Linemen lead charge into Hall of Fame

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CANTON, OHIO (AP) - Willie Roaf was in an unfamiliar role _ the center of attention in front of a large crowd, being singled out for something good.

No, make that: Something great.

With current Saints players standing and cheering, the former New Orleans offensive tackle led a charge of linemen into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday night, a six-man induction that tilted toward those who relish the less-than-glorious role.

Four linemen were included _ Roaf, Chris Doleman, Cortez Kennedy and Dermontti Dawson, along with running back Curtis Martin and 1950s cornerback Jack Butler.

Roaf led it off with a speech short and humble, fitting someone who played a stellar career appreciating the scrums rather than the spotlight.

“You know, it’s an offensive lineman,” said Roaf, who was very hard to get around on the field. “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.

After Roaf left the podium, the rest of the enshrinement acquired a strong Pittsburgh flavor.

And, in the end, Martin brought the audience to tears.

The Patriots and Jets running back described his life growing up in a rough Pittsburgh neighborhood _ in a household where his father tortured his mother by setting her hair on fire and burning her legs with cigarettes.

His mother was tough on him, urging him to play football to stay out of trouble. It helped him survive and thrive.

“My greatest achievement in my life was helping my mother and nurturing my mother,” he said.

Martin started 119 consecutive games with the Patriots and Jets, ending his career as the league’s fourth all-time rusher. He joined Barry Sanders as the only runners to start their careers with 10 consecutive 1,000-yard seasons.

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