Sayers and Jim Brown.

Known for his unfathomable moves that led to long, darting runs, Sanders said his one regret about leaving the game so early was not playing in a Super Bowl. The Lions reached the NFC title game in 1991, but that was as far as Sanders got.

Introduced by his father, William, as "the third-best running back who ever lived," Sanders credited his dad for "the great lesson that allowed him to be a great player."

"He said `Son play the game the way it is supposed to be played,'" Sanders recalled. "`Don't be afraid to make mistakes. Go out and play the way you are capable of.'"

Sanders was capable of 76 100-yard rushing performances, 15,269 yards rushing overall and five 1,500-yard seasons.

Brown, one of the first pro football players to use weight training, was a dominant offensive tackle for the Eagles, Rams and Raiders. He also was the first overall pick in the AFL draft, by Denver, and went on to make seven all-league teams and six Pro Bowls. He retired in 1973.

Eller and Alan Page, who made the Hall of Fame in 1988, were the Vikings' main Purple People Eaters. Eller, who retired in 1979, was a five-time All-Pro and made six Pro Bowls, using his quickness and mobility to avoid blockers and find the ball.

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