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FOOTBALL: Ray Donaldson’s Pro Hall of Fame hopes get boost from homegrown campaign

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It’s a fact there are very few full-time centers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. From the modern era, only seven are enshrined as such in the halls of Canton, Ohio.

Rome native  Ray Donaldson thinks he should be there. And so does a growing number of supporters in his hometown.

The former East Rome standout was included as one of 108 modern-era NFL players nominated for potential induction into the Hall of Fame when the list was announced last month.

Now fans have a chance to go online and vote for him in a process that will help the Hall’s 48-person committee narrow the field down to 25 semifinalists in November.

“I think that my career, the way that it went, it should put me in the Hall of Fame, but a lot of things go into the reason why people do and don’t get in,” Donaldson said during a recent interview. Donaldson spent 17 years — from 1980 to 1996 — in the NFL and was selected to the Pro Bowl six times.

An All-SEC center at Georgia, the multi-sport star went on to become the first black starting center in NFL history and went on to play for the Colts in Baltimore and Indianapolis for 13 seasons before moving onto Seattle and then Dallas, where he blocked for Emmitt Smith and was on the Cowboys’ Super Bowl XXX championship team.

“It’s a tough position, but it’s hard to get into the Hall of Fame because we are the only the position in the game that doesn’t have stats if you think about it. Offensive linemen don’t have them,” Donaldson said. “So we either have got to be well-liked by somebody or be on a team like New England or Miami, when they use to win all the time, so the recognition would come to you or you would go unnoticed.”

When Lisa Nash saw that Donaldson was up for inclusion again, the Roman took notice.

She started to formulate a plan that would not only show the Rome-Floyd and Georgia Sports Hall of Famer that his native town was behind him, but also get the word out about the fan vote and increase his chances of getting a Gold Jacket.

“I thought that it was time that he really understood that the community really does stand behind him,” said Nash, who was the event coordinator for Rome-Floyd Parks and Recreation, the organization that sponsors the Rome-Floyd Hall of Fame.

“Knowing that linemen aren’t normally favored to be in the hall of fame, at least he could see that his community knew he deserved recognition for what he had done.”

Together with Rusty Mansell and Jim O’Hara, the three organized a series of events which would bring Donaldson — who now lives in Indianapolis — back to Rome. Nash had kept in touch with him and asked him about being a part of it.

“When I first heard about it … I really didn’t know what to think, because this is not my first time being nominated. It kind of surprised me,” Donaldson said. “I thought about it for a minute. … I decided, ‘Let me do this and maybe things will start looking up for me.’”

“Once we started to tell people, everything just fell into place,” Nash said.

“It was all in getting the right people involved and spreading the word. That’s what small towns do.”

A Facebook page was created to get the word out. Donaldson was part of a pre-game tailgate at Barron Stadium before the Rome-Carrollton game on Sept. 29 and served as an honorary captain for the Wolves during the coin toss.

Once the Hall of Fame semi-finalists are announced next month, a further selection process will determine the 15 finalists, which will be unveiled in January.

“We can hope and cross our fingers,” Nash said, adding that they have reached out to Vince Dooley, who was the head coach when Donaldson played at Georgia, to help get to people outside of the Rome.

“Like I said, if nothing else, Ray knows that he has the support of his community behind him.”