- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 9, 2009

CANTON, Ohio | All that was missing were the chicken wings. The Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony had a distinct Buffalo flavor.

Bills owner Ralph Wilson opened by loosening up the crowd with a few humorous anecdotes. And chants of “BRUUUCE!” resounded through Fawcett Stadium on Saturday night, even before former Bills defensive end Bruce Smith had taken the podium.

Once he took the stage, the cheers didn’t stop for the player who had a record 200 sacks Smith acknowledged the fans - a large contingent wearing Bills jerseys - by saying, “This certainly feels like a home game.”

Wondering where the time has gone after his 19-year career ended in 2003 with Washington, Smith said: “And now I come full circle. I stand before you humble and honored.”

In between there were emotional moments, when Kansas City linebacker Derrick Thomas and Dallas Cowboys receiver Bob Hayes were inducted posthumously.

“For all Derrick Thomas fans, the light has gone back on,” former Chiefs president Carl Peterson said of Thomas, who died in February 2000 following a car accident, cutting short a stellar career.

Hayes, meanwhile, was introduced by his son, Bob Hayes Jr., who noted his father always wondered why it took so long for this achievement to happen. Hayes died in 2002 at the age of 59.

“It hurts, because he’s not here to enjoy this,” Hayes said. “But I know, wherever he is, he’s smiling down.”

Also inducted was defensive back Rod Woodson, who described himself as humbled, again letting his numbers speak for themselves. Woodson was a triple threat during a 17-year career; he excelled at cornerback, safety and returning kickoffs.

The NFL’s defensive player of the year in 1993, Woodson was an 11-time Pro Bowl selection and was selected to the NFL’s 75th anniversary team while still playing. He still holds the record for career interceptions returned for touchdowns (12). Woodson appeared in Super Bowls with three different teams - Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Oakland - and won with the Ravens in 2001.

And then there was Vikings offensive guard Randall McDaniel, who cracked that he didn’t feel comfortable being on stage alone without four other linemen next to him. McDaniel was a 12-time Pro Bowl choice during a 14-year career, most of it spent with Minnesota. He was part of an offensive line that helped the Vikings score a then league-record 556 points in 1998, and blocked for six 1,000-yard rushers.

The biggest cheers came from Bills fans, who are in town not only to honor their two Hall of Famers, but also preparing to see Terrell Owens make his debut in a Bills uniform Sunday, when Buffalo plays Tennessee in the Hall of Fame game.

Smith was the No. 1 draft pick out of Virginia Tech and part of a speedy Bills defense that helped the team win four straight AFC titles in the early 1990s.

Smith played his final four seasons in Washington and acknowledged Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, who was in attendance. Smiths’ best memories, though, are the time he spent in Buffalo, where he was two-time defensive player of the year.

“In the annals of NFL history, the sum total of my career will forever be defined by the 15 years I spent playing for the Buffalo Bills,” Smith said. “And what a ride it was.”

Wilson’s induction came as the NFL prepares to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the American Football League. He was a member of the so-dubbed “Foolish Club,” headed by late Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt.

Wilson provided a big laugh when he recalled the first time he went to address his players in the locker room at halftime, during a game that the Bills trailed 21-7. The Bills then went on to lose 51-7, which led to coach Buster Ramsey approaching Wilson after the game.

“Buster said to me, ‘Hey, Ralph, next time, talk to the other team,’ ” Wilson said with a laugh.

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