CANTON, Ohio — 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.”
After Roaf left the podium, the rest of the enshrinement acquired a strong Pittsburgh flavor.
Hundreds of Steelers fans filled the field and stands, waving yellow “Terrible Towels” to celebrate the city’s starring role in the evening. Two of the new Hall of Famers played for the Steelers – Butler and Dawson. Martin grew up in Pittsburgh, where his mother forced him to play football to stay out of trouble in his rough neighborhood, and played the University of Pittsburgh. Doleman also played at Pitt.
A group of Butler fans sat in the front rows, wearing throwback uniforms – yellow jerseys with black stripes – that made them look like bees.
“I also was fortunate enough to play in the city of champions,” Butler said.
No one is more popular there than Dawson, who succeeded Mike Webster as the Steelers’ center, then followed him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He played in 170 consecutive games, reached the Pro Bowl seven consecutive seasons, and led the way for Jerome Bettis to become one of the NFL’s top rushers.
Kennedy grew into the game’s top defensive tackle during his 11 seasons with Seattle, able to stop the run or rush the quarterback. 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.
Butler, inducted second, took the most unexpected path to the hall. He didn’t play football in high school, picked the game in college at St. Bonaventure and entered the NFL as an undrafted player in 1951.
just another player filling out the Steelers roster.
Butler was a force at cornerback during his nine-year career in the 1950s, finishing his career as the second-leading interceptor at that time.
Butler, now 84, thanked his family and friends for being in Canton for his long-awaited moment.
“Heck, I’m thankful I’m here,” he said. “I thank you all.”