CANTON, Ohio -- Ralph C. Wilson Jr. and Bruce Smith paid tribute to the Buffalo Bills' loyal fans Saturday night during their induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Wilson described choosing Buffalo over four other cities when he founded the franchise in 1959.
"It was a lucky pick," Wilson said, "because over the years they have supported the teams in Buffalo beyond our fondest dreams. Without this support, I wouldn't be on this platform tonight."
Smith, who starred at defensive end for the Bills from 1985 to 1999, was greeted by chants of "Bruuuce, Bruuuce," throughout his speech.
"This certainly feels like a home game," said Smith as he opened his speech.
Blue Bills jerseys dominated the stands at Canton's Fawcett Stadium. Bills fans numbered at least half of the crowd of 12,695.
Wilson's presenter for induction, ESPN broadcaster Chris Berman, played to the crowd in saying of the Bills' owner: "He understands the passion of Western New York, the blue collar [attitude]; loyal, hard working, we don't ask for much. We ask for just a little loyalty, and we'll give it right back to you times 10. . . . It's as if everyone in Buffalo is being inducted today into the Hall of Fame.
The mood was festive, although the crowd was not quite as large or as raucous as when Jim Kelly entered the Hall in 2002.
Wilson and Smith were joined in the Hall's Class of 2009 by offensive lineman Randall McDaniel, receiver Bob Hayes, linebacker Derrick Thomas and defensive back Rod Woodson.
Smith, who owns the NFL career record for quarterback sacks, was the last speaker of the evening and gave the most stirring speech.
"In the annals of NFL history the sum total of my career will forever be defined by the 15 years I spent playing for the Buffalo Bills," Smith said. "And what a ride it was. Four consecutive AFC championships. The potency of the no-huddle offense. The greatest comeback in NFL history. And the record breaking attendance set by the greatest fans in the NFL."
Smith mentioned many of his Bills teammates in his 18-minute speech.
Of Darryl Talley, the Bills' great linebacker, Smith said: "To my patient friend, who endured the horrors of my sleep apnea for 10 years as my roommate. You were the most unselfish player on our team. You never hesitated to sacrifice your own personal statistics for the overall good of the team. And I thank you."
Of running back Thurman Thomas, Smith said: "You undoubtedly were the most complete running back of our era. My life would be a little less bright if I didn't have you to laugh and joke with.
"P.S. I hid your helmet."
Smith also paid tribute to his father, George, who died in 2000 and told a story about his first tryout with his high school team.
"He didn't tell me what it means to be a man, he showed me by example," Smith said.
Smith also told a not-commonly known story of his first tryout for his high school football team.
"The first day was a nightmare, the second day I quit," he said.
"The next day my father asked me, 'Son, why weren't you at practice today?' "
Smith replied: "Football is just too hard, and it's too hot, and it's too painful."
The elder Smith gave his son "a look that I never will forget" and said, "Son whatever you do in life, don't ever quit."
Wilson is the 12th owner to be inducted.
"It has been a grand ride for me, and tonight is the high point," he said. "My luck prevails. And closing in on 91, I still feel that I have youth on my side."
Wilson covered chunks of AFL history during his 18 1/2 -minute speech. He described how he secured an AFL franchise from league founder Lamar Hunt. He described how he engaged in talks with Baltimore Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom in 1965 to lay the groundwork for the merger between the AFL and the NFL.
Wilson avoided the risk of snubbing or forgetting any individual players he has had over 50 years by giving a blanket thank you to the members of his organization.
Said Wilson: "Thank you to so many players, coaches, my family, the Bills' family, passionate Bills fans, the Hall of Fame voters, and the Hall of Fame staff, who have worked so hard to make this weekend a very pleasurable one."
The only family member he mentioned by name was his daughter, Linda Bogdan, who died in April after a battle with cancer.
"She was the only female scout in the league, and she was a good one," Wilson said. "We went to games together for many, many years and sat next to each other. And I know she would want to be here tonight to share this honor with me."
Berman took care of acknowledging many of the Bills' great players, ticking off the names -- Jack Kemp, Billy Shaw, Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas, et al -- in a 10-minute introductory talk.
Berman paid tribute to Wilson's unselfishness and his modest style.
"The out-front leaders of the AFL are already enshrined here in Canton -- the late Lamar Hunt and Al Davis," Berman said, referring to the owners of the Chiefs and Raiders. "They certainly had two different styles and they drove the merger from the AFL side. But they would have been the first to tell you that the quiet force that never looked for headlines, the man who just wanted to get it done, was Ralph Wilson Jr."
Added Berman: "He is not an owner that you see pacing the sidelines exhorting his team or exhorting the fans."
The most humorous story Wilson told was of the lesson he learned in the Bills' first season about how an owner should not deliver game-day speeches to his team. It was at an exhibition game in the Bills' first season, 1960. The Bills were trailing, 21-7, and Wilson said his friends in the stands encouraged him to go talk to his languishing team.
"And I gave that team one of the most inspiring fight talks," Wilson said. "It was reminiscent of maybe Knute Rockne or Vince Lombardi. And we lost the game by 51-7. Shortly after [coach] Buster [Ramsey] said to me, 'Hey Ralph, next time talk to the other team.' "e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org