Enshrinees relax, laugh with crowd at GameDay Roundtable

Jim Thomas

And on the ninth day, they rested.

OK, these football gods, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2008, did not rest Sunday afternoon as much as they simply exhaled.

“All I can tell you is, right now, I’m still tense,” said Fred Dean at the Enshrinees GameDay Roundtable at Memorial Civic Center. “But I can’t see everybody, so I’ll be all right.”

The packed crowd of about 4,000 roared. Most knew Dean had misplaced his glasses prior to Saturday’s enshrinement at Fawcett Stadium.

That’s how the roundtable unfolded. Dean, Darrell Green, Art Monk, Andre Tippett, Gary Zimmerman and Emmitt Thomas were funny, thoughtful, grateful, respectful, even spiritual in addressing questions from Fran Charles of the NFL Network.

Dean said, “God is real every day. He makes things happen.”

And because of God, “when I go to the Hall of Fame, I want to go to the real Hall of Fame, the Eternal Hall of Fame.”

The sextet had their share of laughs with their fans. Zimmerman, who rarely spoke to the press in his 12-year career with Minnesota and Denver, let the gathering peek inside a mind full of mirth.

Was he ever nervous about protecting John Elway’s blind side?

“Every night was sleepless,” he joked. “I’d buy Nyquil by the case – it didn’t even work.”

Zimmerman said Oregon had offered him a chance to play linebacker coming out of high school. “But when I got there and saw my number was 75, I kind of knew what was coming.”

Being a lineman was cool, he said, in more ways than one.

“Offensive linemen have the most fun on the team by far. We run the lockerroom. You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us. We were the pranksters,” Zimmerman said. You screwed up, “your underwear ended up in the ice machine.”

“I’m glad I didn’t drink any of that water,” Green joked.

The diminutive Green, a crowd favorite all weekend, had to get two things off his chest. The first was his height, written about and plastered all over the country last week as 5 feet, 8 inches.

“I am 5-8 and 3/4,” he said. “Not 5-8. I just want that clear.”

His other point of clarification was that he came into the NFL to pick off passes, not run track. Green drew a huge ovation when the Civic Center’s big screens showed him chasing down Dallas’ Tony Dorsett inside Washington’s 10-yard line.

“That was NOT what I came into the league to be known for,” he said. “I ran down a lot of people; that just meant they had been going for a while. I always fought against the whole idea I was just a fast guy.”

Tippett gave area fans some fond memories when he conjured up two ghosts of Cleveland Browns past.

“Cleveland had two good running backs, (Earnest) Byner and (Kevin) Mack,” he said. “Both blocked, both ran the ball. As a linebacker, you wanted to make them block. They both danced every dance. They were two of the toughest backs I competed against.”

Monk drew loud applause and amens when he spoke about the responsibility of being a Redskin and a Hall of Famer.

“As a Redskin, I couldn’t go out in the public and just act any old way,” he said. “I represented something, I represented the Redskins. So I had to conduct myself in a manner that was (positive). As a Hall of Famer ... with it comes responsibility.”

Thomas, the eldest of the Class of 2008, summed up the week best.

“My emotion is off the charts,” said Thomas. “I plan on coming back next year and enjoying the ceremony. You can’t enjoy this now... but I feel blessed.”

Reach Repository sports writer Jim Thomas at (330) 580-8336 or e-mail jim.thomas@cantonrep.com