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Lofton, Classmates Say 'Thanks'


If there was any talk of a thawing out between new Hall of Famer Marcus Allen and Raiders owner Al Davis at the Class of 2003 enshrinement ceremony, it was just that - talk.

"I'd like to thank Al Davis for drafting me," said Allen during his enshrinement speech. But that was the only reference to the owner of the team Allen played for from 1982 to 1992.

Allen, along with former Chiefs coach Hank Stram, Houston Oilers defensive end Elvin Bethea, former Bills and Browns offensive lineman Joe DeLamielleure and wide receiver James Lofton, was enshrined today into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Allen's Raider career ended in bitterness, and he went on to play five more seasons with the rival Kansas City Chiefs. Observers might not be able to read much into Allen's brief remark about Davis, but his effusiveness for the Chiefs in his speech might have been intended as a subtle message.

"For the sunset of your career, I couldn't have found a better place to play than Kansas City," said Allen, who accumulated 12,243 career rushing yards, 5,411 receiving yards and 145 touchdowns. "It was just the shot in the arm that I needed."

And while Allen won MVP honors in Super Bowl XVIII for Davis' Raiders, he had far more praise for Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt. "One of the kindest, gentlest, most sincere men I've met in my entire life," Allen said about Hunt.

More than just numbers and honors, Allen was a complete running back. He ran, blocked, caught passes and was even dangerous throwing passes. His career totals include six touchdown throws on halback option plays. It was that attention to detail that led him to Canton.

Allen's most famous play is his 74-yard touchdown run in the Super Bowl XVIII win over the Redskins, which still stands as the longest TD run from scrimmage in Super Bowl history. But Allen was quick to note that memorable plays in his career weren't always the game-breakers.

"Personally," said the 43-year-old former USC star, "some of my most memorable ones were when I had to make 10 guys miss just to get back to the line of scrimmage."

Like the rest of the Class of 2003, Allen was humbled to become a member of the Hall.

"I flew in here with Ollie Matson and Deacon Jones, and I talked to Eric Dickerson," Allen said. "Each of them told me this would be greater than I could anticipate. And they were right."

James Lofton recalled playing football with his brother as a kid. His brother taught him how to get into a three-point stance. "The next thing I remembered was waking up on the sofa," Lofton said. "He had knocked me out cold."

Perhaps that is what led Lofton to become a wide receiver - if they can't catch him, they can't hit him. And in 16 NFL seasons, defenders had an awfully hard time catching Lofton. He caught 764 passes for 14,004 yards and 75 touchdowns. The yardage total is third on the all-time list behind Jerry Rice and Tim Brown. His career average of 18.3 yards per catch is more than a yard better than anyone else among the top 20 receivers of all time.

In his 16-year career, Lofton had some great moments with three different teams - playing for the Packers from 1978-86, the Raiders from 1987-88 and the Bills from 1989-92. He split time in 1993 with the Eagles and Rams. Someone asked Lofton what uniform he is wearing when he dreams about playing football.

"All of them," said the 47-year-old Stanford grad. If he had to choose a hat for enshrinement, the way they do in baseball, Lofton said he would have one "with Green Bay on one side, Buffalo on the other, and the Raiders in the back."

Joe DeLamielleure recalled several drives through Canton on I-77, which passes right past the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And each time, his wife would ask him, "Do you think you'll ever get in?"

"No way," was DeLamielleure's response. "I figured if I ever got in, my son would be giving my acceptance speech."

As it turned out, the leader of Buffalo's famed "Electric Company" offensive line did not have to wait to be a Senior Committee selection. His exploits in helping pave the way for O.J. Simpson's Hall of Fame career were enough to get him in now.

Simpson was not among the 115 returning Hall of Famers in attendance, but he had called DeLamielleure to wish him well.

"OJ called me one time, the day I got in," said DeLamielleure, 52. "He called me to say congratulations. I said, 'Maybe I wouldn't have gotten in if it weren't for you.' And he said, 'The feeling's mutual.'"

Elvin Bethea talked about how his high school coach moved him up from JV to varsity after one day, because of his tenacity and toughness. "And that's what got me here today," explained the Houston Oilers' all-time sacks leader.

Bethea was tough enough to strike fear into opposing quarterbacks. And he was tenacious enough to play in 210 games - including a string of 135 consecutive games from 1968 through 1977.

"When I retired in 1983, the time had gone so fast that I didn't realize it had been 16 years," said Bethea, 57. In that time, he set the Oilers' team record for sacks in a career and a season.

Bethea thanked longtime Houston sportswriter John McClain for helping get him voted into the Hall. When the Class of 2003 was announced back in January, Bethea was probably the biggest surprise among the five enshrines.

"All I can say is that I finally made it, and it feels good," he said. "It feels great."

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