Shula was in full control as he recounted the 67-year journey from Grand
River, Ohio, to ``the ultimate honor.'' He spoke of the early days _ his
first coaching job was when he was in eighth grade, when he was placed in
charge of watching over sibling triplets who were in the first grade. He
mentioned the playing days at John Carroll University and in the NFL.
He reflected on the great triumphs as the winningest coach in pro football
history. He referred to the disappointments, too.
At no time was Shula offstride. And that's just what anyone who played for
him or against him would have expected.
``I was able to do something for a lifetime that I enjoy doing,'' said Shula,
who along with New York Giants owner Wellington Mara, Raiders and Patriots
cornerback Mike Haynes and Pittsburgh and Kansas City center Mike Webster,
were inducted into the Hall in ceremonies delayed by a morning deluge.
``I've relished every moment of the long route to get here. Thanks for letting
me reflect on those moments.''
Shula, the first inductee introduced by two people _ his sons David and
Mike, both of whom have followed him into the NFL as coaches _ won 347 games,
averaging 10 victories a year for his 33 seasons. He also had the highest
winningest percentage of any coach, .660, and was the only man to guide
a team (the 1972 Dolphins) through an undefeated season.
When asked if he was the greatest coach in NFL history, Shula demurred slightly.
``I don't know how you measure those things ... I always thought that's
why they keep statistics and wins and losses,'' he said.
Mike Shula said his father was the NFL's national monument and David told
of how Don forged his signature on a permission slip to play football in
the eighth grade, when his mother would not give her approval.
And Don, who coached in six Super Bowls, winning in 1972 and '73, wondered
what might have happened if he'd ignored the NFL when he graduated from
John Carroll and accepted an assistant coaching spot that also included
teaching math at a Canton high school.
``I might have been a principal by now,'' he said.
Instead, he became a coaching icon, and when his name was spoken for the
first time at the ceremonies, the thousands of fans gathered outside the
Hall let out a mighty roar.
``I would like to have rode off into the sunset with a Super Bowl championship,''
said Shula, who resigned in January 1996 after a playoff loss to Buffalo.
``But I carry with me so many great memories.''
Mara joined his father Tim, the founder of the Giants, as the first father-son
duo in the Hall. With tears welled in his eyes, he spoke reverently of his
brother Jack, who died in 1965 of a heart attack.
``I overwhelmingly feel I come to you as a surrogate,'' he said. ``If not
for his untimely death, Jack Mara would certainly have taken his place to
form the first father and son team.''
Mara, 80, has been involved with the Giants since 1925, when he sat on the
bench for the team's first game. He's overseen the growth of the franchise
into one of the most successful in league history.
``I accept this honor today as acknowledgement of my stewardship of that
legacy of decency that they handed to me and I hope to hand on,'' he said.
Haynes, considered the best cover cornerback in the NFL in his time, was,
in essence, the first significant free agent in league history. In 1983,
he forced a trade from the Patriots to the Raiders after his contract expired
with New England.
Called ``the greatest defensive back who ever played the game'' by Hall
of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts, Haynes at first claimed he won a bet with
several other members of the Hall that he wouldn't break down at the podium.
Then he admitted to ``crying like a baby'' before the ceremonies began.
``This is one of the most emotional experiences an athlete can ever have,
to be surrounded by the people who made this game really special,'' said
Haynes, who retired after the 1989 season.
Webster was introduced by his former quarterback and another member of the
Hall, Terry Bradshaw, who asked Webster to ``just one more time, let me
take that snap.'' He then produced a football, which Webster dutifully snapped
to him before they embraced.
Webster, who recently has been through difficult times because of mental,
physical and financial problems, gave an inspiring, though rambling speech
in which he implored the audience to ``finish the game.''
``You don't fail unless you don't finish the game,'' he said. ``If you finish,