After 21-year wait, Kelly remembers road to fame

July 31, 1994|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,Sun Staff Writer

CANTON, Ohio -- In the interview session before the formal ceremonies yesterday, Leroy Kelly seemed almost matter-of-fact about his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Referring to his 21-year wait since he retired from the Cleveland Browns, he said, "It's been a long time coming. I'm kind of upset about it. It took so long. I'm still honored."

An hour or so later, when the former Morgan State running back was the first of six inductees to be honored, Kelly had a different demeanor.

He choked back tears as he stopped a couple of times while saying, "There are so many people. . . . who've been instrumental. . . . in the success of Leroy Kelly, starting with my high school coach."

It was a homecoming for Kelly, who played up the road in Cleveland and was cheered by the many Browns fans sitting on the bank above the steps of the Hall of Fame.

He thanked the Dawg Pound even though it didn't exist when he was drafted out of Morgan State in 1964 and emerged as a star in his own right when Jim Brown retired in 1966.

Kelly said the "colleges weren't knocking down my door" when )) he graduated from high school in Philadelphia, but he got a partial scholarship from Earl Banks at Morgan State.

"It didn't take him long to get a team together," Kelly said as he saluted Banks, who died last fall.

It was a day of emotion as Kelly joined two former Dallas Cowboys, defensive lineman Randy White, who played at the University of Maryland, and running back Tony Dorsett, coach Bud Grant of the Minnesota Vikings, defensive back Jimmy Johnson of the San Francisco 49ers and Jackie Smith of the St. Louis Cardinals.

White was introduced by his defensive line coach Ernie Stautner, a fellow Hall of Famer, as a "blue collar worker on a country club team."

Stautner added that White was the "toughest, most intense player I've ever coached," even though he coached another Hall of Famer -- Bob Lilly.

White returned the compliment as he said of Stautner, "I love him as much as anybody in the whole world."

White said he called his mother when he retired in 1989 and she told him she was happy he was leaving the game, "because maybe you'll get in the Hall of Fame before I die."

"Well, Mom, I'll tell you what. You're here, and I'm here," he said.

White also thanked former Maryland coach Jerry Claiborne "for getting me ready to go into pro football."

He said: "He used to go around and check our rooms. If anything was out of place, he'd look at you and say, 'Hey, if I can't count on you to do the little things, how am I going to count on you to do the big things?"

White said his daughter Jordan was 10 when he retired. When reporters came to interview the family, White said, "She told them, 'That's my dad. I love him whether he plays football or doesn't play football.' I'll tell you what. That's what it's all about right there."

White also congratulated Dorsett, saying, "Tony and I have gotten to be good friends now that we're not playing football on the same team. We agree on a few things."

Dorsett and White had differences when they were teammates. Dorsett called White "Captain Scab" when he crossed the picket line during the 1987 strike.

It was something of a surprise that Bud Grant, who was noted for his stoic manner on the sidelines as the Vikings coach, was one of the more emotional speakers. He got choked up several times and remembered how his late father used to call him "kid."

He said his father was more gregarious than he is and if his father had been present, "He'd stand up and say, 'The kid made it. He finally made it.' I'm here, and they can't take it away."

Grant concluded his speech by saying his father used to tell him, "Make a short speech so they'll all listen to you and sit down so they all will like you."

Johnson was the only inductee who's not the most famous member of his family. He was introduced by his brother, Olympic star Rafer Johnson.

Johnson said he wished he could split the trophy with his brother.

Smith was only the second player from the St. Louis Cardinals -- safety Larry Wilson was the first -- to be inducted into the Hall, and the St. Louis contingent booed commissioner Paul Tagliabue when he was introduced because the city wasn't awarded an expansion team.

Smith said the St. Louis fans will "certainly support the lucky team that will eventually go there."

Smith played his last year in Dallas, where he's remembered for dropping the end zone pass from Roger Staubach in the 35-31 Super Bowl XIII loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The drop was not mentioned during the festivities. Grant's four Super Bowl losses also were ignored.

:. This was a day for remembering good times.

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