NFL notebook: Linemen lead charge into Hall of Fame

By Joe Kay

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Aug. 5 2012 12:12 a.m. MDT

These are new football helmets that were given to a group of youth football players from the Akron Parents Pee Wee Football League in Akron, Ohio, Saturday, Aug. 4, 2012. These youth football players from low income families, are among thousands nationwide who benefit from a youth safety and helmet replacement program, partially sponsored by the NFL, to improve player safety. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Associated Press

CANTON, Ohio — Willie Roaf was in an unfamiliar role — the center of attention in front of a large crowd, being singled out for something good.

No, make that: Something great.

With current Saints players standing and cheering, the former New Orleans offensive tackle led a charge of linemen into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday night, a six-man induction that tilted toward those who relish the less-than-glorious role.

Four linemen were included — Roaf, Chris Doleman, Cortez Kennedy and Dermontti Dawson, along with running back Curtis Martin and 1950s cornerback Jack Butler.

Roaf led it off with a speech short and humble, fitting someone who played a stellar career appreciating the scrums rather than the spotlight.

"You know, it's an offensive lineman," said Roaf, who was very hard to get around on the field. "I didn't get singled out in front of a large audience very often, and when I did, it was usually by a referee who was singling me out by saying, 'Holding No. 77.'

"That's not going to happen today. And it wasn't too often when I played."

Roaf was one of the greatest players in Saints history, so good that he regularly made the Pro Bowl even though New Orleans had only one winning season in his nine years there. His induction gave the franchise something to celebrate after an offseason clouded by its bounty scandal.

Saints players sat in the last three rows of seats on the field, wearing black t-shirts with Roaf's No. 77 on the back. They're in town to play Arizona in the Hall of Fame preseason game on Sunday night.

Martin brought the audience to tears.

The Patriots and Jets running back described his life growing up in a rough Pittsburgh neighborhood — in a household where his father tortured his mother by setting her hair on fire and burning her legs with cigarettes.

His mother was tough on him, urging him to play football to stay out of trouble. It helped him survive and thrive.

"My greatest achievement in my life was helping my mother and nurturing my mother," he said.

MANNING GIVES BIG CROWD SOME THRILLS: On his first snap, Peyton Manning went deep. He overshot Demaryius Thomas but nonetheless showed off his arm strength to any doubters that might remain.

On his 14th and final snap of the Denver Broncos' summer scrimmage Saturday, Manning found Eric Decker for a 9-yard touchdown toss that drew the largest ovation from the biggest crowd ever to watch the team practice.

Manning's first appearance in blue and orange at Sports Authority Field drew 41,304 fans, almost double the old record of 20,782 set two years ago when a guy by the name of Tim Tebow was the main attraction.

49ERS' PASSING GAME SPUTTERING: With their first preseason game less than a week away, the San Francisco 49ers look a lot like where they left off last season.

Their defense is performing at a very high level. Their offense is lagging noticeably behind.

The team went to considerable measures during the offseason to upgrade a passing offense that ranked 29th in the NFL last season. But the 49ers haven't displayed much progress in that area after a week of training camp practices, even with the addition of veteran wide receivers Randy Moss and Mario Manningham.

With holdover starter Michael Crabtree out with a leg injury, it has been up to Moss and Manningham to provide most of the highlights in a passing game that has struggled in recent days.

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