DETROIT -- The election of this year's Hall of Fame class contained surprises, sentiment and a dose of disappointment.
The announcement of the six new members - quarterback Troy Aikman, linebacker Harry Carson, coach John Madden, quarterback Warren Moon, defensive end Reggie White and offensive tackle Rayfield Wright - led to an outpouring of emotions.
White's widow, Sara, wept on stage. Madden could hardly contain himself, laughing heartily while banging the lectern with both fists. Michael Irvin, who was left out for a second straight year, did his best to hide the sting while sitting in the audience.
Even the usually reserved Aikman was awe-struck.
"Make no bones about it, this is the greatest individual athletic achievement that's happened in my life," said Aikman, who led the Dallas Cowboys to three Super Bowl championships. "To think of all the great players and to be considered among them, it is a very humbling experience."
Aikman, White and Moon join nine other players since 2000 to be elected in their first year of eligibility.
But Moon achieved a greater historical milestone, becoming the first black quarterback elected to the Hall.
Moon, who started in the Canadian Football League, finished with more yards passing than anyone in NFL history other than Dan Marino and John Elway. His election was unexpected because some believed his statistics were inflated by playing in the run-and-shoot offense.
"I think all the guys who played before me as African-American quarterbacks have to share in this with me," said Moon, who played a majority of his 17 seasons with the Houston Oilers. "I don't want to make it a racial issue, but it is significant. It shows we have reached the pinnacle of this sport."
It's the first time since 2001 that the maximum number of candidates has been chosen. The biggest snubs from this large group were Michael Irvin and Thurman Thomas, both of whom failed to make the cut from 10 to six finalists.
Irvin's Cowboys teammates, Aikman and Emmitt Smith, had campaigned for his election.
"From a biased opinion, if there ever was a Hall of Fame wide receiver, it is Michael Irvin," Aikman said.
Irvin made five straight Pro Bowls from 1992 to 1996 and finished his 12-year career with 11,904 yards receiving - more than all but three receivers already enshrined. It is believed his off-the-field troubles in recent years hurt his case with the 39 media voters.
"Whatever disappointment I have is totally suppressed by the joy I have for my quarterback," said Irvin, who was seated at the news conference when the names were announced. "Last year, I was in my room crying. Now, I just want to hug my quarterback."
The surprises were Moon, Carson, Madden and Wright, while the locks were White and Aikman.
White, who tackled Aikman for seven of his 198 career sacks, was a 10-time All-Pro and was considered among the most ferocious defensive linemen in NFL history. The league's all-time sacks leader, White died in December 2004 at 43 of arrhythmia caused by sarcoidosis of his lungs and heart.
"He was so looking forward to this moment. I think he would still be crying," said the widow of the former Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers great. "He respected all the players who played before him and would have loved to play with the Lombardi legends. We have to remember how he lived and not how he died."
White also changed the face of the game, playing a key role in free agency. He was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to the NFL's current system.
"He would have played for free, but luckily we had an agent," Sarah White said.
The class of 2006 will be inducted in Canton, Ohio, on the weekend of Aug. 5-6.
That honor couldn't come quickly enough for Madden, Carson and Wright.
Madden received the nod after 35 years of being one of the most prominent faces of the sport. He won a Super Bowl and more than 75 percent of his games in 10 seasons as coach of the Oakland Raiders before becoming a broadcasting favorite and a video game mogul.
He learned about his election while watching the announcement on television.
"I haven't taken a normal breath since," Madden said.
Carson, a nine-time Pro Bowl linebacker with the New York Giants, was in his seventh year as a finalist. He had been the most outspoken critic of the voting process, saying he wanted off future ballots. Carson was unavailable for comment yesterday.
Wright had the longest wait, making the Hall in his 22nd year of eligibility. He was a key figure on the Cowboys' dominant offensive line of the 1970s.
"It's been a long time coming," Wright said with a smile.