Joe Montana, whose passing accuracy and calmness under pressure made him one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, was one of five NFL greats inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame today, but he was clearly the star.
The San Francisco 49ers were well represented in this year’s class of Hall of Famers. Three of the five inductees, including Montana, had at one time called the Bay area home.
“This is not an ending point,” said Montana at today’s ceremony in Canton, Ohio. “This is a beginning point. This is the beginning of the rest of my life with a new team. Take a look at these guys [Hall of Famers]. What a team it is.”
Joining Montana in Canton is former teammate Ronnie Lott, the defensive cornerstone of a formidable 49ers team in the late 1980s. Outside linebacker Dave Wilcox, who played for San Francisco from 1964-74, was inducted as well.
Former Oakland and Los Angeles Raider Howie Long, now an actor and NFL analyst for Fox, and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney rounded out the quartet of inductees.
But Montana’s star eclipsed that of everyone else on a day when more than 100 of the 136 living Hall of Famers returned for the biggest reunion in the Hall’s history. Even the inductees paid tribute to the legendary quarterback.
“I had four or five clean shots at Joe and I didn’t take them,” Long quipped. “His kids are too cute.”
Said Wilcox, who played a decade before the Niners began dominating the NFL: “When I tell people I played for the 49ers, they ask me if I played with Joe Montana. I say I played before Joe and before money.”
Edward J. DeBartolo, Jr., the former owner of the 49ers, introduced Montana at today’s ceremonies. A three-time Super Bowl MVP, Montana engineered 31 fourth-quarter comeback victories over his 15-year NFL career.
He is perhaps most remembered for directing a 92-yard drive in the final seconds to win Super Bowl XXIII, one of four Super Bowl titles he won while in San Francisco.
“I had a very difficult time with it at the beginning,” he said of his election to the Hall last January. “I don’t think I was looking at it in the proper perspective. I saw the Hall of Fame as an ending point.
“These past three days, spending time with these gentlemen behind me, I think I really got the true meaning of what this is all about,” he said.
Lott Sees Red
Roy Lott, a career military man, was his son’s presenter today. Ronnie Lott, a 10-time Pro Bowler who twice led the league in interceptions, was astounded by the amount of San Francisco supporters in attendance.
“It’s like a Niners’ home game,” he said. “I never saw so much red.”
Montana and Lott were jointly considered the heart of the 49ers team during their playing days together, and Lott paid tribute to their special relationship.
“Joe,” said Lott, who is the godfather of Montana’s youngest son, “I’m so honored to be here with you today.” Lott was a 10-time Pro Bowl pick who twice led the league in interceptions.
Like Father, Like Son
Former 49ers linebacker coach Mike Giddings was Wilcox’s presenter.
Like Wilcox, Long chose a former coach to introduce him at today’s ceremonies. Earl Leggett, a former defensive line coach at Villanova where Long was a four-year letterman, was the presenter for the Raiders star defensive linesman.
Rooney followed his father, Art, into the Hall of Fame today. The elder Rooney was the former owner of the Steelers while his son built the Steelers into a Super Bowl powerhouse in the 1970s.
In his 45th year with the Steelers organization, Dan Rooney also is credited with ending the player strikes in 1982 and 1987, increasing TV and marketing revenues, and crafting the salary cap and free agent system. He is regarded as one of the NFL’s most influential figures.
“Mean” Joe Greene, a key player on the Steelers teams that won four Super Bowl titles in the 1970s, was Rooney’s presenter.
Gathering of Living Legends
An estimated crowd of 18,000 attended the ceremony, the biggest Hall of Fame turnout ever. Montana alone requested 352 passes for friends and family from his boyhood home in western Pennsylvania, breaking the record of 310 set by Ohio native Don Shula when he was inducted in 1997.
The night before, more than 100 Hall of Famers and 4,000 football fans turned out for a celebratory dinner in downtown Canton.
The reunion of previous inductees was the brainchild of NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who said his only regret was that Walter Payton, the league’s career rushing leader, won’t be in attendance. Payton died in November.
“Unfortunately, it’s probably the only thing Walter didn’t live up to — showing up for this greatest reunion of all time,” Tagliabue said.
ABCNEWS Radio and The Associated Press contributed to this report.