Three backs, Deion could get Hall call

DALLAS — Three of the NFL's top 10 career rushers and one of its most dynamic cornerbacks lead a star-studded group of candidates for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Curtis Martin, Jerome Bettis and Marshall Faulk are the running backs eligible for the first time for induction into the Canton, Ohio, hall. Defensive back Deion Sanders also is a first-time contender, along with tackle Willie Roaf.

It's quite a collection for voters to consider Saturday — and those are just the players who reached eligibility this year.

Among the holdovers is former Bryan Station, Kentucky and Pittsburgh Steelers center Dermontti Dawson, a finalist for the third time.

Dawson spent his entire pro career (1988-2000) with the Steelers. He was a first-team All-Pro selection six consecutive years (1993-98) and in the Pro Bowl seven years in a row (1993-99).

Other holdovers include wide receivers Tim Brown, Cris Carter and Andre Reed; tight end Shannon Sharpe; defensive ends Richard Dent, Chris Doleman and Charles Haley; defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy; senior nominees Chris Hanburger and Les Richter, both linebackers; and NFL Films founder Ed Sabol as a contributor.

At least four and a maximum of seven nominees can be elected. If six or seven make it, two must be senior nominees.

Sanders won two Super Bowls and was the Defensive Player of the Year in 1994. He had 53 career interceptions and also was an outstanding kick returner. In his 14 NFL seasons, Sanders scored 18 touchdowns on returns, and he also played some wide receiver.

"I didn't play the game to go to the Hall of Fame," Sanders said. "That's not the way I thought. I played the game so I could take care of my mama for the rest of her life.

"You play the game because you enjoy the game. You play the game because of what it brings to you and your emotions."

In Faulk's 12 seasons, he won a championship in 1999 with St. Louis, was the league's MVP the next year, and, perhaps most impressive, took Offensive Player of the Year honors in 1999, 2000 and 2001. He ranks 10th in career rushing with 12,279 yards and was the first player to gain 2,000 total yards in four straight seasons.

Martin ranks fourth in career rushing with 14,101 yards and had an amazing 10 straight 1,000-yard years.

Bettis, nicknamed "The Bus," finished right behind Martin with 13,662 yards and won a Super Bowl in 2006 with Pittsburgh in his hometown of Detroit, then retired.