Neal's missed block reveals Tomlinson's greatness; Easley says HOF election saved his life


CANTON, Ohio -- This is Hall-of-Fame weekend in Canton, Ohio, and the Talk of Fame Network’s Hall of Fame co-hosts, Rick Gosselin, Ron Borges and Clark Judge, gathered here with nearly 100 members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame including its seven newest inductees: LaDainian Tomlinson, Kurt Warner, Jerry Jones, Morten Andersen, Terrell Davis, Jason Taylor and Kenny Easley.

To get some perspective on the weekend, TOF visited with Easley, who was the senior committee nominee, and Lorenzo Neal, the fullback who opened enough holes for Tomlinson to allow him to run his way into the Hall and was his official presenter.

Easley recalled how his election jolted him out of a dangerously depressive funk he’d spiraled into after needing triple bypass heart surgery. Easley said for months he sat on the couch in his Virginia home after the operation, with little interest in moving despite his family’s pleading.

Then the phone rang, informing him his 30-year wait to reach the Hall was over. To say it was uplifting was an understatement.

“That very day I got off the couch and walked,’’ Easley recalled. “I’ve been walking every day since, rain or shine.’’

Easley also recalled how his insistence on playing safety rather than quarterback in college caused legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler to storm out of his house and led him to UCLA, where he became a three-time All-American and the fourth overall pick in the 1981 NFL draft.

“The only school that came to my house and said we’re recruiting you as a defensive back was UCLA,’’ Easley told the Talk of Fame Network. “Bo Schembechler came to my house, and he’s talking about me being the next Michigan quarterback, winning the Big Ten championship and going to Rose Bowls.

“I finally got up the nerve to tell him I didn’t want to play quarterback. I wanted to play free safety. He almost went ballistic on me. He said, ‘You’re telling me that you don’t want to play quarterback at the finest university in the nation? Anybody can play free safety.’ I said, ‘Well, coach, I want to play safety.’ He left the house in a huff and never said another word to me after that. The next day I said I’m going to UCLA.’’

Lorenzo Neal was a four-time Pro Bowl fullback who for five years opened holes for LT. During that time he became his trusted confidante and this week was chosen by Tomlinson to be his Hall of Fame presenter. Neal told Talk of Fame what made Tomlinson Hall of Fame worthy.

“Refusing to be average,’’ Neal said. “He’s rare.’’

Neal also recalls how his blown block nearly prevented Tomlinson from breaking the all-time touchdown record and how LT bailed him out.

Hall-of-Fame quarterback and Broncos' GM John Elway also stops by to make the case for owner Pat Bowlen, whom Elway firmly believes should be inducted into the Hall soon.

Elway also defended the choice of Davis, whose career was cut short after four highly productive seasons by a vicious knee injury. In those four years Davis was the league’s best runner and Elway insists he did more than enough to join him in Canton.

“Look at the impact he had on the football team,’’ Elway said of Davis. “We would not have won those world championships in 1997 and 1998 (without Davis).’’

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