CANTON, Ohio — The Bus pulled into football immortality on Saturday night amid a sea of "Terrible Towels" that gave the Pro Football Hall of Fame a decidedly western Pennsylvania feel.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis led the eight-man Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2015, the sixth-leading rusher in NFL history receiving an overwhelming ovation while being introduced prior to the official induction ceremonies.
The capacity crowd at Tom Benson Stadium — most of them clad in some version of black-and-gold — roared as Bettis made his way down the red carpet, his enshrinement serving as the final destination for a player who embodied the blue-collar mentality of the city and the franchise he helped lead to a fifth Super Bowl title in 2006.
Former Green Bay general manager Ron Wolf, who hired Mike Holmgren and traded for Brett Favre shortly after taking over in 1991, led off by praising the core that restored the Packers to legitimacy after two decades of mediocrity.
"There was always a threat to players of other teams that if they didn't shape up, they would be traded to Green Bay," Wolf said. "We worked hard to eliminate that stigma."
Green Bay won its first Super Bowl in nearly 30 years in 1997 when Favre guided the Packers by New England. Wolf, who spent 23 years working for the Raiders, called owner Al Davis a "remarkable teacher" who gave him a chance to grow from a scout scouring for prospects into one of the most respected team builders of his generation.
Charles Haley, the only player in NFL history with five Super Bowl rings, gave a rousing, freewheeling speech that included a good-natured jabs at everyone from former San Francisco owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. DeBartolo called the decision to trade Haley to Dallas in 1992 his biggest mistake during his tenure.
Haley didn't disagree, though he also made sure to pay emotional tribute to the men who shaped his singular career. That included a nod to Jones, who organized a bone marrow drive when Haley's daughter was diagnosed with leukemia.
Minnesota centre Mick Tingelhoff, Kansas City guard Will Shields, executive Ron Wolf, linebacker Junior Seau and wide receiver Tim Brown also joined Bettis and company in what amounted at times to a slightly watered down version of a Steelers' home game.
Each of the Steeler Hall of Famers in attendance were greeted by a frantic waving of yellow towels, with all of the Hall of Famers rising to honour longtime Pittsburgh chairman Dan Rooney. It set the stage for Bettis, a beloved figure known as much for his quick feet and easy smile as the massive thighs and lowered shoulders that churned out 13,662 yards.
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Will Graves, The Associated Press