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Julius Peppers begins meeting his peers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Julius Peppers

LAS VEGAS — Even though he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer, Julius Peppers willingly admits feeling starstruck this weekend.

He might be happy to know that some of his brothers in this new fraternity he's joined feel the same way about meeting him.

Peppers took part in his first event as Hall of Famer No. 377 on Friday, appearing at the annual Merlin Olsen Luncheon at Caesars Palace, and you can tell he's still getting used to his new status.

Even among the stars, the new guys get noticed, and the guys who already have their gold jackets are glad to welcome Peppers. Whether it was Warren Sapp lighting up and coming over to hug him when he entered the room or hanging with the kind of quarterbacks he never got to face, like Warren Moon and Jim Kelly, it was a dive into the deep end of his new life for Peppers.

"He'll understand he's supposed to be here," Moon said, moments after he and Peppers huddled briefly in a corner for a quick introduction and a welcome to the club.

Moon admitted feeling the same way Peppers felt the first time he met quarterbacks like Roger Staubach, Terry Bradshaw, and Joe Namath. So he understands what Peppers is feeling now.

"Just realizing I am now here with these people," Moon said. "As a young kid, Hall of Famers were like gods, they were people that you didn't think were really real as far as football players. They're just that next, next level.

"Now, all of a sudden, I'm one of them, and I'm still in awe when I go in the room with all of them. I'm a part of this team, you know, and I think a lot of guys will tell you the same thing, even though they probably felt like they deserved to be here. It's still an unreal feeling to be a part of it."

While Peppers might be surprised to realize it, these guys know who he is. When you become just the 90th first-ballot Hall of Famer and earn all the honors he earned, your presence speaks volumes even if you don't.

Willie Roaf, Julius Peppers

So over there is legendary Saints tackle Willie Roaf. He knows who Peppers is and is old enough to have seen him play basketball in North Carolina. The Tar Heels played two tournament games in New Orleans during Peppers' freshman year, and Roaf had to see it for himself.

"You could tell he was a football player," Roaf said with a laugh, acknowledging the amazement that someone could be so good at two sports. "He was just different. He's been different from the time he came out, you know what I'm saying? Just a different breed. No question about it."

And then there was John Randle, himself a dominant pass-rusher (10th on the all-time list with 137.5), giving the nod of respect when he saw Peppers walk in the room.

"Man, when he did it, it looked like he was just doing it so easy, getting all the sacks," Randle said. "He had that face shield, too. Kind of gave him a Darth Vader look.

"To me, the thing about the great ones is that, you know they're about to make a play. And so when you watch him play, you go sooner or later, he's going to get there."

But beyond the recognition of his skills, Randle (who was inducted in 2010) also swept his arm across the room, pointing out legends like Art Shell and so many others. He remembers meeting his idol, Alan Page, and feeling the same way Peppers felt last night when he ran into Barry Sanders.

"I would start off by telling guys, take a moment, look around, and look at the history of this game," he said. "This is what the history of this game is about. And this room shows blood, sweat, and tears. Welcome to a fraternity; welcome to a team that you can't be cut or traded from. Just, what an honor, and get ready to be part of something so great.

"When I saw Alan Page, and he told me that he was there to hear me give my speech, ... wow, man. I grew up watching him play football. And for him to tell me that, it brought all emotions out that you were part of something that you didn't intend on being a part of."

Aeneas Williams, Julius Peppers, Charles Haley

Roaf (Class of 2012) talked about feeling the same way when he was inducted and met Forrest Gregg, Jim Brown, Bob St. Clair, and Gale Sayers. And the message he heard from those legends was the thing he shared with each class that followed.

"Understand there's a bigger purpose, there's accountability that comes with it," Roaf said.

Former Packers safety LeRoy Butler, who was inducted two years ago, felt the same way when he met Cowboys legends Roger Staubach and Drew Pearson.

"When I saw Drew, I got emotional because growing up, I was a Cowboys fan," Butler said. "And to me, Roger Staubach is the goat, but 88, to me, is a part of my DNA and part of my life. When they lost a game, I used to cry. I had a T-shirt with Drew Pearson on it. It wasn't a jersey because I was in poverty, and my sister drew an 88 on the shirt to be like Drew Pearson. And now I can just pick up the phone and call him. It's truly amazing."

As such, Butler said he hopes Peppers finds those moments soon, even if not in the whirl of this weekend when it can all begin to sink in for him.

"Pep is a humble giant, but he represents the culture," Butler said. "He's a guy that doesn't like to brag, and he don't do celebration dances. He just does it the right way.

"We're so happy that he was going to make it when you think about him as a player. I mean, just the pass rusher that he was for so long."

Julius Peppers, Harold Carmichael

That kind of respect goes from the younger Hall of Famers to the old, as 74-year-old former Eagles receiver Harold Carmichael (Class of 2020) called himself a fan of Peppers' work and made a point to say hello as his newest brother entered the room.

"It's kind of neat seeing the way guys react to each other," Carmichael said. "This is your family now, regardless if you have an argument or you have a disagreement on a football field, but you're still family, and there's an excitement when you see these guys."

Becoming a part of that family is something that's still being processed every time Peppers looks around these rooms.

Anthony Munoz (Class of 1998), possibly the greatest left tackle in the history of the game, called the 44-year-old Peppers "one of the young guys" and said it took him back to his induction when he met players such as Otto Graham and Dante "Gluefingers" Lavelli.

"I was sitting in the room then, and I'm like 39 years old, close to 40, and I'm going, oh my goodness. Am I really part of this? This is pretty special."

That's the part that's registering with Peppers now and the reason he's looking around with a sense of disbelief as he comes to grips with the idea that these people are as excited to see him as he is them.

View 90 photos of the legendary defensive end from his time in a Panthers uniform.

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