CANTON, Ohio — “Normally the father is the hero to the son, but in this case, the son is the hero to the father,” Clifton Roaf said with emotion during his videotaped presentation of his son William to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
With that, a long hug with his son and the unveiling of Willie’s bust, the younger Roaf was the first of six to be enshrined into the Hall on Saturday night at Fawcett Stadium.
Willie Roaf became the second Pine Bluff native to enter Canton’s hallowed shrine, following Don Hutson in the first Hall class of 1963. Many of his supporters banded together at the rear of the stadium floor, most of them wearing black shirts each with a gold “77” printed on the back.
His four children, Jordan, 17, Alexis, 15, Dillon, 13, and Carrington, 10, were in attendance along with other family members and friends who sat in front. Roaf honored his late mother, Andree, twice during his speech.
“To my mother, the honorable Judge Roaf looking down on this ceremony, Mom, I did not become a doctor, or a lawyer or a brain surgeon,” said Roaf, whose father is a Pine Bluff dentist and mother was an Arkansas Supreme Court justice. “But I did become a Pro Football Hall of Famer and I know you’re proud of me. And, Mom, that’s what matters to me most.”
It was a special moment for Saints Nation because Roaf is only the second to be inducted as a New Orleans player. A consultant for the Saints, Seattle Seahawks great and Rivercrest alumnus Cortez Kennedy also was inducted, giving Arkansas two inductees on the night.
“He was the best offensive tackle I played against,” Rickey Jackson, the first enshrined Saint in 2010, said of Roaf during a commercial break. “He was hard to beat. You had to be on your A-game all the time. It was hard to find a way to get around him.”
The 42-year-old Roaf has come a long way from being that youngster who got started in football by playing in the neighborhood. He said that led to playing organized football with the East Side Panthers under coach L.G. Robinson, a mailman.
Then came his time with the Pine Bluff High School Zebras. He graduated from the school in 1988.
“Football was the biggest sport in Pine Bluff and it was very, very competitive,” he said. “In high school we had some very good football teams but got beat my senior year in the semifinals against Fort Smith Northside.”
Roaf talked about some of the athletic alumni that have come through Pine Bluff, including Basil Shabazz, Danny and Mark Bradley, Monte Coleman and Torii Hunter. He also acknowledged his Pine Bluff football and basketball coaches, Marion Glover, and Joe Ball. Fitting, then, it was that the ceremony was held in a high school football stadium, albeit one almost twice the size of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s Golden Lion Stadium. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is located down the hill from McKinley High School, in front of the stadium.
The stadium wasn’t filled to its capacity of more than 22,000 Saturday, but black and gold were the dominant colors among the crowd. That was due in large part to Roaf’s supporters and Pittsburgh Steelers fans celebrating the enshrinements of 1950s safety great Jack Butler and 1990s standout center Dermontti Dawson.
Vikings defensive great Chris Doleman and former Jets running back Curtis Martin also were inducted Saturday.
Roaf played collegiately at Louisiana Tech, redshirting in 1988 and playing the next four years. He was named an All-American in 1992 and the following spring was drafted eighth overall by the Saints.
He played in New Orleans through the 2001 season, when he was limited to seven games with an injury to his anterior cruciate ligament. He was then traded to the Kansas City Chiefs, where he played for four seasons before retiring.
Roaf was known for his athleticism and blocking ability which helped offenses post significant numbers. He was selected to 11 Pro Bowls and was twice named NFC Offensive Lineman of the Year. He made the 1990s and 2000s NFL All-Decade team.
“The Saints players called Will ‘Gilligan’s Island’,” Clifton Roaf said in his video. “It meant that Will would take absolutely the best linemen that was on the opposing team by himself.”
Because he did it so well, Canton has taken Roaf into the Hall.