The men who tore apart NFL defenses couldn't handle the emotions Saturday when they were elected to the shrine along with five others.
"They told me, 'Don't cry,' " Rice said, his eyes wet with tears. "It meant the world to me, just like winning a Super Bowl. On draft day, I didn't take that for granted. I didn't take this for granted."
He could have.
A nominee needs 80 percent approval from the 44 media members who vote and Rice and Smith were slam-dunks in their first year of eligibility. Vote totals aren't announced.
"I am just honored ... to stand up there with greatness," Rice added.
Smith teared up when speaking about his father and how "I was living his dream."
"We are blessed to achieve this level of greatness together," Smith said, referring to Rice.
They will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 7.
Rice and Smith each won three Super Bowls and was the MVP in one of those victories. Smith was the 1993 league MVP, as well.
Rice, the NFL's career receiving and touchdowns leader, and Smith, the top rusher, were joined in the Hall by John Randle, Russ Grimm, Rickey Jackson, Floyd Little and Dick LeBeau. Little and LeBeau were elected as senior committee nominees.
Rice, the perfect receiver for the West Coast offense, played 20 seasons for San Francisco, Oakland and Seattle. He made 1,549 catches for 22,895 yards, had 14 1,000-yard seasons and scored 208 touchdowns.
Smith, among the most durable running backs, rushed for 18,355 yards and 164 touchdowns for Dallas and Arizona.
"This is almost perfect," Smith said. "I don't think even Steven Spielberg could have written a script this nice. So many people said I could not do it. I believed in that little giant inside of me that said I can."
Added Rice, standing shoulder to shoulder with Smith: "It's just like playing in that big game, this is something you think about, and it is happening. I never thought I would go in .... with this guy here.
Steve Young, one of two Hall of Fame quarterbacks who threw to Rice, got the first hug from the new inductee, then said: "They made yards after the catch a stat because of Jerry Rice."
Two other all-time top receivers, Cris Carter and Tim Brown, weren't elected. Carter, in his third year of eligibility, stands third in career receptions with 1,101, while Brown, in his first year on the ballot, made 1,094.
Jackson, a do-everything linebacker with a great burst off the line, finished his 15-season career for New Orleans and San Francisco with 128 sacks. A six-time Pro Bowler, Jackson sparked the first turnaround by the Saints from Aints to contender, in the late 1980s. He helped the Saints to their first division title and playoff berth.
Now, a day before the Saints appear in their first Super Bowl against the Indianapolis Colts, Jackson is Canton-bound. One little glitch: He was introduced as Randy instead of Rickey.
Randle was that rare defensive tackle who was a premier pass rusher. An undrafted free agent out of Texas A&I, Randle had 137½ sacks for Minnesota and Seattle, tied for sixth overall and most for his position, and led the league with 15½ in 1997. He played in seven Pro Bowls.
Grimm, a member of the Washington Redskins' famed Hogs offensive line, won three Super Bowls. A guard, he made four Pro Bowls and was selected to the all-decade team of the 1980s.
"I'm elated about it, to be honest," Grimm said. "Not so much where it's a weight off my back where I've been worried about it, I'm just thrilled to be associated with the type of football players that were not only on that list today but are in the Hall of Fame already."
The two senior committee inductees did not get enough support from the regular panel of media members when they were eligible.
LeBeau, the current defensive coordinator of the Pittsburgh Steelers, is considered one of pro football's great defensive innovators as a coach. But he was voted in for his outstanding work for the Lions from 1959-72. LeBeau finished with 62 interceptions, second among cornerbacks when he retired.
"They say anything worth having is worth waiting on," LeBeau said. "It has been a long wait. I can't imagine anything else that could be any more rewarding."
Little starred for the Denver Broncos in the AFL and NFL, leading the NFL in rushing in 1971 with 1,133 yards and in touchdowns rushing in 1973 with 12. He waited 30 years to get elected.
"My dad used to take me to games to watch Jerry play," Little joked, cracking up Rice.
"It's been a long journey. This is truly my dream. You can't explain the emotions of the way you feel at this moment."