Watters newest Niner nominated for Hall

Running back Ricky Watters, who led the 49ers in rushing three consecutive seasons and helped them win their last Super Bowl championship after the 1994 season, is one of 10 first-year eligible candidates among a list of 111 former players, coaches, and contributors who make up the preliminary list of modern-era nominees for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2007.

Watters is one of 12 former 49ers players on the list, which also includes former team owner Eddie DeBartolo, who is nominated as a contributor.

From this preliminary list of modern-era nominees, Hall of Fame selectors will choose 25 candidates who will advance as semifinalist nominees, and that list later will be pared to 15 modern-era finalists and two senior nominees. The two senior finalists, Gene Hickerson, a guard with the Cleveland Browns, and Charlie Sanders, a tight end with the Detroit Lions, were selected this past August by the Hall of Fame's Senior Selection Committee.

This year marks the first time that the finalists list will number 17. Prior to this year, the finalist list was limited to 15 nominees, 13 modern-era and two senior candidates. The Class of 2007 will be selected from the list of 17 finalists. The actual voting will be conducted at the Hall of Fame Selection Committee's annual meeting, which will be held Feb. 3, the day before Super Bowl XLI in Miami, Florida.

Other first-year eligible candidates besides Watters for the Class of 2007 include running back Terrell Davis, offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, quarterback Randall Cunningham, guards Randall McDaniel and Steve Wisniewski, center Mark Stepnoski, and defensive backs Eric Allen, LeRoy Butler, and Carnell Lake.

Watters, San Francisco's second-round pick in 1991, missed his rookie season with a broken leg, but returned in 1992 to take over as the 49ers' featured back, leading team in rushing with 1,013 yards and earning a Pro Bowl invitation. Watters also made the Pro Bowl in 1993, when he led the 49ers with 950 yards rushing, and again in 1994, when he led the team with 877 yards rushing.

Watters left the 49ers in 1995 to sign a lucrative free-agent deal with the Philadelphia Eagles. He also played for the Seattle Seahawks and completed his 10-year NFL career with 10,643 yards rushing to go along with 467 receptions and 91 total touchdowns. Watters had six consecutive seasons of 1,100 yards or more rushing after leaving the 49ers.

Other 49ers nominated this year who have been previously nominated include DeBaratolo, running back Roger Craig, quarterback Jim Plunkett, tight end Brent Jones, defensive linemen Fred Dean, Richard Dent, Chris Doleman, Charles Haley and Charles Mann, linebackers Rickey Jackson and Kevin Greene and punter Reggie Roby.

To be considered for Hall of Fame election, a nominated player must have been retired at least five years. For a non-player, there is no mandatory retirement period, but a coach must be retired before he may be considered. A contributor, who is a nominee who has made outstanding contributions to pro football in capacities other than playing or coaching, may still be active in his pro football career.

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