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Plenty of cheers and tears in Canton

NFL Hall of Fame induction ceremony

The Bowlen family unveil the bust of former Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen during the induction ceremony at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, in Canton, Ohio. (AP Photo/David Richard)

By Barry Wilner

AP Pro Football Writer

CANTON, Ohio (AP) — Kevin Mawae never betrayed the lessons he learned when he first began playing football — flag football, no less.

His dedication and perseverance as one the NFL’s greatest centers landed him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday night.

“I learned to love the preparation, the plays and the puzzle,” Mawae said. “I loved putting on my uniform and cleats. I learned to never step on the field without being ready to work.”

Mawae was an outstanding center for three NFL teams, and a key union force during the 2011 lockout of players. His leadership, along with his talent and determination, made him a three-time All-Pro and eight-time Pro Bowler with the Seahawks, Jets and Titans, and the center on the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 2000s.

Offensive lineman rarely should be judged by statistics, but consider that Mawae blocked for a 1,000-yard rusher in 13 of his 16 seasons — by five different running backs, capped by the NFL’s sixth 2,000-yard rushing performance, by Tennessee’s Chris Johnson in 2009, Mawae’s final season.

Mawae, who was presented by his wife, Tracy, is the first player of Hawaiian descent and the second Polynesian member of the hall, following the late Junior Seau. His speech paid warm tribute to his family and the inspiration and love they provided him.

“I knock on this door and I tell all of you,” he concluded in his speech, “I am home.”

The late Pat Bowlen, whose Denver Broncos made more Super Bowls (seven, winning three) than they had losing seasons, was inducted after Mawae.

Under Bowlen’s leadership, Denver went 354-240-1 from 1984 through last season. He was the first owner in NFL history to oversee a team that won 300 games — including playoffs — in a span of three decades.

On the league level, the highly respected Bowlen, who died in June, worked on several influential committees, including co-chairing the NFL Management Council and working on network TV contracts such as the league’s ground-breaking $18 billion deal in 1998.

Bowlen once said the Hall of Fame is where legends go. He’s now there, with his children huddling around the bust on the stage, several of them patting it on the head.

Mawae and Bowlen followed Gil Brandt and Johnny Robinson in being enshrined.

Indeed, Brandt has been in the NFL so long he scouted Robinson.

Brandt was procuring talent for the Dallas Cowboys in their initial season of 1960 when Robinson came out of LSU as a running back and eventually became a star safety.

Finally, in 2019, they are wearing gold jackets.

“After all this time, I thought I had been forgotten,” Robinson said. “To receive that knock on the door … was surreal to me.”

Brandt paid tribute to his true calling: talent evaluation.

“What you do in securing talent is the lifeblood of football,” he said. “Seeing that player that was something special … or going to a D-3 campus and finding a diamond in the rough. I want all of you to look at my election into the Hall of Fame as a tip of the cap to you.”

For six decades, Brandt has been involved in the sport at a high level, from personnel director with the Cowboys to league consultant to draft guru to broadcaster.

Brandt, who was enshrined as a contributor, developed the Dallas scouting system that emphasized computers far before most other teams; scouted the historically black colleges and small colleges for talent; made signing undrafted free agents a science; and worked with Hall of Famers Tex Schramm, the team president, and coach Tom Landry, to build a dynasty.

Robinson’s induction makes for a half-dozen members of the great Kansas City Chiefs’ defense of the 1960s who have been enshrined. Robinson joins Willie Lanier, Bobby Bell, Buck Buchanan, Emmitt Thomas and Curley Culp.

Robinson was passed over six times during the 1980s, but got in as a seniors committee nominee. He’s one of 20 players to play all 10 seasons of the AFL, made 57 interceptions, went to seven Pro Bowls, received all-league recognition five times and was chosen to the AFL’s all-time team.

He mentioned what his father told him before he headed to his first training camp after being the third overall draft choice in the AFL.

“Be a gentleman when you win, be a man when you lose,” Robinson said, “if you lose, be sure that you work harder so it won’t happen again.”

___

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