“He has tremendous compassion for his fellow man,” Parcells said. “He is, I think, the poster child for what the NFL is supposed to be. You come into the league, maximize your abilities, you save your money, you make a smooth transition into society and then you pass all those things on to other people. That’s what this guy has done.”
The night that belonged to those who didn’t have it easy.
Roaf was inducted first and set the tone. Standing in front of the large crowd in an unfamiliar role — getting attention for something good — he acknowledged feeling out of place.
“You know, it’s an offensive lineman,” Roaf said. “I didn’t get singled out in front of a large audience very often, and when I did, it was usually by a referee who was singling me out by saying, ‘Holding No. 77.’
“That’s not going to happen today. And it wasn’t too often when I played.”
Roaf was one of the greatest players in Saints history, so good that he regularly made the Pro Bowl even though New Orleans had only one winning season in his nine years there. His induction gave the franchise something to celebrate after an offseason clouded by its bounty scandal.
Saints players sat in the last three rows of seats on the field, wearing black t-shirts with Roaf’s No. 77 on the back. They’re in town to play Arizona in the Hall of Fame preseason game on Sunday night.
Kennedy has something in common with Roaf. Like the offensive tackle from New Orleans, the defensive tackle from Seattle excelled on bad teams. It was his sustained excellence — not his team’s success — that got him into the hall.
Kennedy grew into the game’s top defensive tackle during his 11 seasons with Seattle. Even though Seattle went 2-14 in 1992 and Kennedy got double-teamed, he was so good that he was chosen the league’s best defensive player.
“That’s bad when you go to the game and the defensive coordinator says, ‘Guys, we’re not going to win the game. Let’s don’t embarrass ourselves.’ You know we’re in for a long year then,” he said.
Dawson got the Steelers fans revved with his induction speech honoring the town and the franchise. Dawson succeeded Mike Webster as the Steelers’ center, then followed him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“Mike was a leader whether he wanted to (be) or not because he led by example, and I tried to emulate everything Mike did,” Dawson said. “Mike had a profound impact on my life and even today, I try to lead by example and be like Mike.”
Parker met him in a hallway of their high school during his junior year and made him rethink.
“I came across this person who I thought was a man,” Parker said. “I said to him, ‘Sir, may I help you?’ He said he goes to school here, and I said, ‘Where have you been all my life?’”