CANTON, Ohio -- The linemen led the way as usual, accepting their inductions into the Pro Football Hall of Fame with an abundance of humility. Curtis Martin finished the evening by inducing plenty of tears.
The last of the six players to have his bronze bust unveiled Saturday, Martin recalled his rough life, his mother's pain and his lifelong indifference to the game that made him famous.
His moving story had the audience of 12,100 cheering supportively whenever one of the NFL's greatest running backs got choked up. It was quite a way to end a three-hour induction that celebrated some of the game's best blockers and tacklers:
Roaf, of course, paved the way, standing in front of the large crowd in an unfamiliar role -- getting
"I didn't get singled out in front of a large audience very often," Roaf said, "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."
Doleman, who recorded 38 of his 1501/2 career sacks with the 49ers from 1996-98, recalled that his father had one rule: Finish what you start.
"Thank you for teaching me the importance of finishing what you started," Doleman said. "And if it's any indication today, I finished the game I signed up for."
Eventually Martin took the stage and soon had audience members dabbing their eyes.
He described growing up in a rough neighborhood in Pittsburgh, the son of an alcoholic father who would beat and torture his mother by setting her hair on fire or pressing burning cigarettes to her legs. His mother, Rochella, wiped tears from her eyes as he shared his story.
Though he finished his career with 14,101 yards rushing, fourth on the all-time list, Martin wasn't sure he had the passion to play in the NFL.
But his pastor convinced him he could use football as a platform to do greater things.
"I played for a purpose bigger than the game," Martin said, "because I knew that the love for the game just wasn't in my heart."
But it certainly was in his legs.