I mean, right there, nearly elbow to elbow when I turned to look for him when he was introduced. Never in a thousands years would I have thought the Iceman had cometh.
Pretty cool, needless to say.
Awe then gave way to humility. MC Brad Sham, radio voice of the Dallas Cowboys, was right, aptly admitting to being humbled himself by the grand accomplishments of the nine newest members he was charged with introducing this night.
Come on, even though I witnessed every one of those 18,355 yards, think about it: The NFL's all-time leading rusher was in the house.
"It's been a long road, and it makes you appreciate the start, the middle and the end a whole lot more," Smith would say, and then point out he's nearly lived as long in the state of Texas, where he plans to reside for the rest of his life, as he had growing up in Pensacola, Fla. "My career in football has been fulfilled in every aspect."
Brown's induction made me think back to interviewing him during his Heisman season of 1987, and doing a story on his Dallas Woodrow Wilson High School, which also produced Heisman Trophy winner Davey O'Brien. Who knew he would go on to play 16 seasons in the NFL and become the Raiders' career leader in receptions, receiving yards, touchdowns, punt returns and punt-return average. Especially not him, as he humbly pointed out the three games he won in four years of high school ball.
Bobby Bragan? Can't tell you how many of his baseball cards I had over the years as a kid. Did you remember this guy who still lives right over here in Fort Worth managed Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Atlanta? How much has he seen, now 88, the oldest living inductee?
Least known nationally might have been Segrest, the Abilene Christian University track star and track coach at Odessa Junior College for 21 years. I mean, the guy started telling stories of being a member of the 1958 U.S. track team, the first to participate in a meet in Moscow, and how they had to perform in front of 85,000 Russians back when the Cold War was quite frozen.
How big of a kick do you think it was for Slocum, the winningest coach in A&M history, to receive a video-taped message from the elder Bush? The guy spent 30 years coaching at the school, and never had a losing season in 14 years as head coach. Come on.
Or for two immigrants from Romania, Bela and wife Martha, or "Marta" as he says in his quite distinct Eastern European accent," to come to the United States with a dream of opening up a gymnastics school, and succeeding finally down in Houston, producing gold medalist after gold medalist for the U.S. now?
Or how neat it was to hear Garrison thank her brother and former coach for getting her started in tennis as a little kid, the youngest by 10 years of the seven kids in her Houston family, knowing she became the first African-American woman since Althea Gibson (1958) to play in a Grand Slam final (Wimbledon, 1990).
Or to have the NCAA's all-time win leader among baseball coaches (1,542) talk about all the people who helped him along the way? Then say, "Yes it's a great honor, but it belongs to everybody."
The night, well, it was supposed to belong to these nine people. But by the time Sham closed the evening's festivities, you had the feeling it belonged to "everybody" - every one of the 1,000 folks present getting a chance to stroll through a pretty wide memory lane of all the games we love.
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