By ROB MAADDI
AP Pro Football Writer
CANTON, Ohio (AP) — DeMarcus Ware got his Super Bowl ring after leaving the Cowboys for Denver. He’d already earned his gold jacket for excelling in Dallas.
The four-time All-Pro outside linebacker was among nine members of the Class of 2023 enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
Ware talked about growing up in a tough environment in Alabama and once having a gun held to his head when he was in college at Troy. He thanked his mother for providing for her family as a single parent and forgave his dad for not being there.
“I was blinded by my environment as a child, domestic violence, drugs, and gangs but those surroundings taught me to be relentless, limitless and resilient,” Ware said. “The reality is you are a product of your own thinking, your own mind, and you must to learn how to persevere.”
A first-round pick in 2005, Ware set a franchise record with 117 sacks in nine years with the Cowboys. He got another 21 1/2 sacks in three seasons with the Broncos.
After frustrating playoff failures in Dallas, Ware got a call from Peyton Manning to go to Denver in 2014. He played an instrumental role in helping the Broncos beat Carolina in the Super Bowl a year later.
“My teammates were unstoppable, and I’m proud to be a part of that legacy,” said Ware, who had two sacks in a 24-10 win over the Panthers.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones presented Ware, who was selected in his second year of eligibility.
“He’s a rare combination of physical gifts and high, high, high moral character,” Jones said.
Zach Thomas, the five-time All-Pro linebacker for the Miami Dolphins, kicked off the ceremony in front of a late-arriving crowd filled with Jets and Browns fans who came for Darrelle Revis, Joe Klecko and Joe Thomas.
The 5-foot-11 Thomas, only the third linebacker under 6 feet to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, thanked everyone from Hall of Fame coach Jimmy Johnson and former teammates Dan Marino and Jason Taylor to Bills, Jets and Patriots fans who “screamed” and “threw things” at him. He choked up when he mentioned fellow Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau, who committed suicide in 2012.
“When I was 2 years old, I was run over by a pickup truck,” Thomas said. “And you know what saved me that day? Dirt. If it was concrete or pavement, I wouldn’t be here right now.
“My life has taken a lot of dirt roads to get here.”
Thomas was presented by Johnson, who drafted the undersized linebacker in the fifth round in 1996.
“I’ve drafted, recruited and coached 17 Hall of Fame players,” Johnson said. “Of all those players, Zach was the hardest-working.”
Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Ken Riley was inducted three years after his death. Riley, a dual-threat quarterback at Florida A&M, was moved to defense by coach Paul Brown after he was drafted in the sixth round in 1969 and finished with 65 interceptions in 15 seasons, all with the Bengals.
“Even though he never played defense until they drafted him, he ended his career as the No. 4 all-time interception leader. Today, 40 years later, he’s No. 5,” said Riley’s son, Ken Riley II. “He was a true professional from start to finish.”
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