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Aikman, White, Madden lead large Fame class

DETROIT (Feb. 4, 2006) -- Troy Aikman made it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame's biggest class in years. The guy he threw to -- Michael Irvin -- will have to wait once again.

Reggie White, Warren Moon, Harry Carson, John Madden and Rayfield Wright also were elected. Not since 2001 had the maximum number of candidates been chosen.

Emmitt Smith, who joined with Aikman and Irvin to win three Super Bowls for the Dallas Cowboys, had campaigned vigorously for his two former teammates. But Irvin, plagued by off-the-field troubles in recent years, was left out in his second try.

"I wouldn't want to get into why he didn't make it in," Aikman said. "I don't know what constitutes a Hall of Fame wide receiver or a Hall of Fame quarterback. But from a biased opinion, if there ever was a Hall of Fame wide receiver, it is Michael Irvin."

Irvin celebrated Aikman's selection rather than bemoan his miss.

"Any level of disappointment I have is undermined by my joy for Troy," said Irvin, who was sitting in the audience for the announcement. "Last year this time, I was in my room crying. I couldn't move. Now, I'm out here and I'm going to laugh and enjoy this moment for Troy.

"It's not about me; it's about Troy."

The late White, the NFL career sacks leader when he retired in 2000, and star quarterbacks Aikman and Moon made it in their first year of eligibility.

Moon became the first black quarterback in the Hall.

"To be the first African-American quarterback into the Hall of Fame, all African-American QBs who played before me should share in this," Moon said. "I don't want to make this a racial thing, but I think it is significant. It shows that we have arrived at the pinnacle of our sport."

Madden and Wright were seniors-committee candidates. Carson was in his seventh year as a finalist.

The class of 2006 will be inducted in Canton, Ohio, on the weekend of Aug. 5-6.

Smith, the NFL's career rushing leader and eligible for election in four years, pounded his finger on a table Feb. 3 as he argued for Irvin.

"This is the Pro Football Hall of Fame, not the Life Hall of Fame. His stats are what they are. They are not going to change," Smith said.

But the Hall panel of 39 media members was not swayed.

The Hall's voting bylaws preclude consideration of non-football issues. Irvin's problems include pleading no contest to felony cocaine possession in exchange for four years of deferred probation, a $10,000 fine and dismissal of misdemeanor marijuana possession charges.

Aikman, the first overall pick in the 1989 NFL Draft, guided the Cowboys back to prominence after some lean seasons. He led Dallas to three Super Bowl titles in four seasons -- the Cowboys lost in the NFC title game the other year -- and was among the most accurate passers in the league.

Aikman won 90 games in the 1990s, the most by any quarterback in any decade.

White, who died Dec. 26, 2004, was known as the "Minister of Defense" -- he was an ordained Baptist minister.

"I wish he was here, that is the only regret I have," said his wife, Sara. "But you know what? He is here. He is."

White had 198 sacks when he left the NFL after 15 seasons with Philadelphia, Green Bay and Carolina. One of the first major free-agent signings in 1993, his choice of Green Bay helped turn around that storied franchise. The Packers won the Super Bowl in January 1997 and lost it a year later.

White began his career in the USFL, but by the time he was finished in the NFL, he'd gone to 13 consecutive Pro Bowls and been chosen for the league's 75th anniversary team.

Moon's transient career took him from the CFL, where he won five consecutive Grey Cups, to Houston as a free agent in 1984. He also played for Minnesota, Seattle and Kansas City and completed his career with 51,061 yards of total offense and 313 touchdowns. Some observers thought his lack of a Super Bowl ring would hurt his chances. It didn't.

Carson, a nine-time Pro Bowl linebacker who retired from the New York Giants in 1988, has been a frequent critic of the process, even saying he wanted off future ballots. He was on a flight to Hawaii and unavailable for comment.

This was his third time in the final six.

Wright was a lynchpin of the Cowboys' staunch offensive line of the 1970s after coach Tom Landry moved him from tight end to tackle.

"I told him I had never played the position and he said, 'You'll make a great tackle. Now you just have to gain some weight,' " Wright recalled.

Wright made the final six as a regular candidate in 2004. He was put on the seniors-committee ballot this year in part because of his strong showing in previous votes.

Madden, best known for his television announcing and video game, has the best winning percentage of any NFL coach with 100 victories (.759). He coached the Oakland Raiders for 10 years and won Super Bowl XI in January 1977.

"I'm not going to make a lot of sense and I don't care," Madden said after getting the news. "It comes from my heart. I am humbled and grateful and thankful. I just got to sit down. Thank you, thank you, thank you."

Running back Thurman Thomas, the 1991 league MVP and the catalyst of Buffalo's four consecutive AFC championships in the early 1990s, fell short in his first try.

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