Five join football's `A' team in Canton

From Casper to Kelly, it's a Hall of Fame day

August 04, 2002|By THE NEW YORK TIMES

CANTON, Ohio - This was the first time in 37 years that the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremonies had taken place inside Fawcett Stadium rather than on the steps of the Hall. The stadium and the Hall are only a few feet apart.

There is now no separation, however, between the bronzed likenesses and football greatness of Dave Casper, George Allen, John Stallworth, Dan Hampton, Jim Kelly and the other 211 Hall of Fame inductees.

That group of five had their careers and lives celebrated here yesterday on a hot, sunny day before more than 15,000 fans. Among the onlookers were 30-year Hall members Lamar Hunt, Gino Marchetti and Ollie Matson.

Casper, a tight end who played 11 seasons but starred with the Raiders from 1974 through 1980, was presented by his former Oakland coach, John Madden. Allen, the former Los Angeles Rams (1966-1970) and Washington Redskins (1971-1977) coach who died in 1990, was presented by Hall of Fame end Deacon Jones.

Stallworth played all 14 of his pro seasons (1974-1987) as a Pittsburgh Steelers receiver and was presented by his son, John Jr.

Hampton (1979-1990) played both defensive end and tackle for Chicago and was presented by former Bears player Ed O'Bradovich. And Kelly, the Buffalo Bills' spirited quarterback from 1986 to 1996, was presented by his former coach, Marv Levy, who is also a Hall of Fame member.

Madden told the crowd that Casper was one of the smartest players he ever coached, but was also a man who liked his fun. He recounted a story late in Casper's career when he was a Houston Oiler. Madden said the Oilers told Casper to wear his helmet at all times. So, Casper did - to bed, to breakfast, even in the shower.

"I'm thankful, I really am," Casper said. "It's been 17 years since I played football. The game gave me a lot of friends. I just hope all of you guys have the friends I have."

Allen is the only man to have coached at least 10 years in the NFL without a losing season. He did not have one losing team in 12 years. Jones said Allen preached teamwork, hard work, pride, determination, competitive spirit and that the future is now. He called Allen a "miracle worker."

Allen's son, Republican Sen. George Allen of Virginia, represented his father.

"I feel that George Allen is here with us," Allen said. "He would say this honor is a team victory."

Stallworth's son, who is 26, said he remembered when he was 5 and was in the Pittsburgh locker room when a reporter asked him who was his football hero. The young Stallworth answered "Lynn Swann." Yesterday, he called his father the greatest.

"You have made me feel special in a magnificent way," Stallworth said. "The wait to get into the Hall was long, but it was worth it."

Hampton became the 26th Bear to reach the Hall, the most of any NFL team. O'Bradovich recalled that Hampton was so tough that his teammates called him "Animal."

Kelly all but took over Canton last week. He invited 1,200 guests and paid for 500 hotel rooms. And then he was thrilled to see an additional 2,500 Buffalo fans come here on their own, including team owner Ralph Wilson.

There was Bills blue everywhere and the cheers for Kelly all day were long and thunderous. Levy asked, "How lucky can a guy get?" about the chance to coach Kelly and watch him lead the Bills to four Super Bowls.

Kelly said: "I had the distinct pleasure of playing on some pretty good football teams and today I join the greatest team of all, the Pro Football Hall of Fame. My life has been a series of crossing patterns, but I can tell you, I never would have made it without the constant love and support of my family and you, the Buffalo Bills fans."

In closing, Kelly choked back tears as he looked down at his 5-year-old son, Hunter, who has Krabbes disease, a fatal, degenerative disorder of the nervous system.

"It's been written that the trademark of my career was toughness," Kelly said. "The toughest person I ever met in my life was my son, my hero, Hunter."

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