Rice, Smith among 17 finalists for Hall

NEW YORK -- If ever two players seemed like locks to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility, Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith would be the choices.

Rice retired as the NFL's career receiving leader, and Smith finished as the top rusher. They were among 17 finalists announced Friday for the Hall of Fame, including two senior nominees. The voting for entry into the shrine by a 44-member panel will take place Feb. 6, the day before the Super Bowl. The Class of 2010 will be inducted in August in Canton, Ohio.

Rice finished his career with 1,549 catches for 22,895 yards and 197 touchdowns. He leads second place Marvin Harrison by 447 career receptions, and his 208 total TDs (11 rushing) are 33 more than runner-up Smith.

He is a two-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year for his 21-year career and also holds numerous Super Bowl records.

Like Rice, Smith won three Super Bowls. He rushed for 18,355 yards and 164 touchdowns. He also caught 515 passes and scored on 19 receptions. Smith was the league MVP in 1993.

Rice was the Super Bowl MVP in 1989 and Smith in 1994.

Other finalists include receiver Tim Brown, also a first-time nominee, and fellow wideouts Cris Carter and Andre Reed.

Tight end Shannon Sharpe, running back Roger Craig, center Dermontti Dawson, guard Russ Grimm, defensive tackles John Randle and Cortez Kennedy, defensive end Richard Dent, DE/linebacker Charles Haley, LB Rickey Jackson, and coach Don Coryell also made the cut.

The two senior nominees are running back Floyd Little and cornerback Dick LeBeau, who is considered one of the NFL's top assistant coaches and now is defensive coordinator in Pittsburgh.

A final candidate must get 80 percent of the vote to make the Hall. A minimum of four and a maximum of seven inductees will be chosen, but no more than five modern-era nominees can be elected in a single year. For six entrants, one must be a senior nominee. For seven, both senior nominees must make it.

Brown played 16 seasons for the Raiders and one for Tampa Bay and was a superb kick returner as well as a dangerous wideout. As a rookie in 1988, Brown led the NFL in kickoff returns, return yards, and yards per return. When he retired, he stood fifth in total yards with 19,682.

First-time finalists, aside from the three players in their initial year of eligibility, are Coryell, Craig, Haley, Jackson, Little, and LeBeau.

The semifinalists who did not advance Friday: former commissioner Paul Tagliabue; former Browns/Ravens owner Art Modell; wide receivers Cliff Branch and Steve Tasker (also an outstanding special teams player); cornerbacks Aeneas Williams and Lester Hayes; running back Terrell Davis; DE-LBs Chris Doleman and Kevin Greene; and punter Ray Guy.

No punters are in the Hall.