Reggie! Reggie! White entering Hall of Fame

From his record off the field to the records he set on the field, Reggie White, the aptly named "Minister of Defense," is most deserving for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame today.

"You're already a great football player. Come here and you'll be a legend."

That was former Packers general manager Ron Wolf's sales pitch to lure Reggie White to Green Bay.

 "I think the Hall of Fame is just an official way of establishing what people already know, that my father is and will always be a legend. I do hope, however, that is also establishes that he was a legendary person."

That's what White's daughter, Jecolia, says.

Mission accomplished on both counts.

White, who died Dec. 26, 2004, from sleep apnea and sarcoidosis at the too-young age of 43, will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday in Canton, Ohio. To say White left this world as a legend is as big an understatement as saying White was a pest to the 75 quarterbacks he sacked during his remarkable football career.

Where do you start?

As a football player, his former coach in Philadelphia, Buddy Ryan — a man who knows a little something about coaching defense — says there's "no question he was the best" defensive lineman to ever play the game.

As a Green Bay Packer, he will be forever linked to Wolf and Brett Favre as the three men who put Titletown back on the football map.

As a human, White railed against social injustices — sometimes to the point of offending people. In Green Bay, he left behind his Urban Hope entrepreneur program, which continues to churn out graduates and business owners. Mike Holmgren spoke for many people when he said: "I'm a better person for having been around Reggie White."

"I hope that my life serving God and doing what he called me to do would overshadow anything I did in football," White told The Associated Press in a 1998 interview.

"The Minister of Defense" became an ordained minister at the age of 17. He was mocked for signing with the Packers in April 1993 after his whirlwind free-agent tour because Green Bay had few minorities and only minor inner-city problems.

That didn't stop White from making his mark and preaching.

During the days leading up to Super Bowl XXXI, White turned his news conference into a pulpit.

Sometimes it was on the state of race relations.

"You have a majority, and particularly in the black community, a majority of young people's fathers are either in jail or dead, and that's a problem," he said. "It's a problem when in our corrective facilities in America, that 40 percent of the men in jail in the total population, including women, are black men."

Other times, it was on society in general.

"Today in our nation we're not protecting one another," White told reporters. "We don't have compassion for one another. It seems as though we as Americans are doing more to get on top and stay on top than trying to help the man down at the bottom to at least live some type of decent life.

"And until we as Americans learn to have extreme compassion for our people, this country will never move into the direction that we need it to."

White showed that compassion on the football field, while at the same time being ruthless.

"He'd be picking quarterbacks up saying, ‘God bless you,' but he'd be whooping the guy in front of him every time," Denver Broncos safety John Lynch said recently.

White no longer is the NFL's career sacks leader — Bruce Smith hung around long enough to finish with 200 sacks, two more than White — but White has no peer among defensive linemen in NFL history.

What fact is more impressive?

That White recorded 198 career sacks, even though he spent his first two professional seasons with the Memphis Showboats of the USFL?

That White was named to 13 consecutive Pro Bowls?

That White was named to the NFL's all-75-year team?

That White left Philadelphia as the only player in league history with more sacks (124) than games played (121)?

That White twice was named the NFL's defensive player of the year?

That those honors came so far apart — in 1987 and 1998?

That in 1987, he piled up a stunning 21 sacks … in 12 games?

"He was probably the most intimidating, the most physical football player that I played against," said Warren Moon, the former Houston Oilers quarterback who also will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday. "Three guys I always refer to as three of the top defensive players that I played against: Reggie White, Lawrence Taylor and Bruce Smith. Those three guys, you always had to know where they were, you always had to concern your protection about where those guys were.

"Reggie White could take a game and change it by himself. He was one of the few defensive players that could do that because of the amount of attention you had to give to him. One of the nicest guys you ever want to meet off the field, but one of the most physically intimidating players that you ever want to see on the field."

White was one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to the establishment of free agency. He bolted from Philadelphia to Green Bay with a four-year contract worth $17 million.

It was the best money the Packers have ever spent.

"That's what changed the football fortunes of this franchise. It was huge," Packers president Bob Harlan said after White's death. "Everyone thought the last place he would sign was Green Bay, and it was monumental, because not only did he sign but he recruited for Green Bay and got guys like Sean Jones to come here. He sent a message to the rest of the NFL that Green Bay was a great place to play."

Indeed, White helped bring many of the veteran pieces who would lead the Packers to victory in Super Bowl XXXI.

"If he hadn't have come over, we never would have gotten Bruce Wilkerson, Sean Jones, Ron Cox, Andre Rison, Desmond Howard, all these guys we won a championship with," former Packers safety LeRoy Butler said.

With White, Jones and Santana Dotson up front, the Packers built one of the greatest defenses in league history. They allowed a mere 19 touchdowns in 16 games, which at the time was a record. While Favre got the headlines, the Packers boasted the league's top defense with a mere 13.1 points allowed per game.

The crowning moment came in the Super Bowl, when White sacked Drew Bledsoe a game-record three times in the Packers' 35-21 victory over New England.

"He was so big, strong and fast and was able to take over football games, and did that a number of times," said Eagles coach Andy Reid, who was a Packers assistant at the time.  "He always seemed to do it during the crunch time right when you needed it done. He would get a sack and big play."

In what was supposed to be his final season, White won his second defensive-player-of-the-year award by recording 16 sacks. He came out of retirement to play the 2000 season with Carolina.

Still, White's football legend almost always revolves back to his off-the-field accomplishments.

"Where do we begin? Great player, great person, great teammate," Favre said last week. "It goes without saying that he's deserving of this, and just a shame he passed this young."

Even though the Family Night scrimmage is tonight, Favre will be one of the Packers attending the Hall of Fame enshrinement. Others include Harlan, fullback William Henderson, long snapper Rob Davis and running backs coach Edgar Bennett. They will be joined by former Packers Wolf and Eugene Robinson.

White will be there, too, in his own way.

"He was so looking forward to this moment," Sara White said after her husband was chosen for enshrinement. "Because it meant a lot to him to be a part of this group. Because he respected the people who came before him, who paved the way for him to be able to be in the NFL. My only regret is that he's not here. But you know what? He really is. He's here. I'm reminded by him every day."

Lawrence is a regular contributor to Send comments to

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