Willie Roaf, right, and his father Clifton unveil a plaque commemorating Willie’s induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame during a ceremony Wednesday at McFadden Gymnasium. (Special to The Commercial/William Harvey)
Willie Roaf addresses the audience during a “Hometown Hall of Famers” ceremony in his honor Wednesday at Pine Bluff High School. (Special to The Commercial/William Harvey)
A Pine Bluff native was honored Wednesday afternoon as former NFL offensive lineman and Pro Football Hall Of Famer Willie Roaf was presented with a “Hometown Hall of Famer” plaque during a ceremony held at McFadden Gymnasium at Pine Bluff High School.
“It feels great,” Roaf said. “It feels great to be honored.”
Roaf said he felt like he was back in high school when he had to wear his football jersey on Fridays.
“I was just a goofy kid,” Roaf said. “Me and my friends were just playing ball, having fun and doing our best to stay out of trouble.
“Trying to keep my grades decent and keep my parents happy.”
Roaf played college football for Louisiana Tech and was the New Orleans Saints’ first-round pick in the 1993 NFL Draft. He played professionally for the Saints and Kansas City Chiefs in the NFL.
“It is a hard road,” Roaf said. “But if you take care of your business and strive to be better, make your family proud, you will in turn make yourself proud.”
Roaf is an 11-time Pro Bowl selection and nine-time All-Pro. He played for the Saints for nine seasons and won a spot of the NFL’s 1990s and 2000s All-Decade Teams.
After a season-ending injury in 2001, he was traded to Kansas City. He played four more seasons before retiring.
“I played my butt off and it took a lot of dedication,” Roaf said. “I’m happy to come back and share this moment.”
Roaf said Pine Bluff holds a special place in his heart and has a lot of tradition.
“People know about Pine Bluff now,” Roaf said.
Roaf is the third of four children of Dr. Clifton Roaf and Andree Layton Roaf. He started playing football in the fourth grade for the East Side Panthers.
Roaf played right tackle on Dial Junior High’s undefeated team as a ninth grader. He was an offensive tackle while at Pine Bluff High earning All-Conference his senior year.
Dr. Roaf introduced his son to a packed gymnasium using the words from the poem “The Best of Whatever You Are” as inspiration.
“He understands the principles of what life is about,” Dr. Roaf said about his son in his introduction speech.
“Hometown Hall of Famers” is a national program honoring the hometown roots of the sports’ greatest coaches, players, and contributors with special ceremonies and plaque dedication events in local communities.
Pro Football Hall of Fame Enterprises and CEO George Veras said Wednesday’s ceremony was one of the best he has ever seen.
“Of all the players that have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, 220 come from cities the size of Pine Bluff or smaller,” Veras said. “Small-town values raised him to be great and give you inspiration.”
Roaf also played basketball for the Zebras.
“I just remember how much fun we had,” Roaf said Tuesday in a phone interview. “It was real competitive and it was very competitive in the league. I wish we could have gone farther (in the tournament).”
Pine Bluff native and Detroit Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter was drafted out of high school by the Minnesota Twins the same year Roaf was drafted.
“There is a lot of tradition and athleticism to come out of Pine Bluff,” Roaf said. “To be drafted the same year as Torii is really amazing.”
The only other person from Pine Bluff to be inducted into the Hall of Fame is charter member Don Hutson, who played for the Green Bay Packers from 1935 to 1945.
“We understand the value of hometown pride,” said Robert Emmich, a representative for “Hometown Hall of Famers” sponsor Allstate Insurance. “It is a privilege to honor Pine Bluff and Willie Roaf today.”