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Marino Enters Football Hall of Fame

The eyes that stared down defenses betrayed Dan Marino (search) on Sunday. They were wet with tears as he took his place among the legends of football.

Marino, the NFL's most prolific passer, joined Steve Young (search), Fritz Pollard (search) and Benny Friedman (search) in the Hall of Fame.

Marino suspected he might break down and cry during his emotionally charged acceptance speech. He did so even before then, after his oldest son Daniel's introduction.

None of that on-field stoicism for the Miami Dolphins great, at least not on this sun-splashed day in front of thousands of fans in No. 13 jerseys, and amid chants of "D-A-N-N-Y."

"I'll remember this day for the rest of my life," Marino said.

Then he capped it by throwing — what else? — a perfect spiral into the audience to his former receiving partner, Mark Clayton.

"Go deep, Mark," Marino said as he licked the fingers on his right hand, a trademark of his 17-year career.

Paying tribute to his Western Pennsylvania roots, Marino noted that John Unitas, Joe Namath, Joe Montana and Jim Kelly all came from the region. All are Hall of Famers.

"When I was younger, there's no doubt I thought about being Joe Namath," Marino said, adding that joining them in the Hall "definitely makes an impact on you."

Young suggested it was the first time only quarterbacks entered the Hall in one class, and he was partly right. Pollard was a running back who sometimes played QB.

"I'm proud to be part of this with Dan and the Pollard and Friedman families," Young said. "We are quarterbacks and that's what is neat about this position."

While Marino and Young had diverse styles, they both spent years at the top of their profession. Marino set NFL marks of 4,967 completions, 8,358 passes, 61,361 yards (nearly 35 miles) and 420 touchdowns. His record of 48 TD passes in the 1984 season, when he was MVP, was broken by Peyton Manning last year.

He also owned 21 NFL marks when he retired, including most seasons with 3,000 yards or more passing (13); most yards passing in one season (5,084 in '84, the only year he won a conference championship); and most games with 300 yards or more passing (63).

"I know individually you get the honor of being inducted in the Hall of Fame," Marino said, "but you see coach (Don) Shula up onstage and teammates and family and friends — my mom and dad and wife and kids — this day is for them."

The only achievement Marino didn't reach that Young did was winning a title. Young, the 1992 and '94 league MVP after taking over for Montana in San Francisco, and the career passing efficiency leader, guided the 49ers to the '94 championship. He also is the first left-handed QB in the Hall.

"I can taste the pride I felt to be able to put on a 49ers jersey and represent the great city of San Francisco," Young said. "In San Francisco, I found football in its newly enlightened form. I found heaven on Earth for football."

Pollard, like Friedman, was a pro football pioneer and the first black NFL head coach. After a sensational college career at Brown, where he became the first black to play in the Rose Bowl, the running back led the Akron Pros to the 1920 championship. They went undefeated.

He later organized the Chicago Brown Bombers, an independent team of black players that barnstormed the country from 1927-33.

Pollard is among the most important minority figures in football history, a man who seemed to open the door for black athletes in his sport, only to see it slammed shut from 1934 until 1946.

His grandson, Stephen Towns, and other family members, have campaigned for decades to get him elected to the Hall.

"Fritz Pollard was a 5-foot-9, 165-pound running back who had the speed of Tony Dorsett, the elusiveness of Barry Sanders and the tenacity of Walter Payton," Towns said in his acceptance speech. "My grandfather and Jim Thorpe were the highest-paid players of their times. Jim Thorpe became the first commissioner of pro football and was inducted into the first class of the Hall of Fame in 1963. My grandfather became a footnote.

"After today, everyone will know the gifts you have given to football. Rest in peace, Grandpa."

Friedman, who died in 1982, probably was the first great pro passer, and his 20 TD throws in 1929 were considered phenomenal because the ball he threw barely resembled the modern football. The record stood for 14 years.

He played for four teams from 1927-34 and was a strong draw at the box office, even helping the New York Giants become a solvent operation in those early NFL days.

"If Uncle Benny was here today, he would tell you it was all about family, friends, teammates and teamwork," said his nephew, David Friedman. "Proud yet unpretentious, that was the essence of my uncle.

"His example of excellence will survive for as long as there is a Hall of Fame."