Rod Woodson is considered by many to be the best defensive back of all time.
And Bob Hayes, an Olympic champion sprinter, helped revolutionize the receiver position with his breathtaking speed.
All three were given their sport's greatest honor yesterday as they headlined the six-man class for the 2009 Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"This is a special class. I am overjoyed," said Smith, 45, who had 200 career sacks with the Bills and Redskins. "Just thinking about my father and all the sacrifices he and my mother made when I was a child growing up to be a man. How he wanted me to have a life better than he had. I just wish he was here. He would be extremely proud of this day."
Woodson, 42, who returned an NFL-record 12 interceptions for touchdowns, played 17 seasons from 1987-2003. He made 71 interceptions, third in league history.
"It's truly amazing," Woodson said. "This is a great honor."
Hayes died in 2002 at age 59 from prostate cancer and liver disease. A former two-time gold medalist at the 1964 Olympics, "Bullet Bob" played 10 seasons for the Cowboys. Before he died, he wrote a statement in the event he one day was selected for the Hall of Fame. His sister, Lucille Hester, read it yesterday.
"I would like to thank everyone who supported me to get into the Hall of Fame," the statement read. "The Dallas Cowboys organization, all my teammates and everyone who played for the Cowboys. Thanks to the committee who voted for me, and also the ones who might not have. Tell all my teammates I love them. Just tell the whole world I love them."
Wilson, 90, has been the Bills' only owner since they became a charter member of the AFL in 1960. He has steadfastly refused to move the team despite financial pressure as one of the league's small-market owners. He was one of only two owners to vote against the recent collective-bargaining agreement extension; the owners have since opted out of the agreement, setting the stage for a potential showdown with the players in 2011.
"It's a tremendous honor," Wilson said. "If you live long enough and are fortunate, all good things happen. To be elected to this august body is overwhelming."
Thomas, who died in 2000 at age 33 as a result of injuries suffered in a car crash, set an NFL record with seven sacks in one game in 1990 and led the Chiefs' defense for 11 seasons.
"Derrick Thomas was the cornerstone of the modern era of the Kansas City Chiefs and one of the most feared performers of his era," Chiefs owner Clark Hunt said. "Every head coach and offensive coordinator who faced the Chiefs during the 1990s knew when they came to Arrowhead Stadium, they had to account for Derrick Thomas."
McDaniel, 44, played 14 seasons and was one of the best pulling guards in league history. He helped the Vikings set a single-season scoring record of 556 points in 1998, a mark that has since been broken. He missed only two games in his 14-season career and was voted to the 1990s All-Decade team.
Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who helped achieve labor peace during his 17-year stewardship, did not make the cut for the third straight year. Also missing out was former defensive end Claude Humphrey of the Falcons and Eagles, who was a senior committee candidate, as was Hayes.