CANTON, Ohio -- Gary Zimmerman never wanted to be an offensive lineman.
To hear him tell it, nobody does.
He went to Oregon because it was the only school offering him a chance to play middle linebacker, an opportunity that vanished quickly. When he showed up for the team's first practice, the Ducks gave him No. 75 -- an unusual number for a linebacker.
"After practice, the coaches pulled me aside and explained my future might be on the offensive line," Zimmerman said during Saturday's Hall of Fame induction ceremony. "The Dalai Lama once said that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck. Nobody starts out wanting to play the offensive line position. It's just where we end up."
Zimmerman didn't exactly embrace the switch but he certainly made the most of it. He's now one of only 12 Hall of Fame players to have spent his entire career at tackle.
"Offensive linemen conform to the herd principle," he said. "It's not good to be singled out for good or bad, and that's why it's hard for me to be standing here alone getting this incredible honor. There should be a stage full of guys up here receiving this with me."
Fred Dean always liked doing the dirty work along the defensive line.
So when San Diego drafted him as a linebacker in 1975, Dean balked.
"I want to set the record straight, finally," he said. "I was a defensive end then (in college), and I wanted to be a defensive end (in the NFL). So I wasn't a linebacker. I was a defensive end. When I went to the Chargers, after the draft, I told them I didn't want to play linebacker, I wanted to be a defensive end."
In 1981, the Chargers traded Dean to San Francisco where he became the first pass-rush specialist in league history. He finished with just 28 official sacks, although countless others were not calculated because sacks did not become an official stat until 1982.
But at least Dean got what he wanted.
"When you get used to getting down in the dirt, getting your clothes dirty and wallowing a little bit, it makes everything right when you can stand up out of the mud and feel comfortable," he said. "So I said to myself, 'Hmmm, I like the dirt and if I can beat somebody in the dirt, it's going to be a good thing."
Thousands of Washington fans simply couldn't put aside their rivalry with Dallas, even for an induction ceremony starring two of their own players.
When former Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin was introduced to the near capacity crowd at Fawcett Stadium, along with other returning Hall of Famers, he was greeted by a chorus of boos.
Irvin looked like he expected it. Dressed in the trademark gold Hall of Fame jacket he got from last year's ceremony, Irvin just smiled and had fun with it.
Even before the six newest members were officially inducted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday, some of their predecessors were already campaigning for others to make the cut.
Joe Gibbs, who won three Super Bowls with the Washington Redskins and was part of the 1996 class, started the parade after being asked whether he was surprised only three players, including new inductees Art Monk and Darrell Green, had been selected from his teams in Washington. The other is running back John Riggins, who was enshrined in 1992.
But Gibbs saved his strongest words for his former mentor, Don Coryell, an offensive innovator who won 72 games with San Diego.
"I have strong feelings about this, in part because I played for him," Gibbs said. "He had no ego, had great common sense and had an intensity for the game. He was extremely creative and fostered things that are still in today's game because he was so creative. I think he's affected a lot of coaches, and I'd like to see him get in."
Thurman Thomas also chimed in. The former Buffalo Bills running back argued for former Buffalo Bills teammate Andre Reed to make it.
Reed caught 951 passes in his career before retiring in 2000. That's more than Monk, who retired as the career leader in receptions (940) in 1995. Jerry Rice now holds that record with 1,549.
One knock against the Bills is that despite making four straight Super Bowls, they never won one.
With receivers such as Rice, Cris Carter and Tim Brown all ahead of him on the receptions chart -- eligible or nearly eligible for induction, the wait could be even longer.
"I hope it doesn't take him 13 years to get in," Thomas said.
During last year's induction speech, Thomas asked his wife to marry him again.
A year later, the couple still has not renewed their vows.
"I have an idea of what I want to do, and it will definitely be part of a nice package for my wife," Thomas said. "I want all of the Hall-of-Famers to come back for it because this is where I did it. It takes time to work some of these things out because everyone has a busy schedule."
Thomas is asking everyone to just be patient.
While he still has not set a date or a place for the event, he again promised it will happen in time.
"You know it took me six years to get in here, it may take me six more years to get it done again," he said.
All in family
Green and Monk were such good friends in Washington that they would sometimes take family vacations together.
So it seems only fitting that Green's son, Jared, and Monk's son, James, were both chosen to introduce their fathers Saturday. The reunion in Canton this week has done more than just rekindle old memories. It's also prompted some storytelling.
"When I think of Jared, I think of taking family trips to Disney and giving him piggyback rides at Disney," James Monk said.
If you're looking for the Green family this weekend, the new inductee says his contingent shouldn't be hard to find.
"If you see a bunch of people under 5-foot-9, that's us," he said.
Green was not only one of the fastest players in the league, winning the NFL's fastest man competition four times, but also one of its smallest at 5-8.
He couldn't even count how many family members came to Canton, explaining instead that seven of his siblings are here - his youngest brother couldn't make the trip because he is ill. Also in town are nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles and even grandchildren.
"We're a short group," he said. "Oh, except for my one son (Jared), who is 6-2."
Green's son is a sophomore at Virginia, where he plays wide receiver.