CANTON, Ohio -- Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith can stop the chase now.
Linked as the NFL's leading receiver and rusher, two of the greatest players in NFL history entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday night. Both admitted their destinies are fulfilled.
"This is finally it," Rice said. "There are no more routes to run, no more touchdowns to score, no more records to set. That young boy from Mississippi has finally stopped running.
Welcome to the Hall
From Jerry Rice saying Emmitt Smith and the Cowboys cost him three more Super Bowl rings to the Hogettes making an appearance, relive the Canton experience. **More ...**
"Let me stand here and catch my breath."
An hour later, Smith tried to hold back his tears as he reflected on his unequaled career.
"Most people only dream," Smith said. "I not only had my childhood dream, I did everything I could to fulfill it.
"You know what, I am now the all-time leading rusher. Wow. What an honor."
Rice was the man who took away everyone's breath during an incredible 20 years in the NFL, and he was one of seven greats to enter the shrine in the Class of 2010. It's one of the strongest groups ever inducted, also including John Randle, Dick LeBeau, Rickey Jackson, Russ Grimm and Floyd Little.
Rice holds every important pass-catching record as the game breaker in the San Francisco 49ers' West Coast offense. In becoming the top target in the pro game's most dangerous scheme, he established marks that might never be broken.
Rice caught 1,549 passes, more than 400 beyond anyone else. He gained 22,895 yards, more than 7,600 ahead of second place. He scored 208 touchdowns, easily shattering the previous record. He made 10 All-Pro teams, was chosen for 13 Pro Bowls and had receptions in an almost-unimaginable 274 consecutive games.
Yet, Rice said, at 47, "I still believe in my heart I could play today."
Looking as fit as any current All-Pro, Rice admits he made one major mistake during that unparalleled career.
"My single regret about my career is I never took the time to enjoy it," he said. "I was always working.
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN
This year's Hall of Fame class features a wide variety of all-time greats. Get to know more about all of the 2010 inductees:
Position: Running back
Position: Def. tackle
Team:49ers/ Raiders/ Seahawks
Position: Running back
"I was afraid to fail. The fear of failure is the engine that has driven me my entire life. The reason they never caught me from behind is because I ran scared. People always are surprised how insecure I was. The doubts, the struggles, is who I am. I wonder if I would have been as successful without them."
Rice was successful from Day 1 in the NFL, rising from the obscurity of Mississippi Valley State to win three Super Bowl titles with the 49ers and change the game forever. He was humbled by the conclusion Saturday night.
"I can honestly say this is the greatest team I have ever belonged to," said Rice, who also played for the Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks.
Smith began choking up during a one-minute standing ovation as he stepped to the microphone as the final inductee. He immediately praised Walter Payton, the man he surpassed as rushing king, and recognized the two other Hall of Fame members of the Cowboys' Triplets, Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin.
And he broke down when saluting his former fullback, Daryl Johnston.
"You took care of me as if you were taking care of your little brother," Smith said through wet eyes.
Smith rushed for 18,355 yards, with 164 touchdowns, 11 seasons with 1,000 or more yards on the ground and 78 games with 100 rushing yards.
Smith made the Hall in his first year of eligibility and won three Super Bowl titles, taking MVP honors in the 1994 game.
"When I go into the Hall today, I am not going in alone," Smith said. "I am carrying my grandfather, I'm carrying my father and I'm carrying my son along with me because I bear all their names. Now I can say to my dad and my son, EJ, our name will be forever enshrined in the history of football."
While Rice and Smith were immediate selections for the Hall, LeBeau was inducted after a 32-year wait.
"Man, this really is a great day to be alive," said LeBeau, who was elected by the senior committee.
LeBeau was chosen for his 14-year career as a cornerback with the Detroit Lions, in which he had 62 interceptions, still eighth overall. He's best known as an assistant coach, the mastermind of the zone blitz.
Currently the Pittsburgh Steelers' defensive coordinator, LeBeau singled out his players who sat in a corner of Fawcett Stadium.
"I am being inducted as a player, and believe me, that makes me most proud," said LeBeau, at 73 the oldest coordinator in the NFL. "I did that for 14 years. but for the last 38 years I have been a football coach.
"They are here," he added, pointing to the Steelers, whom he helped win two Super Bowl championships in the last five seasons. "That's just about the highest compliment ever paid to me in my life.
"I wouldn't want to be here without you: offense, defense and special teams."
The players stood in applause, and fans in the crowd whirled Terrible Towels in tribute.
LeBeau was immediately followed on the stage by Randle, who as an undrafted defensive tackle with the Minnesota Vikings and Seahawks accumulated 137.5 sacks in 14 seasons, most for anyone at that position.
Randle made six consecutive All-Pro teams (1993-98) and was chosen for seven Pro Bowls. He had a league-high 15.5 sacks in 1997.
"I am so humbled by this incredible honor, which I never thought was possible," Randle said. "I'm a small-town kid whose dream came true."
Grimm was called the "Head Hog" by former Redskins offensive line coach Joe Bugel. From 1981 to 1991, Grimm led the Hogs and helped the Redskins win three Super Bowls. He is the first member of that memorable line to make the hall.
"It's a privilege to play in the NFL," said Grimm, now the Arizona Cardinals' assistant head coach. "It's been a privilege to coach in the NFL. It's an honor to be selected here in Canton.
Grimm called the Hogs "a group of guys that grew together, worked together, rose families together" and said he would have their names embroidered on the inside of his gold Hall of Fame jacket.
Jackson, one of the most versatile linebackers in NFL history, is the first New Orleans Saints player to be enshrined in the Hall. Jackson made six Pro Bowls with a combination of strong run defense and a tenacity that led to 128 sacks. He helped turn New Orleans from 'Aints to a division winner for the first time (1991), and he finished his career with the 49ers, winning a Super Bowl title in January 1995.
"I think I deserve to be up here," Jackson said. "Football always has been my life. I see that in these guys up here (onstage), how they carried themselves. They set the standard."
Little was a star running back for the Denver Broncos from 1967 to 1975 despite being the team's only offensive threat. He had to wait nearly three decades since becoming eligible before being elected.
One of football's most dynamic runners during his career, Little also was a dangerous punt and kickoff returner. In a relatively short career, he had 12,157 all-purpose yards and scored 54 touchdowns. Yet the Broncos never were better than 7-5-2 in his career.
"There are no words to describe the joy of experiencing this chapter, the highest honor ... everything else pales," Little said.
In a powerful induction speech, he also encouraged people to say "Yes I can" throughout their lives and noted he had "given the best I've got."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press