Thrill still sinking in

The thrill is just sinking in.

It was only five days ago, on the eve of Super Bowl XLI, that Michael Irvin, Thurman Thomas, Bruce Matthews, Charlie Sanders, Roger Wehrli and Gene Hickerson learned of their selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Before they knew what hit them, they were on flights to Hawaii, where they will be honored during the Feb. 10 Pro Bowl. Soon after arriving here, they were meeting with officials of the Hall of Fame to begin preparations for their Aug. 4 induction at Canton, Ohio. They were having their heads measured for their bronze busts. They were having their shoulders, arms, and waists measured for their gold jackets.

And, best of all, they were hearing about what the honor means from two members of the Class of 2006, Harry Carson and Rayfield Wright.

"They spoke to us about the whole experience," Irvin, the former standout receiver for the Dallas Cowboys, said during a Pro Bowl news conference with the other inductees. "And I think it hits you again, when you see those kind of guys around you. Every time they get mentioned, you're in that group with them. It's a great honor, but it's also a great responsibility."

Thomas, the multi-talented running back for the Buffalo Bills, felt "very blessed and honored" to be with his fellow '07 Hall classmates. He revealed that news of his selection was the second cause for celebration for his family on Feb. 3. The first was word that his daughter, Olivia, had been accepted to attend the University of Florida.

"I told her, 'We're 2-0 for today, me going into the Hall of Fame and you getting accepted to the University of Florida,'" Thomas said. "I'm still on Cloud Nine."

Matthews, who started at every position on the offensive line for the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans, was the only member of the class to be selected in his first year of eligibility.

"I've been blessed my whole career, and this is just another blessing," Matthews said. "I grew up a big fan of the NFL. I mean, Deacon Jones, Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke, Gale Sayers. You throw around names like that, it just gets me fired up.

"I got to visit the Hall of Fame in my second year (in the NFL), and big thrill of mine was that I got to shake Joe Namath's hand. I'm like a kid in a candy shop."

Sanders, who caught 336 passes in 10 seasons as a tight end for the Detroit Lions, is taking the advice of Wright on embracing the Hall-of-Fame experience.

"He said, 'Just get on the train and ride it,'" Sanders said. "I'm going to ride it and when it runs out, I hope it's headed downhill. I'd like to squeeze every bit of this I possibly can."

Wehrli, a star cornerback for the St. Louis Cardinals, became overcome with emotion as he talked about being inducted in his 20th year of eligibility.

"I'm so thankful," he said. "I retired from football in '82, and it's been a while. But this was the time for me and I looked at the opportunity now for my kids and my grandkids -- who are going to be 11, 10 and nine when we're in Canton -- to be there. I'm just so happy that they're going to be able to be a part of it and remember it."

Hickerson, a former offensive guard for the Cleveland Browns who turns 72 on Feb. 15, was unable to attend the news conference because he felt ill after arriving in Hawaii.

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