“Hall of Fame–Football’s Finest”———-
They open the doors to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, on both Saturday and Sunday.
They will enshrine a total of 28-players, coaches, executives this weekend, combining the classes of 2020-2021.
The Centennial Class, chosen to honor the 100th anniversary of Pro Football, and the most recent class of ’21, will be enshrined.
From the greatness of QB-Peyton Manning, to the coaching brilliance of Jimmy Johnson. From the know architect of teams, George Young, to the little known scout who built the Steel Curtain, Bill Nunn.
Modern day stars and throwbacks from the 40s-50s and 60s, this will be a stroll down memory lane for all football fans.
A capsule look at all those to be honored on the steps at the Hall of Fame, courtesy of ESPN.com
The 2021 Pro Football Hall of Fame class is led by Peyton Manning, who won a pair of Super Bowls and set many records in his 18-year career with the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos.
Manning will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, at 7 p.m. ET Sunday (ESPN) with seven others.
Fifteen men, some who have waited decades to hear their names called, were elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2020 as part of its Centennial Class. The group was selected to honor the NFL’s 100th anniversary. The members, who will be enshrined with the five modern-era players from 2020 at 6:30 p.m. ET Saturday (ESPN), include 10 seniors, two coaches and three contributors.
Here’s a closer look at the classes:
Class of 2021
Alan Faneca, guard (Pittsburgh Steelers, 1998-2007; New York Jets, 2008-09; Arizona Cardinals, 2010)
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The road that guards like Faneca must travel to get to Canton is difficult. Will Shields was a 12-time Pro Bowl selection who didn’t miss a game in his career, and he was finalist four times before he reached the Hall. Faneca was so athletic and versatile that his string of first-team All-Pro selections was only broken because the team needed him to play left tackle for much of the 2003 season.
Why he was elected: A nine-time Pro Bowl selection as well as a six-time first-team All-Pro, he is one of 12 guards in league history to be a first-team All-Pro six or more times — the other 11 are already enshrined in Canton. His teams were among the league’s top five in rushing six times in his 13 seasons and led the league twice.
Signature moment: Faneca’s favorite career moment was Willie Parker’s 75-yard touchdown run in Super Bowl XL, where the Steelers defeated the Seattle Seahawks. The 34 Counter Pike had Faneca leading the way to an 11-point Steelers lead in what became a 21-10 victory. It’s the longest rushing touchdown in Super Bowl history.
He said it: “It started with him. He was the guy up front.” — Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher
Calvin Johnson, wide receiver (Detroit Lions, 2007-15)
At 6-foot-5, 237 pounds with 4.3 speed, Johnson changed the way some looked at the position. A six-time Pro Bowl selection, Johnson led the league in receiving yards twice, and in 2012 he came within 36 yards of becoming the first receiver in NFL history to finish with 2,000 yards in a season.
Why he was selected: Johnson dominated no matter who threw him the ball. He had six different starting quarterbacks in his nine-year career and caught a touchdown pass from seven different quarterbacks. During his career none of his teammates on offense were named to an AP All-Pro team. And during the nine years he played, he led the NFL in receiving yards (11,619), receiving TDs (83), receiving yards per game (86.1), 100-yard games (46), 200-yard games (five) and games with multiple receiving TDs (17).
Signature moment: Johnson’s teams played in two playoff games in his career, and in his postseason debut he caught 12 passes for 211 yards and two touchdowns, but the Lions lost to the New Orleans Saints in a wild-card game. In 2013, he had 14 catches for 329 yards and a touchdown in a regular-season win over the Cowboys, one of three career games with at least 225 yards receiving.
They said it: “He is, in my opinion, the LeBron James football. … He’s definitely a one-of-a-kind receiver.” — former NFL cornerback Aqib Talib
John Lynch, safety (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1993-2003; Denver Broncos, 2004-07)
Before he was picking players as the San Francisco 49ers’ general manager, Lynch was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection, two-time first-team All-Pro selection and a Super Bowl winner. A highly touted baseball prospect who was once a second-round pick of the Marlins, he developed into one of the NFL’s best safeties.
Why he was selected: He was a physical presence in the Buccaneers’ Tampa-2 defense; former Bucs coach Tony Dungy has said a player of Lynch’s intelligence and versatility was both the most needed and difficult to find to run the scheme. He had eight 80-tackle seasons, including 84 tackles in 2006 at age 35 and three with over 100 tackles. He was named to the Pro Bowl in each of his four seasons with the Broncos.
Signature moment: He was a big-moment player who consistently created impact to change games — 14 of his 26 career interceptions came in the fourth quarter, with 11 of those fourth-quarter picks coming in one-score games. And in a career filled with big hits, he played with so much intensity that he once knocked his brother-in-law, Bears tight end John Allred, out of a game.
They said it: “He reminded me of a lot of guys like Ronnie Lott and Steve Atwater. … John didn’t just play the position, he occupied a spot in your mind, and you had to be aware at all times where he was on the field.” — Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders
Peyton Manning finished his NFL career by helping the Broncos win Super Bowl 50. Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY SportsPeyton Manning, quarterback (Indianapolis Colts, 1998-2011; Denver Broncos, 2012-15
One of the league’s most decorated players, Manning was a five-time MVP, a 14-time Pro Bowl selection, seven-time first-team All-Pro selection and won two Super Bowls. Over his 18-year career, he was one of the most difficult players to defend because of his preparation, recall, passion for the game and ability to put the ball where it needed to be play after play, game after game, season after season.
Why he was elected: This is a no-brainer. At the time of his retirement, Manning held NFL records for passing touchdowns (539), passing yards (71,940) and quarterback starts won by his team (186, tied with Brett Favre). His single-season records of 5,477 yards passing and 55 touchdowns, set in 2013 with the Broncos, still stand.
Signature moment: In a career filled with many, it’s tough to pick just one, as his teams made the playoffs 15 times. But raising the Lombardi trophy for the first time and winning MVP when the Colts won Super Bowl XLI was a significant one. Others would simply say that in fully carrying out the most fundamental of things — like a handoff in almost any December practice — no matter the circumstances, no matter how many times he had done it before, Manning took it seriously and delivered.
He said it: “I revere football, I love the game. So you don’t have to wonder if I’ll miss it. Absolutely, absolutely I will. … There were players who were more talented, but there was no one who could outprepare me.” — Manning on the day he retired
Charles Woodson was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection and was named Defensive Rookie of the Year (1998) and Defensive Player of the Year (2009). AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezCharles Woodson, cornerback/safety (Oakland Raiders, 1998-2005, 2013-15; Green Bay Packers, 2006-12)
It’s fitting that Manning and Woodson, who were both Heisman Trophy finalists in 1997, will stand next to each other on the stage in Canton for the enshrinement ceremonies. Woodson was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection and was both the Defensive Rookie of the Year (1998) and Defensive Player of the Year (2009) in his career.
Why he was elected: A multifaceted playmaker who was the first player in NFL history to have at least 50 interceptions and 20 sacks, his 65 career interceptions are tied for fifth all time. He led the league in interceptions with nine in 2009 at age 33 and tied for the league lead in 2011 with seven at age 35.
Signature moment: Woodson’s impeccable timing was on display after President Barack Obama, the highest-profile Bears fan, said during the 2010 season he would not attend Super Bowl XLV unless the Bears defeated the Packers in the NFC Championship Game. Woodson said: “Guess what, we’ll go see him.” And the Packers did, as Super Bowl champs, in the months that followed their win over the Steelers in the title game.
He said it: “An incredible career, man. It goes beyond words. I never intended on playing as long as I have, but this is the way it’s happened, and I’m grateful for it.” — Woodson before his final game in 2015
Tom Flores (Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders 1979-87; Seattle Seahawks 1992-94)
Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductions
Catch the 2020 Centennial Class ceremony in Canton, Ohio on Saturday (6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), followed by the 2021 HOF class induction on Sunday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN):
• Peyton Manning changed QBing forever
• Jimmy Johnson: ‘How ’bout them Cowboys?’
• Charles Woodson’s legendary path in NFL
• Get to know this year’s HOF classes
• Videos: Watch these HOF moments
As a player, assistant coach and head coach in pro football, Flores has four Super Bowl rings and one AFL championship to his credit. Flores and Hall of Famer Mike Ditka are the only people in NFL history who have been Super Bowl winners as players, assistant coaches and head coaches. His gold jacket comes for his work as a head coach.
Why he was selected: Flores’ last three seasons as a head coach — when he returned to coaching in Seattle after being team president there under the restrictions of the dysfunctional ownership of Ken Behring — were a decidedly bumpy ride. But his time with the Raiders included two Super Bowl wins and an 8-3 postseason record for a .727 winning percentage that ranks behind only Vince Lombardi.
Signature moment: After an offseason when Raiders owner Al Davis traded Ken Stabler, Dave Casper and Jack Tatum to Houston for quarterback Dan Pastorini, Pastorini then fractured his leg in Week 5. Jim Plunkett entered the lineup, and the Raiders went on to become the first wild-card team to win a Super Bowl — they beat the Oilers along the way — and Flores became the first Hispanic head coach to win a Super Bowl.
They said it: “He was a pioneer in pro football, and we saw him as a role model.” — Washington coach Ron Rivera
Bill Nunn, scout/personnel executive
Nunn started his career with the Steelers as a part-time scout while also working for the Pittsburgh Courier, where he was sports editor and then managing editor. He was the first evaluator in league history to show an NFL franchise the long-term value of scouting players at historically black colleges and universities. While players from those schools had played in the NFL before, Nunn was instrumental in carving out a far bigger role for them.
Why he was selected: The Steelers’ draft in 1974 alone, and Nunn’s role in it, was probably more than enough to get him in the Hall of Fame. In that draft, the Steelers selected four future Hall of Famers — Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Jack Lambert and Mike Webster. They then signed a fifth future Hall of Famer — safety Donnie Shell — as an undrafted rookie. In all, the Steelers drafted 11 future Hall of Famers in Nunn’s tenure, and Shell was a 12th. Mel Blount, Stallworth and Shell were all future Hall of Famers who played at HBCUs. Nunn could consistently see players’ potential.
Signature moment: There were many, but two major ones: Nunn, who had always named HBCU all-star teams in the Courier and scouted the players extensively to do it, alerted the Rams in 1961 to a player at Mississippi Vocational College named David Jones, who would later be known as “Deacon” Jones in a Hall of Fame NFL career. And in 1974, after Stallworth ran an unremarkable time — on a bad field in bad weather — in a pre-draft workout for scouts at Alabama A&M, Nunn decided to stay an extra day and had Stallworth run again. The time was much better, and by the time the draft rolled around, Nunn convinced Steelers coach Chuck Noll, who wanted to take Swann in the first round in the ’74 draft, that they could wait until the fourth round to also take Stallworth.
They said it: “You cannot write the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers without Bill Nunn. When you look at the Steelers of the 1970s, none of that would have happened without Bill Nunn.” — Hall of Fame cornerback Mel Blount
The original Hail Mary pass was thrown to Cowboys receiver Drew Pearson in the 1975 playoffs. AP PhotoSenior
Drew Pearson, wide receiver (Dallas Cowboys, 1973-83)
Pearson was the only first-team selection to the All-Decade team of the 1970s who had not been enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Like many senior finalists, his career had to be looked at in the context of his era, given that his 58 catches in 1976 and 870 yards in 1977 led the league. A three-time All-Pro, he averaged at least 17 yards a catch in five seasons, including four of his first five years in the league.
Why he was elected: Pearson, a former college quarterback who made the Cowboys’ roster as an undrafted rookie wide receiver, had 489 career catches, which wouldn’t raise an eyebrow in today’s game. But he was one of the elite receivers of his era, and his total is more than those of Hall of Famers Paul Warfield, Lynn Swann and Bob Hayes. His career was shortened by a liver injury he suffered in a car accident at age 33, an accident that killed his brother Carey. He retired shortly thereafter.
Signature moment: Pearson caught the original Hail Mary pass — from Hall of Famer Roger Staubach — to lead the Cowboys to a 1975 divisional playoff win over the Minnesota Vikings in the last 24 seconds of the game. The play got its name after Staubach said, “I threw the ball as far as I could, I closed my eyes and I said a Hail Mary.”
They said it: “He has been overlooked [by the Hall] for too long.” — Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach
Class of 2020
Steve Atwater was selected to the Pro Bowl in eight of his 11 NFL seasons. Greg Crisp/Getty ImagesSteve Atwater, safety (Denver Broncos, 1989-98; New York Jets, 1999)
Atwater was one of the league’s fiercest tacklers and won two Super Bowls with the Broncos. He closed out his career as an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time first-team All-Pro. Atwater had six 100-tackle seasons, and at 6-foot-3 and 218 pounds, he was one of the biggest, most mobile safeties of his era.
Why he was elected: As one of only two modern-era finalists who appeared in a game before 1990, Atwater’s selection was a nod to the more physical side of the game. He was smart, athletic and a respected teammate and opponent. As former teammate Rod Smith said, “He could knock you out and then politely ask you if you were OK.”
Signature moment: Still a YouTube classic, his hit on Kansas City Chiefs running back Christian Okoye in a Monday Night Football game in 1990 remains a regular drive-time topic on sports radio in the Rocky Mountain region.
He said it: “I woke up every day and thanked the Lord I only had to face him in practice. Because back then, you weren’t going to run over the middle like guys do now, not worried about anything. No, then [Atwater] would have made you pay for every catch.” — Broncos Ring of Fame wide receiver Rod Smith
Isaac Bruce, wide receiver (Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams, 1994-2007; San Francisco 49ers, 2008-09)
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Bruce’s first career catch was a 34-yard touchdown, and from there he went on to four Pro Bowls. When he retired he was second all-time with 15,208 receiving yards; he and Jerry Rice were the only receivers to have topped 15,000 yards at that time. He was key part of the Rams’ Greatest Show of Turf in which they won a Super Bowl and powered quarterback Kurt Warner to two MVP awards.
Why he was elected: He was the first player in NFL history with three consecutive games of at least 170 yards receiving, and he had three career 200-yard receiving games. He finished his career with eight 1,000-yard seasons and was one of the most respected players in the league for both his performance and approach to the game.
Signature moment: He had many, led by his winning touchdown catch in Super Bowl XXXIV when he adjusted his route to snare an underthrown pass before he completed a 73-yard catch-and-run with 1 minute, 54 seconds left. The play gave him 162 yards receiving in that game.
He said it: “The best route runner that probably ever played football as a wide receiver.” — former NFL coach Jim Haslett
Steve Hutchinson, guard (Seattle Seahawks, 2001-05; Minnesota Vikings, 2006-11; Tennessee Titans, 2012)
He was selected to the league’s all-rookie team in 2001, seven Pro Bowls and the All-Decade team of the 2000s. With the Seahawks, he played alongside Hall of Fame tackle Walter Jones, forming one of the best guard-tackle tandems of the past three decades.
Why he was elected: He is one of 12 offensive linemen in the modern era to have been named first-team All-Pro five times and once went 44 consecutive games without having a penalty called on him that was accepted. He helped power two different offenses with two different teams that featured the NFL’s rushing leader — Seattle’s Shaun Alexander in 2005 and Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson in 2008.
Signature moment: Hutchinson set the market for an entire position — not just for one season, but for the long haul. He signed a seven-year, $49 million deal with the Vikings in 2006 and only three tackles had a higher per-year average, let alone guards like Hutchinson. The contract also featured a “poison pill” the Seahawks couldn’t really match — if Hutchinson wasn’t his team’s highest-paid lineman at any point in the contract, the entire contract would be fully guaranteed. The Seahawks had already signed Jones, a left tackle, to a bigger deal, and Hutchinson went to the Vikings. Similar provisions were later banned in negotiations.
He said it: “Just as Walter Jones was the best tackle I ever saw, Steve Hutchinson was the best guard.” — former NFL coach Mike Holmgren
Edgerrin James led the league in rushing his first two years in the NFL. Peter Brouillet/NFL Photo LibraryEdgerrin James, running back (Indianapolis Colts, 1999-2005; Arizona Cardinals, 2006-08; Seattle Seahawks, 2009)
He was the league’s offensive rookie of the year in 1999 and won the league’s rushing title his first two seasons — with 1,553 yards in 1999 and 1,709 in 2000. James had four 1,500-yard rushing seasons, five 50-reception seasons and finished with more than 15,000 yards from scrimmage.
Why he was elected: James was a versatile, do-it-all player whom former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said was a big part of Indianapolis’ run as one of the league’s most dominant offenses. James ran with quickness, power and vision and was also a matchup problem for defenses in the passing game. And he consistently did the roll-up-your-sleeves things, such as blitz pickups, without complaint.
Signature moment: He had many for a team that was consistently in the playoff conversation, but a moment several of his teammates (Manning included) have pointed out came in 2004 when the Colts faced Brett Favre’s Packers in what was expected to be an offensive showcase. The Colts, because the Packers were intent on blitzing Manning, elected to throw on the first 22 plays, and James was used as a blocker. Manning went 17-of-22 for 247 yards and three touchdowns in those 22 plays, and James didn’t get a carry until the second quarter. But it showed the unselfishness and work ethic of a gifted player who performed well in all facets of the game.
He said it: “I’ve said [James] is probably the best teammate I ever had. Because of his talent, the most talented running back and one of the most talented players I’ve ever spent any time with, and he was so unselfish. He just did everything that needed to be done.” — Hall of Fame QB Peyton Manning
Safety Troy Polamalu was named to eight Pro Bowls. AP Photo/Tom HauckTroy Polamalu, safety (Pittsburgh Steelers, 2003-14)
In short, a highly decorated player who powered a championship defense as the Steelers won two Super Bowls during his time in the league. The Steelers gave him plenty of freedom in the defense to be a playmaker, and he consistently delivered. He forced 14 fumbles, recovered seven and had 32 interceptions.
Why he was elected: The only reason he was a second-team All-Decade pick at safety is because Ed Reed — Hall of Fame Class of 2019 — was the first-team selection at Polamalu’s spot. Polamalu was selected to eight Pro Bowls and was a four-time first-team All-Pro despite playing in the same era as Reed. Polamalu was the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2010 — the most recent defensive back to win the award. Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore is in the running this season.
Signature moment: Folks will always remember his Superman-like leaps over the offensive line to make a tackle, but his 40-yard interception return for a touchdown with just over four minutes to play sealed the Steelers’ 23-14 win in the AFC Championship Game in 2009 against the Baltimore Ravens. It propelled the Steelers into Super Bowl XLIII, where they defeated the Arizona Cardinals.
He said it: “His actions as a human being were just as impressive as any of the many inhuman plays he made on the football field.” — Steelers vice president/general manager Kevin Colbert
Eagles great Harold Carmichael had three seasons with 1,000 or more yards receiving. Focus on Sport/Getty ImagesPlayers
Wide receiver Harold Carmichael (Philadelphia Eagles, 1971-1983; Dallas Cowboys, 1984)
A four-time Pro Bowl selection, the 6-foot-8 Carmichael was the league’s Man of the Year in 1980 for his work in his community. In an era when Drew Pearson once led the league in receiving yards with 877 in 1977, Carmichael was consistent in his impact, averaging over 15 yards per catch in six seasons.
Why he was elected: Carmichael was said to be one of the most difficult players to defend. Those who played against him said his numbers would be far better if he played now, when pass interference and defensive holding are called more often. He led the league in catches and receiving yards in 1973 and finished with three 1,000-yard seasons in his career. He was also among the league’s top 10 in touchdowns in eight seasons.
Tackle Jim Covert (Chicago Bears,1983-1990)
A starter from his rookie season in 1983 to when he retired after the 1990 season. A two-time first-team All-Pro, Covert helped power a Bears offense that led the league in rushing in each of his first four seasons and finished among the top three in rushing in seven of his eight seasons. Covert played his best against the best pass-rushers of his time.
Why he was elected: A back injury ended his career in 1991. He spent that seasons on injured reserve and never returned to the field. Covert held Lawrence Taylor without a sack in his three meetings against the Hall of Famer. Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon once said Covert and Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz were the best tackles he faced.
Safety Bobby Dillon (Green Bay Packers, 1952-59)
Dillon did his best work before they became Vince Lombardi’s Packers. Green Bay had losing seasons in seven of Dillon’s eight years with the team. Dillon, like many of his era, retired before his 30th birthday and before the Packers could have enjoyed his talents on a consistent winner. Dillon also played with a glass eye because of childhood accident.
Why he was elected: Dillon retired with a staggering 52 interceptions in 94 games. In a decidedly run-first era, Dillon is tied for 26th with Hall of Famers Champ Bailey, Jack Butler, Mel Renfro and Larry Wilson on the league’s all-time list for interceptions. Dillon had three seasons with nine interceptions and five seasons with at least seven picks.
Safety Cliff Harris (Dallas Cowboys, 1970-79)
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Harris made the Cowboys’ roster as an undrafted rookie in 1970, having arrived as a former college sprinter and cornerback. The Cowboys saw a future safety, and he started five games as a rookie. Harris became one of the league’s first box safeties with enough athleticism to return punts and kickoffs. Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton once said the two best safeties he faced were Harris and Hall of Famer Jake Scott.
Why he was elected: A player nicknamed “Captain Crash,” Harris was selected to six Pro Bowls. He led the Cowboys in tackles in 1976 and interceptions in 1977. He played on two Super Bowl winners, and the Cowboys were in the postseason in nine of his 10 years. Dallas won 72.9 percent of its games in the 1970s.
Tackle Winston Hill (New York Jets, 1963-76; Los Angeles Rams, 1977)
Hill is part of a group vastly underrepresented in the Hall of Fame: players who excelled in the AFL. An eight-time Pro Bowl selection, he played seven seasons with AFL’s Jets and eight more after the AFL-NFL merger. Many longtime league observers have said he so dominated in Super Bowl III he should have been the MVP.
Why he was elected: Hill was a player with remarkable footwork — he played tennis in his youth — who played with power, technique and quickness. He missed one game in his 14 seasons with the Jets — as a rookie. His career was overshadowed by the fact the Jets had three winning seasons in his 14 years, but Hall of Fame coach Weeb Ewbank said Hill should have been enshrined decades ago.
Defensive tackle Alex Karras (Detroit Lions 1958-1962, 1964-1970)
Karras was an NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion at Iowa and finished second in Heisman Trophy voting in 1957 as a defensive lineman. He still holds the Lions’ career record for sacks with 97.5. He was a dominant player during his era, but for a team that did not win a championship. Karras played in one postseason game in 1970. Karras was also suspended for gambling, along with Hall of Famer Paul Hornung, for the 1963 season.
Why he was elected: Three defensive tackles were named to the All-Decade team of the 1960s — Karras, Bob Lilly and Merlin Olsen. Lilly and Olsen were enshrined as first-ballot selections while Karras was never a finalist in his 25 years of eligibility. He was a four-time All-Pro selection. Karras’ only playoff appearance was in the last game of his career; the Lions held the Cowboys without a touchdown but still lost 5-0.
Safety Donnie Shell (Pittsburgh Steelers, 1974-87)
Shell was physical enough to play the run like a linebacker with the athleticism and savvy to have 51 career interceptions. He covered tight ends like Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome in man-to-man situations and was also a feared hitter along the line of scrimmage. Shell played on four Super Bowl winners and was voted the team MVP of the 1980 Steelers, a team that included nine Hall of Famers (Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Mike Webster, Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Jack Ham and Mel Blount).
Why he was elected: He was a five-time Pro Bowl and three-time first-team All-Pro selection. Couple Shell’s 51 career interceptions with 19 career fumble recoveries and those 70 career takeaways are Canton-worthy. He had a six-year stretch — 1979-1984 — with at least five interceptions in a season, including seven in 1980 and 1984.
Tackle Duke Slater (Milwaukee Badgers, 1922; Rock Island Independents, 1922-25; Chicago Cardinals, 1926-31)
Slater is considered the first African-American player in professional football in the first half of the 20th century. At a time when most players played for one or two seasons before injuries or the need for more income pushed them out of the league, Slater was good enough to play for a decade. A two-way player, Slater had a four-year stretch in Rock Island when he played every minute of each game. He continued to play both ways through the final years of his career with the Cardinals.
Why he was elected: Slater started 96 of 99 career games and, when he retired, his 10 seasons were the third-most of any professional player. He was a six-time All-Pro, and Slater did all of it while battling racism. The only game Slater missed in his career was in 1924 due to an agreement that prevented African-American players from playing in Missouri. His teammates wanted to forfeit the game, but Slater said he would fake an injury because his teammates would not be paid if they didn’t play.
Wide receiver Mac Speedie (Cleveland Browns, 1944-52)
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Speedie played seven seasons for the Browns, who went to league championship games in each of those years with five victories. Some believe he did not make the Hall of Fame after his retirement, despite being an All-Decade selection for the 1940s and leading the league in receptions four times, because he left Paul Brown’s team for more money to play in Saskatchewan. Speedie’s departure angered the influential Brown, who sued Speedie for breach of contract but lost. In fact, Speedie wasn’t even added to the Browns’ Hall of Fame until 1999.
Why he was elected: His 1,146 receiving yards in 1947 not only led his league — the AAFC — but were 202 yards more than any player in the NFL that year. His 1,028 yards in 1949 also led the AAFC and would have led the NFL that year as well. He averaged 800 yards receiving per year in his career, a figure another player with as many seasons of experience wouldn’t reach for two decades after his retirement. In 10 seasons over three leagues — the AAFC, NFL and what is now the CFL — he was an all-league pick eight times.
Defensive end/linebacker/end Ed Sprinkle (Chicago Bears, 1944-55)
This is the player George Halas, who was a part of the NFL from the 1920s as a player to the 1980s as a team owner, called “the greatest pass-rusher I’ve ever seen.” Sprinkle once graced a magazine cover that dubbed him “the meanest man in pro football.” In a title game against the Giants, Sprinkle knocked two New York running backs out of the game — George Franck with a separated shoulder and Frank Reagan with a broken nose — and also fractured the nose of Giants quarterback Frank Filchock.
Why he was elected: Sprinkle was an elite player long before sacks and forced fumbles were official statistics. He was voted by his peers, many who disliked playing against him, to four of the first five Pro Bowls (the Pro Bowl didn’t exist until 1950) and was selected to All-Decade team of the 1940s.
Bill Cowher brought the Steelers to the Super Bowl on two occasions, with nine years in between. John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsBill Cowher (Pittsburgh Steelers, 1992-2006)
Cowher followed legend Chuck Noll as head coach of the Steelers. Pittsburgh has had just three head coaches since 1969 — Noll, Cowher and Mike Tomlin. The fiery Cowher won with both a power-first offense and a wide-open, pass-first attack. The Steelers’ defenses were also consistently among the league’s best.
Why he was elected: He had nine 10-win seasons in 15 years with the Steelers, won eight division titles and Super Bowl XL. Cowher is 20th on the league’s all-time wins list among coaches, and his team’s defenses finished among the league’s top five in scoring defense seven times. His .623 winning percentage is 14th all-time among coaches who have been in the league for at least 10 years. Nine of those other coaches are already in the Hall of Fame.
Jimmy Johnson (Dallas Cowboys, 1989-1993; Miami Dolphins, 1996-99)
Like the 49ers’ Bill Walsh, Johnson’s tenure wasn’t as long as many already enshrined, but he made the most of those nine seasons with two Super Bowl wins as the Dallas Cowboys went from 1-15 in his first season in 1989 to 36-12 in his last three years in Dallas with the back-to-back Super Bowl victories.
Why he was elected: Johnson is credited with the extensive use of the draft chart to make trades, while his Herschel Walker and Steve Walsh trades netted him four first-round picks, four second-round picks and two third-round picks. He turned those picks into a team that won three Super Bowls — two for him and one for Barry Switzer. With the Cowboys, Johnson drafted 18 players who would start in Super Bowls, including three Super Bowl MVPs, and 15 players who would be selected to a Pro Bowl. In Miami, he drafted four players who would go to a combined 19 Pro Bowls (Zach Thomas, Jason Taylor, Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain) and none of them were first-round picks.
Administrator/president Steve Sabol (NFL Films 1964-2012)
There are few, if any, in the league that question the impact of Steve Sabol, and his father Ed, given their work with NFL Films. Steve Sabol took over NFL Films from his father in 1976, and in 2003, the Sabols were awarded a Lifetime Achievement Emmy award. Before cable television, NFL Films’ signature vignettes were how many fans came to see the game, with the slow-motion, music and narration each week.
Why he was elected: When Steve Sabol died of cancer in 2012, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said “Steve’s legacy will be part of the NFL forever. … A man who changed the way we look at football and sports.” Steve Sabol won 35 Emmys in his time at NFL Films. His father, Ed, was enshrined in 2011, and they are now the third father-son combination in the Hall of Fame, joining Tim and Wellington Mara and Art and Dan Rooney.
Paul Tagliabue was NFL commissioner from 1989-2006. Garrett Ellwood/Getty ImagesCommissioner Paul Tagliabue (1989-2006)
He has been a polarizing candidate for some of his early comments on concussions as well as stadium troubles in California during his tenure, having been turned away four times by the Hall’s Board of Selectors over the past 14 years. But his supporters cite his role in the growth of the NFL into a global, multibillion dollar business, his part in the creation of the Rooney Rule, to promote diversity in hiring, and a long period of labor peace between the league and the players’ union.
Why he was elected: It took 11 votes, in multiple cities over multiple meetings, by the NFL owners to select Tagliabue in 1989 to replace Pete Rozelle as the league’s commissioner. Before Tagliabue’s tenure, the commissioner largely ran the league’s day-to-day operations but held little power. Tagliabue flipped it to make the commissioner the central figure in the NFL’s operations. Record television revenues and extended labor peace followed. His most ardent supporters, including Hall of Famer and late Steelers owner Dan Rooney, said Tagliabue should have been in the Hall of Fame long ago.
Executive/general manager George Young (Baltimore Colts, 1968-1974; Miami Dolphins, 1975-78; New York Giants, 1979-1997; National Football League)
The Giants were a mess when Young was hired in 1979, with two winning seasons between 1964 and Young’s first day on the job. Young was given total control of the team’s football operations. He drafted a future Hall of Famer in Lawrence Taylor and hired future Hall of Famer Bill Parcells as coach, and two Super Bowl victories followed.
Why he was elected: Young was a five-time winner of the league’s Executive of the Year award, which now bears his name. The only other former general manager to win the award five times is Hall of Famer Bill Polian. Young restored stability to the Giants. He worked with two Hall of Fame coaches in Parcells and Don Shula. Young went on to fill a newly created position with the NFL as the league’s director of football operations.