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NFL rookies get taste of history at Hall of Fame

CANTON, Ohio -- For a moment, Miami Dolphins tackle Jake Long looked like any other visitor at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

History lesson


Dallas CowboysHall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin was the man who came up with the idea to have the rookies take a mandatory tour of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Irvin wanted the rookies to have a sense of the history of the game.

He handed his cell phone to a teammate, stood next to the bronze bust of fellow former Michigan tackle Dan Dierdorf and smiled for a snapshot.

Long, the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, and the rest of the NFL's rookies are touring the Hall of Fame this summer as part of a program aimed at giving the league's youngest players a sense of history and responsibility.

"You see the great players that have come before you and everything that they've done for us to be here," Long said Monday. "It shows you more respect for the game. This is a spot where you hopefully want to end up. I think it definitely inspires us all."

From the days of Jim Thorpe and leather helmets to Adrian Peterson and wired helmets, 25 Dolphins rookies got a look of the league's history and some lessons in teamwork and struggling through adversity.

The program was inspired by former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin, who told league Commissioner Roger Goodell last August during his induction in Canton that he wished someone had taken him through the Hall of Fame when he was a rookie.

Goodell took it to heart.

"These guys playing today have no idea what it was like in the '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, even the '80s," said Mike Haynes, the league's vice president of player and employee development.

About half of the teams have already visited the Hall. The Indianapolis Colts and Washington Redskins will be the last to visit when they play in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton in early August.

The NFL will review the program later and decide whether to continue it next year as part of the league's rookie orientation, Haynes said.

Pro Football Hall of Fame spokesman Joe Horrigan noted that the Cleveland Browns have been bringing rookies down Interstate 77 to the Hall for years.

Horrigan led the Dolphins' tour, along with former Miami wide receiver Nat Moore, who paused at a display honoring the team's 17-0 season in 1972.

"The key to that team was they were a team first and foremost," Moore told the Dolphins rookies, who must help turn around a team that went 1-15 last year.

Upon entering the Hall of Fame room containing the busts of NFL greats, the rookies learned that, of 20,000 to play in the league, only 214 players have made it to the Hall.

While quarterback Chad Henne stood next to the bust of Dan Marino for a photo, a group of players gathered around a video screen to watch film of Walter Payton breaking tackles, drawing the occasional "Oooh."

The tour got more serious as Horrigan told the story of how Marion Motley and Bill Willis broke the color barrier in 1946 -- a year before Jackie Robinson did in baseball.

"A lot of people have suffered and done a lot of things to get you the opportunity that you have today," Moore said.

He warned players not to take their positions for granted.

"At one point, Michael Vick was going to be the poster child of the NFL. What did he do? Something dumb to take himself out of the game," said Moore, referring to Vick's 23-month prison sentence for bankrolling a dogfighting ring.

The quarterback expected to lead the Atlanta Falcons out of the Vick era, Matt Ryan, toured the Hall earlier in the day.

"I'm excited to be a part of the change that Atlanta is going through right now," he said. "It's not just me. It's going to take a lot of work from a lot of different areas and contributions from a lot of different people."

Ryan, who learned there are no Falcons in the Hall of Fame, said he looked up to Brett Favre when he was growing up and made sure to view the jersey the former Green Bay quarterback wore when he set the record for touchdown passes.

"It puts things into perspective," Ryan said of his visit. "It makes you realize that you've got a great opportunity in front of you."

The players got some time to be fans as well. Like Long, the Lapeer, Mich., native who made sure to snap a photo of a blue No. 20 Lions jersey.

"Seeing Barry Sanders in here is what I really like, because I grew up a big Lions fan and a huge Barry fan," Long said.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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