White, Aikman lead full class of six into Hall

DETROIT -- Troy Aikman and Warren Moon shared a warm embrace. John Madden nearly cried. Rayfield Wright stopped in midsentence to steady his voice.

And the late Reggie White's wife swore the Minister of Defense was in the room.

Even Michael Irvin was able to celebrate, despite missing out Saturday.

There's never been a more emotional announcement of a Pro Football Hall of Fame class, which also included Harry Carson, making for the biggest group since 2001.

"Every city embraced Reggie as a player and as a person," Sara White said of her husband, the NFL's all-time sacks leader when he retired in 2000, four years before he died.

"The wonderful thing I can say about my husband is there can't be anything negative said about him. Nothing," she said. "I wish he was here, that is the only regret I have. But you know what, he is here. He is."

Aikman, who led the Dallas Cowboys to three Super Bowl titles in the 1990s, and Moon, the first black quarterback in the Hall, surely remember what a White sack felt like.

White had 198 of them in 15 seasons with Philadelphia, Green Bay and Carolina. One of the first major free-agent signings in 1993, he helped turn around the storied Packers franchise. The Packers won the 1997 Super Bowl and lost in 1998.

White began his career in the USFL, but by the time he was finished in the NFL, he'd gone to 13 straight Pro Bowls and been chosen for the league's 75th anniversary team.

The six new members will be inducted on the weekend of Aug. 5-6 in Canton, Ohio.

Aikman and Moon followed Dan Marino, Steve Young and John Elway in a string of great quarterbacks to make the Hall in their first tries.

No black quarterback had come close to election before Moon.

"To be the first African-American quarterback into the Hall of Fame, all African-American QBs who played before me should share in this," Moon said. "I don't want to make this a racial thing, but I think it is significant. It shows that we have arrived at the pinnacle of our sport."

Moon's transient career took him from the CFL, where he won five straight Grey Cups, to Houston as a free agent in 1984. He also played for Minnesota, Seattle and Kansas City and completed his career with 51,061 yards of total offense and 313 touchdowns.

Aikman credited his coaches and teammates, mentioning in particular Emmitt Smith, the NFL's career rushing leader, and Irvin.

"When I think of all the great players who have played the game over the history of it," Aikman said, "to be considered one of the great players that helped define the game itself, it is a humbling experience."

Irvin sat in the audience when Aikman's election was announced. The wide receiver didn't make the finals in his second year of eligibility.

Smith claimed Friday the panel of 39 media members who vote were swayed against Irvin because of his off-field problems, including pleading no contest to felony cocaine possession in exchange for four years of deferred probation, a $10,000 fine and dismissal of misdemeanor marijuana possession charges.

The Hall's voting bylaws preclude consideration of non-football issues.

"Any level of disappointment I have is undermined by my joy for Troy," Irvin said. "Last year this time, I was in my room crying. I couldn't move. Now, I'm out here and I'm going to laugh and enjoy this moment for Troy.

"It's not about me, it's about Troy."

And about Madden, the coach-broadcaster-video game entrepreneur whose boyish excitement lit up the ballroom.

Madden has the best winning percentage of any NFL coach with 100 victories (.759). He coached the Oakland Raiders for 10 years and won the 1977 Super Bowl.

"I was coming over here and saying, `They can't take this away, can they?"' he said. Then Madden pumped his fists and banged the podium, his jowls turning red, the smile never wavering.

"People always ask are you a coach or a broadcaster or a video game guy?" he added. "I'm a coach, always been a coach."

Raiders owner Al Davis saw it the same way.

"I think someday the epitaph that shall be his will read: 'He was a football coach, he was a brilliant football coach,'" he said.

Wright, like Madden, was elected by the seniors committee after their eligibility on the regular ballot expired. The long wait didn't temper any excitement for the converted tight end who recalled his first assignment as a Cowboys tackle was to block Deacon Jones, perhaps the greatest defensive end ever.

"I kind of wanted to change my mind," he joked.

"I never dreamed I would be a professional football player, didn't even want to play football. I am so overwhelmed at this time and so honored."

Carson, in his seventh year as a finalist, was on a flight to Hawaii and unavailable for comment. A nine-time Pro Bowl linebacker who retired from the New York Giants in 1988, he has been a frequent critic of the process, even saying he wanted off future ballots.

"I'm just elated by Harry's election," said Dallas coach Bill Parcells, who coached Carson with the Giants. "He was a tremendous player and an integral part of one of the NFL's best two or three defenses for several years."

Running back Thurman Thomas, the 1991 league MVP and the catalyst of Buffalo's four straight AFC championships in the early 1990s, fell short in his first try.