This Saturday evening in Canton, Ohio, the Pro Football Hall of Fame welcomes its 51st class, bringing the total count of members in the Hall to 280.
To say one class is “worse” than another makes no sense when it comes to this prestigious honor. But here’s an attempt to offer a little perspective in terms of the impact of these classes, a feat that makes for a fun stroll down memory lane as we honor the game’s greatest players and contributors along the way.
And if you are looking for more information about the 280 enshrinees, here’s a shout out to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and its staff. They make it easy for writers like myself to enjoy the history of this game even more thanks to their dedication and hard work.
Congratulations to the Class of 2013. Where do you think they rank among the 51 entries on this list?
Take your time. There are a lot of memories ahead.
Coach Ray Flaherty, DE Len Ford, FB Jim Taylor
Taylor, the one-time Green Bay Packers’ fullback, would end his exceptional career in a New Orleans Saints uniform. But he was a vital cog to the Packers effective ground attack and knew his way to the end zone.
End would be the better description for Ford, who began his career with the Cleveland Browns in the AAFC as a defender and pass-catcher but became a four-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman once he settled on one position.
Flaherty led the Washington Redskins to a pair of NFL titles in 1937 and 1942 before coaching in the All-America Football Conference.
QB/Coach Jimmy Conzelman, T Ed Healey, FB Clarke Hinkle, T William Roy “Link” Lyman, G Mike Michalske, Art Rooney, C George Trafton
Conzelman’s contributions on the field came with various teams but he also served as an owner. Conzelman also coached the Chicago Cardinals to the 1947 NFL championship, the franchise’s last league title.
Speaking of owners, the Pittsburgh Steelers had not enjoyed any success in their first three-plus decades under Rooney in ’64. But that would certainly change with the hiring of Chuck Noll in 1969, and the rest is NFL history.
Healey, Lyman, Michalske and Trafton all made their mark in the league’s early days, as did Hinkle, whose versatility was the key to a stellar career.
S Jack Christiansen, End Tom Fears, RB Hugh McElhenny, End Pete Pihos
Before there was the Cardinals’ Patrick Peterson in 2011, there was Christiansen, who also returned four punts for touchdowns as a rookie (1951). The rangy defender also picked off 46 passes, taking back three for scores.
McElhenny was a member of the “Million Dollar Backfield” with the San Francisco 49ers (with Hall of Famers John Henry Johnson, Joe Perry and Y.A. Tittle) and “The King” was a six-time Pro Bowler.
Pihos led or tied for the league lead in receptions three straight seasons from 1953-55, while Fears actually led the NFL in catches in each of his first three years in the league (1948-50).
T Lou Creekmur, T Dan Dierdorf, Coach Joe Gibbs, WR Charlie Joiner, CB Mel Renfro
Canton, Ohio native Dierdorf, as well as Creekmur, could have teamed up to make one heckuva tackle tandem.
Gibbs remains the only head coach in NFL history to win three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks, achieving that feat in his first of two stints with the Washington Redskins.
Joiner’s best years came with Hall of Famer Dan Fouts and the amazing San Diego Chargers offenses, while Renfro was a mainstay in more than a few excellent secondaries for the Dallas Cowboys.
RB Cliff Battles, DT Art Donovan, RB/End Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch, End Wayne Millner, FB Marion Motley, RB/QB Charley Trippi, C/LB Alex Wojciechowicz
Talk about entertainment value. Along with being a standout defender, Donovan ranks right up there as one of the game’s great characters, and the stories of his playing days are legendary.
Hirsch was part of those high-scoring Los Angeles Rams teams of the 1950s with Hall of Fame quarterbacks Norm Van Brocklin and Bob Waterfield.
The massive Motley ran over defenders with regularity, while the versatile Trippi scored twice in the Cardinals’ last NFL title game win in 1947. Those were the days when the franchise was located in Chicago.
Lamar Hunt, DE Gino Marchetti, RB Ollie Matson, QB Clarence “Ace” Parker
The versatile Matson, a six-time Pro Bowler, was part of one of the biggest trades in NFL history when he was dealt by the Chicago Cardinals to the Los Angeles Rams in 1959 for an astonishing nine players.
Marchetti was a standout defender for the Baltimore Colts who specialized in getting to the quarterback.
Parker was a standout in the 1930s and ‘40s but played for just seven seasons, while Hunt was one of the original AFL founders and owners and was later a guiding force behind the merger with the NFL.
RB Earl Campbell, G John Hannah, G/DT Stan Jones, Tex Schramm, PK Jan Stenerud
The “Tyler Rose” was loved by the Oilers’ Blue in Houston but not by opposing defenders trying to stop the imposing runner. Campbell led the NFL in rushing for his first three seasons.
Many feel Hannah may be the best ever at his position, while Jones was a versatile seven-time Pro Bowler.
Finally, Stenerud remains the only pure kicker of any sort in the Hall (where are you, Ray Guy?).
RB Tony Canadeo, LB Bill George, T/PK Lou “The Toe” Groza, CB Dick “Night Train” Lane
Before there was Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary and Brian Urlacher in the Windy City, there was George, an eight-time Pro Bowler and one of the league’s first standouts at his position.
Another AAFC original with the Cleveland Browns dating back to 1946, “The Toe” earned that nickname as a star kicker following an all-star career at tackle.
Lane set an NFL record with 14 interceptions as a rookie in 1952, a mark which has still not been broken.
Coach George Allen, TE Dave Casper, DT/DE Dan Hampton, QB Jim Kelly, WR John Stallworth.
From the “Ghost to the Post” to the “Holy Roller,” Casper was the perfect complement to wideouts Fred Biletnikoff and Cliff Branch in the Oakland Raiders’ passing attack.
Hampton was a key cog in those great Chicago Bears defenses of the 1980s, while Kelly led the Bills to a record four straight Super Bowls.
Stallworth always came up big for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs via his share of key receptions, while the passionate Allen did things his way (and for good results) with the Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins.
RB Bill Dudley, RB Joe Guyon, QB Arnie Herber, G/Coach Walt Kiesling, RB George McAfee, T/Coach Steve Owen, Hugh “Shorty” Ray, C/LB Clyde “Bulldog” Turner
Best known for his days in Pittsburgh with the Steelers, Dudley led the NFL in rushing, interceptions and punt returns in 1946.
Herber, born in Green Bay, Wis., was part of four championship teams with the Packers and teamed with fellow Hall of Famer Don Hutson to form one of the game’s early great passing tandems.
Ray was the league’s supervisor of officials from 1938-1952, while Owen coached the New York Giants to a pair of titles during his 24 years at the helm.
CB Willie Brown, T Mike McCormack, WR Charley Taylor, DT Arnie Weinmeister
The crafty Brown began his playing career with the Denver Broncos and then was traded to the Oakland Raiders (imagine that!), and by the time it was over, he picked off 54 passes, not including his memorable 75-yard return for a score in Oakland’s Super Bowl XI win over the Vikings.
Taylor was one of the best receivers of his era and his 79 touchdown receptions came on just 649 catches.
McCormack made his name on the Cleveland Browns’ offensive line, while Weinmeister was a defensive force.
S Paul Krause, WR Tommy McDonald, T Anthony Munoz, LB Mike Singletary, C Dwight Stephenson
There are those who never understood why it took so long for Krause, the NFL’s all-time interception leader, to take his rightful place in Canton.
Stephenson’s career was cut short by a devastating knee injury but his impact was memorable.
Some feel Munoz was the best lineman to ever play the game, and few would argue.
One look into Singletary’s eyes and you knew he meant business, while the exuberant McDonald knew his way to the end zone.
End Morris “Red” Badgro, QB/PK George Blanda, DE Willie Davis, C Jim Ringo
For a long time, 2,002 and 26 were magic numbers in NFL history. And while Blanda’s career point total of 2,002 has since been long surpassed (he still ranks sixth all-time), his 26 seasons played remains a record.
Davis began his career with the Cleveland Browns but earned glory in “Titletown” after being dealt to the Green Bay Packers.
Badgro was a two-sport standout and returned to football after a stint in baseball.
Ringo was a 10-time Pro Bowler, earning seven invitations with Green Bay and three more with the Philadelphia Eagles.
T Albert Glen “Turk” Edwards, Coach Earle “Greasy” Neale, DT Leo Nomellini, RB Joe Perry, DT Ernie Stautner
Neale was certainly slick, leading the Philadelphia Eagles to three straight NFL title games (1947-49) and winning championships in his second and third tries.
Perry (in the enclosed photos) was with the pre- and post-AAFC San Francisco 49ers (who joined the NFL in 1950) and became the first player to rush for 1,000-plus yards in consecutive seasons (1953 and 1954).
Stautner was an imposing force on the Pittsburgh Steelers defense and went onto even further recognition as a Dallas Cowboys assistant coach.
DE Fred Dean, CB Darrell Green, WR Art Monk, CB Emmitt Thomas, LB Andre Tippett, T Gary Zimmerman
Monk was one of the most reliable wideouts in the league and a key cog in Joe Gibbs’ offenses with the Washington Redskins.
Green’s amazing speed was a constant for 20 seasons in Washington, while the pass-rushing Dean began his career in San Diego and later went onto Super Bowl glory with the San Francisco 49ers.
Thomas was a mainstay in those great Kansas City Chiefs defenses in the 1960s and ‘70s, totaling a team-record 58 interceptions.
Tippett was the New England Patriots’ answer to Lawrence Taylor, while the reliable Zimmerman was a force up front for the Minnesota Vikings and Denver Broncos.
RB Marcus Allen, DE Elvin Bethea, G Joe DeLamielleure, WR James Lofton, Coach Hank Stram
A former Heisman Trophy winner, Allen’s second season with the Silver and Black saw him garner Super Bowl XVIII MVP honors, and his “reversal of fortune” run against the Washington Redskins that day is one of the game’s most electrifying plays.
Lofton was one of league’s deep threats and Bethea was a steady force on the Houston Oilers defensive fronts, playing alongside Class of 2013 inductee Curley Culp.
While DeLamielleure was as reliable on the offensive front as any player, the show-stopper here is Stram. His “65 Toss Power Trap” still rings in the ears of football fans who watched and later listened to the Chiefs’ head coach when he was miked for Super Bowl IV.
QB John “Paddy” Driscoll, G Dan Fortmann, QB Otto Graham, QB Sid Luckman, RB Steve Van Buren, QB Bob Waterfield
Rumor has it that the NFL is a quarterback-driven league these days, but this was quite the QB-led class. Waterfield shared the spotlight on the Los Angeles Rams with fellow Hall of Famer Norm Van Brocklin. Meanwhile, Luckman remains the Chicago Bears’ all-time leader in passing yards and touchdown tosses.
Then there was Graham, who was 10-for-10 reaching title games, winning seven league championships with the Cleveland Browns of the AAFC (four) and later the Browns of the NFL (three).
Van Buren ran for 1,000-plus yards with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1947 and ’49, the first player to achieve that feat twice.
CB Jack Butler, C Dermontti Dawson, DE Chris Doleman, DT Cortez Kennedy, RB Curtis Martin, T Willie Roaf
It was a nuts-and-bolts class that includes four of the best in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
Last year’s class also included one of the premier defenders in his era (Butler) and the league’s fourth all-time leading rusher in Martin (14,101 yards), who began his career with 10 straight 1,000-yard seasons. By the way, you'll be seeing a lot of the man on the right side of the photo this weekend in Canton.
Roaf was an 11-time Pro Bowler with the New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs, and Doleman went from linebacker to all-star defensive end.
Dawson continued the fine tradition of centers with the Pittsburgh Steelers, while Kennedy was the 1992 NFL Defensive Player of the Year for the 2-14 Seattle Seahawks.
RB Tony Dorsett, Coach Bud Grant, CB Jimmy Johnson, RB Leroy Kelly, TE Jackie Smith, DT Randy White
Dorsett (formerly DOR-sett) went from national champion and Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Pittsburgh to Super Bowl champion as a rookie with the Dallas Cowboys.
Dorsett got a lot of help from White, who was co-MVP of the Super Bowl XII win over the Denver Broncos. Smith enjoyed a stellar career with the St. Louis Cardinals but is often remembered for a moment in Super Bowl XIII while with the Dallas Cowboys.
Grant led the Vikings to four Super Bowls in an eight-year span (1969-76) and the Purple Gang hasn’t been back since. Finally, Kelly was a terrific runner who followed in the great tradition of Cleveland Browns backs.
T Roosevelt Brown, T/LB George Connor, End Dante Lavelli, FL/RB Lenny Moore
Brown was a mainstay on the New York Giants’ offensive front and a nine-time Pro Bowler, while Connor played virtually everywhere during his career with the Chicago Bears, earning all-league honors on both the offensive and defensive lines as well as at linebacker.
Lavelli was one of Otto Graham’s favorite targets, while the unheralded Moore is sometimes lost in the discussion of versatile performers, his 113 touchdowns coming via the run (63), reception (48) and return (2).
Jim Finks, DT Henry Jordan, WR Steve Largent, DE Lee Roy Selmon, TE Kellen Winslow
Keep in mind what we see from the tight end position today and then remember Winslow, whose impact can’t be underestimated.
Finks was the architect of numerous teams (Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings).
The additions of Largent and Selmon gave expansion teams Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, respectively, their first true Hall of Famers.
CB Lem Barney, Al Davis, TE John Mackey, RB John Riggins
The talented Barney (with a terrific singing voice) also made music in the Detroit Lions secondary, picking off 56 passes in 11 seasons.
Mackey was a massive target with big-play ability and personified the position for years. The always-entertaining Riggins personified workhorse, as evidenced by his memorable touchdown run for the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVII.
Davis’ passion for the Silver and Black, as well as the game, made him a transcendent figure in football lore.
LB Nick Buoniconti, Coach Marv Levy, G Mike Munchak, T Jackie Slater, WR Lynn Swann, T Ron Yary, DE Jack Youngblood
Former New England Patriots star turned Miami Dolphins star Buoniconti was indeed a name on the 1970s “No Name Defense,” while Yary, Munchak and Slater (the latter of whom played 20 seasons with the Rams) were mainstays on their respective units on the offensive line.
The exuberant Youngblood could play the position with the best of them, while Swann’s acrobatics led to some of the most memorable catches ever
Levy remains the only coach to take a team (the Buffalo Bills) to four straight Super Bowls.
WR Lance Alworth, Coach Weeb Ewbank, RB Alphonse “Tuffy” Leemans, LB Ray Nitschke, S Larry Wilson
Ewbank was the Baltimore Colts’ head coach in the 1958 NFL title game (won in OT), then led the New York Jets to their Super Bowl upset of Baltimore 10 years later.
Alworth earned the nickname “Bambi” and nary a defensive player could catch him. Wilson knew how to get to the quarterback in various ways, either via the blitz or through the air as evidenced by his 52 career interceptions.
Nitschke was the emotional backbone of the Green Bay Packers defenses (and played a pretty good game in the original version of “The Longest Yard”).
RB Paul Hornung, S Ken Houston, LB Willie Lanier, QB Fran Tarkenton, RB Doak Walker
Hornung, the “Golden Boy,” could do it all for the Green Bay Packers, teaming often with Hall of Fame fullback Jim Taylor to give the team quite the punch.
Lanier was the middle man with the Kansas City Chiefs on a linebacking corps that featured fellow inductee Bobby Bell and the unheralded Jim Lynch.
Houston had a nose for the football and Walker was a five-time All-Star in six seasons with the Detroit Lions. Meanwhile, Tarkenton frustrated opposing defensive linemen with his scrambling ability and accuracy as a member of the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants.
QB Benny Friedman, QB Dan Marino, RB/Coach Fritz Pollard, QB Steve Young
Marino burst onto the NFL scene during the 1983 season and you could only marvel at his quick release and production, his then-NFL record 48 touchdown passes and 5,084 passing yards each standing for at least two decades.
Young went from elusive running quarterback to six-time NFL passing champion and got the Super Bowl monkey off his back in XXIX.
Friedman played for numerous teams during the league’s early days in the 1920s and ‘30s, throwing a then-rookie record 11 touchdown passes in his first year with the Cleveland Bulldogs.
Before Art Shell graced the sidelines for the Los Angeles Raiders in 1989, there was Pollard, the league’s first African-American head coach in 1921 with Akron.
DE Doug Atkins, LB Sam Huff, T/G George Musso, DT Merlin Olsen
Atkins was one of the most fearsome defenders of his generation and a true “Monster of the Midway” with the Chicago Bears, while Huff was one of the glamour middle linebackers of his era.
Olsen may have been better known years later as television’s “Father Murphy” or doing commercials for FTD, but there was no denying his tenacity or impact. He was named to a record-tying 14 consecutive Pro Bowls with the Los Angeles Rams.
DE Richard Dent, RB Marshall Faulk, LB Chris Hanburger, LB/C Les Richter, Ed Sabol, CB Deion Sanders, TE Shannon Sharpe
Dent harassed quarterbacks into submission and was Super Bowl XX MVP in the Chicago Bears’ decisive win over the New England Patriots.
From opposite sides of the ball, both Faulk and Sanders were threats to score every time they got their hands on it. “Primetime” was also a threat on returns and later in spot roles as a receiver.
Sabol changed the way we watched football, the pioneer of NFL Films, while Hanburger was a nine-time Pro Bowler who waited much too long to get into the Hall.
Finally, the productive Sharpe (pictured with his brother Sterling) was the member of three championship teams in a four-year span with the Denver Broncos and later the Baltimore Ravens.
CB Mel Blount, QB Terry Bradshaw, T Art Shell, S Willie Wood
The parade of Pittsburgh Steelers continued to come with Bradshaw, who led the Steelers to four Super Bowl titles in six seasons and always came up big in those games.
There was also the physical Blount, who had unfair size for a cornerback. Wood was part of those championship Green Bay Packers defensive units of his era, while the massive Shell teamed with guard Gene Upshaw to keep the left side of the Oakland Raiders offense safe.
CB Mike Haynes, Wellington Mara, Coach Don Shula, C Mike Webster
No head coach in NFL history has won more games than Shula, so enough said. He also led the Miami Dolphins to an unprecedented undefeated season in 1972, capturing the first of two straight Super Bowl titles.
Haynes was one of the great cornerbacks of his or any era, enjoying an excellent career with the New England Patriots and then moving onto the Los Angeles Raiders, where he was an important part of the team’s Super Bowl XVIII win over the explosive Washington Redskins.
Mara’s impact with the Giants and in the league can’t be understated, while Webster was a pivotal cog during the Pittsburgh Steelers' dynasty of the ‘70s.
G Gene Hickerson, WR Michael Irvin, OL Bruce Matthews, TE Charlie Sanders, RB Thurman Thomas, CB Roger Wehrli
The first of the “Triplets” to arrive in Dallas (1988), Irvin’s leadership and intensity was a big part of three Super Bowl titles with the Dallas Cowboys.
Wehrli was a star with the St. Louis Cardinals and a top ball hawk, totaling 59 takeaways (including 40 interceptions) during his career. Hickerson was a mainstay on the Cleveland Browns' offensive line and paved the way for Hall of Fame runners Jim Brown, Bobby Mitchell and Leroy Kelly.
Sanders was one of the Detroit Lions' most reliable pass-catchers, Matthews was named to a record-tying 14-time Pro Bowls and Thomas was the model of versatility in the Buffalo Bills’ Super Bowl backfields.
WR Bob Hayes, G Randall McDaniel, DE Bruce Smith, LB Derrick Thomas, Ralph Wilson, Jr., CB/S Rod Woodson
Not a lot of good news here if you were an opposing quarterback. Smith (200.0) and Thomas (126.5) combined for 326.5 sacks and were two of the best pass-rushers of their era, while Woodson not only ranked third in NFL history with 71 interceptions but took back a record 12 for scores.
The steady McDaniel was a Pro Bowl regular, primarily with the Minnesota Vikings, while Hayes brought his Olympic speed to the Dallas Cowboys.
Wilson was one of the original owners in the AFL and remains very active with his Buffalo Bills.
WR Raymond Berry, G/T Jim Parker, LB Joe Schmidt
What the ’73 class lacked in numbers it made up for in sheer excellence. Berry was the ultimate perfectionist in terms of route running, forming a legendary rapport with quarterback Johnny Unitas.
Parker was a big part of those Baltimore Colts teams as well, earning a combined eight Pro Bowl invitations at both guard and tackle.
Schmidt was a 10-time Pro Bowler and the superb middle man on the Detroit Lions defenses of the 1950s and early ‘60s.
G Larry Allen, WR Cris Carter, DT Curley Culp, T Jonathan Ogden, Coach Bill Parcells, LB Dave Robinson, DT Warren Sapp
A pretty impressive group spearheaded by Parcells, the only head coach in NFL history to take four different teams to the playoffs.
Carter certainly waited awhile to get in and did more than just catch touchdowns, while Sapp brought heat up the middle during his prime with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Ogden was the first player drafted by the Baltimore Ravens (1996) and is the franchise’s first primary Hall of Famer.
Robinson and Culp were a key part of championship teams with the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs, although the latter is perhaps better known for his days at nose tackle with the Houston Oilers.
T Bob “Boomer” Brown, DE Carl Eller, QB John Elway, RB Barry Sanders
Those fabled “Purple People Eaters” defenses of the Vikings featured the menacing Eller, who got after opposing quarterbacks on a steady basis.
Brown went to a total of six Pro Bowls with three different teams (Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams and Oakland Raiders). Elway is one of only two quarterbacks (Tom Brady) to start five Super Bowls and his final two NFL seasons saw him crowned a champion.
And perhaps there was no runner like Sanders, whose amazing feet and moves saw him rush for 1,300-plus yards nine times in 10 seasons with the Detroit Lions.
QB Troy Aikman, LB Harry Carson, Coach John Madden, QB Warren Moon, DE Reggie White, T Rayfield Wright
Madden Curse? The former Oakland Raiders coach is a Super Bowl champion, was an iconic broadcaster and has done pretty well with that game of his.
Moon began his career in Canada for all the wrong reasons then lit up the NFL once he moved south.
Aikman’s accuracy and demeanor made him the perfect field general for the talented Dallas Cowboys of the 1990s.
Both he and Moon had to deal with White, who harassed anyone in the opposing backfield courtesy of his strength and quickness and embarrassed more than one hard-working blocker along the way.
RB Eric Dickerson, G Tom Mack, TE Ozzie Newsome, G Billy Shaw, LB Lawrence Taylor
Dickerson’s first two seasons in the league with the Los Angeles Rams saw him total a rookie record 1,808 yards rushing in 1983 and an NFL-record 2,105 yards in ’84.
Shaw and Mack were reliable to say the least, the latter an 11-time Pro Bowler. Newsome was the sure-handed component in the Cleveland Browns’ passing attack.
But what can you say about Taylor, who revolutionized the 3-4 outside linebacking position and basically began the movement of making sacks an official statistic after his rookie season in 1981.
DE Howie Long, CB/S Ronnie Lott, QB Joe Montana, Dan Rooney, LB Dave Wilcox
This class definitely had a West Coast feel to it and it’s led by Montana, still the only three-time MVP in the Super Bowl, a game he helped the San Francisco 49ers win four times courtesy of his 11 touchdown passes and zero interceptions.
Lott, Montana’s teammate with the Niners, was one of the league’s most physical players and was also on all four of those championship teams.
Wilcox was part of the steady Niners defenses of the 1960s and ’70. Long has made an impact talking about the game and a bigger impact when striking opposing quarterbacks. And Rooney remains a huge force within the NFL.
DT Junious “Buck” Buchanan, QB Bob Griese, RB Franco Harris, LB Ted Hendricks, LB Jack Lambert, Coach Tom Landry, T Bob St. Clair
Buchanan was a key member of those imposing Kansas City Chiefs defensive units, one that hammered the Minnesota Vikings into submission in Super Bowl IV.
Griese took the Miami Dolphins to three straight Super Bowls and won the last two (VII and VIII), which was followed by Harris (MVP of Super Bowl IX) and Lambert’s dynastic Pittsburgh Steelers.
Both Hendricks and St. Clair were both characters, but the opposition didn’t find anything too funny about lining up against them.
Finally, Landry was the Dallas Cowboys’ head coach for the franchise’s first 29 seasons and led the team to five Super Bowls.
LB/DE Bobby Bell, Coach Sid Gillman, QB Sonny Jurgensen, RB Bobby Mitchell, WR Paul Warfield
Regarded as the father of the modern passing game, Gillman’s impact on the game is legendary.
Speaking of throwing, Jurgensen could toss it with the best of them, starring for both the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles.
Mitchell was a threat to score most times he had the ball, while Warfield was the big-play component for the Cleveland Browns and also the Miami Dolphins.
The amazing Bell was a nine-time Pro Bowler who picked off 26 passes and ran six of those interceptions back for scores.
RB Larry Csonka, QB Len Dawson, DT Joe Greene, RB John Henry Johnson, C Jim Langer, WR Don Maynard, G Gene Upshaw
The great Raiders/Steelers rivalry of the 1970s (the only teams to face each other in the playoffs five straight years) was personified by Upshaw and Greene. The latter was Chuck Noll’s first pick when he took over in Pittsburgh in 1969, terrorized opposing offense and still had time to take a “drink.”
Johnson was a workhorse for several teams and Langer was the anchor of one of the best offensive lines of his era (and one that blocked for the hard-charging Csonka).
Maynard was Joe Namath’s favorite target with the New York Jets, who would go on to win Super Bowl III. One season later, the Kansas City Chiefs captured Super Bowl IV and Dawson was the game’s Most Valuable Player.
RB/FL Frank Gifford, T/G Forrest Gregg, RB Gale Sayers, QB Bart Starr, MG Bill Willis
Starr was Vince Lombardi’s field general for five NFL championships and was named MVP of the first two Super Bowls.
Starr got plenty of help from Gregg, a Pro Bowl stalwart on the Green Bay Packers’ offensive front. Gifford was named to eight Pro Bowls and was as versatile as they come, even playing in the secondary.
Willis was a two-way performer with the Cleveland Browns but was a standout in the middle of the defensive line, earning three trips to the Pro Bowl.
And what can you say that hasn’t been said about the “Kansas Comet,” as Sayers electrified the NFL during his short but impressive career.
CB Herb Adderley, DE David “Deacon” Jones, DT Bob Lilly, C Jim Otto
The longtime pivot on some of the great Oakland Raiders’ offensive fronts, Otto’s number (00) was as famous as his stellar play.
Adderley was a solid corner and scored the first defensive touchdown in Super Bowl history (60-yard interception return in II) for the Green Bay Packers.
The recently-deceased Jones not only coined the term “quarterback sack,” he got plenty of them, the majority with the Rams’ "Fearsome Foursome."
Lilly was the first player ever drafted by the Dallas Cowboys and a rock on their talented defensive lines.
C/LB Chuck Bednarik, Charles W. Bidwill, Sr., Coach Paul Brown, QB Bobby Layne, Dan Reeves, RB Ken Strong, T Joe Stydahar, S Emlen Tunnell
Layne epitomized the rough-and-tumble game of the 1950s and did his best work in Detroit, where he led the Lions to three championships.
Speaking of rough, Bednarik played both ways (center and linebacker) and was a star at both, earning the name “Concrete Charlie.”
Tunnell picked off 79 passes during his career, second most in the NFL annals, while Brown brought many things to the game and was one of the most important innovators and head coaches in the game’s history.
C Frank Gatski, QB Joe Namath, Pete Rozelle, RB O.J. Simpson, QB Roger Staubach
Namath was the game’s first 4,000-yard passer in 1967 and made good on his guarantee of a win in Super Bowl III.
Meanwhile, Simpson was the league’s first 2,000-yard rusher in 1973, achieving that feat with the Buffalo Bills in a 14-game season.
Rozelle’s impact on the National Football League can’t be overstated and was a big reason it turned into the television product it is today.
Like Simpson, Staubach was a Heisman Trophy winner and his “Captain Comeback” exploits saw him lead the Dallas Cowboys to four Super Bowls in an eight-year span.
WR Fred Biletnikoff, TE Mike Ditka, LB Jack Ham, DT Alan Page
A legendary quartet and it has to start with Page, the first defensive player to be named the league’s Most Valuable Player. And to think, Page was actually on the Hall’s construction crew when he was a young man in Canton.
Biletnikoff caught everything, sometimes without his hands thanks to a little Stickum, but was clutch and the MVP of the Oakland Raiders’ Super Bowl XI win.
Ham’s instincts were amazing; he totaled 32 interceptions and recovered 21 opponents’ fumbles during the Pittsburgh Steelers’ hey-day. And Ditka (a 1,000-yard receiver as a rookie) was the first tight end voted into the Hall of Fame.
LB Dick Butkus, S Yale Lary, T Ron Mix, QB Johnny Unitas
There wasn’t a lot Lary couldn't do as he excelled as a safety (50 interceptions) and punter (44.3-yard career average) and was also a threat as a return artist.
Mix was one of the finest players in AFL history. Meanwhile, Butkus epitomized the physical nature of the game and was simply relentless.
To this day, many insist Unitas was the game’s greatest quarterback, although one of his most fabled records (47 consecutive games with a touchdown pass) has now been surpassed by Drew Brees (54 games) and Tom Brady (48 games and counting).
QB Sammy Baugh, Bert Bell, Joe Carr, QB Earl “Dutch” Clark, RB Harold “Red” Grange, Coach George Halas, C Mel Hein, T Wilbur “Pete” Henry, T Robert “Cal” Hubbard, End Don Hutson, Coach Earl “Curly” Lambeau, Tim Mara, George Preston Marshall, RB John “Blood” McNally, FB Bronko Nagurski, FB Ernie Nevers, RB Jim Thorpe
The charter class that includes the legendary names of the game, with trophies and stadiums named after them to boot.
Halas was a founder, owner and player as well as a coach. “Papa Bear” was the Chicago Bears.
Baugh was "slingin" the ball all over the place and not only made his mark as a quarterback but was one of the game’s greatest punters. For good measure, Baugh also picked off 31 passes as a defensive back.
Thorpe was not only an attraction on the field but was the league’s first president in 1920. He was succeeded by Carr from 1921-39. Years later, Bell was the NFL’s commissioner, serving that role from 1946-59.
Elsewhere, Nevers still owns the NFL record for points scored in a game (40), while the names Grange and Nagurski just sound like football and with good reason.
Hutson was so far ahead of his time, he still ranks ninth in league history in touchdown receptions (99). His astounding touchdown total came on just 488 receptions in 11 seasons with the Green Bay Packers (1935-45).
RB Jim Brown, End Bill Hewitt, T Frank “Bruiser” Kinard, Coach Vince Lombardi, DE Andy Robustelli, QB Y.A. Tittle, QB Norm Van Brocklin
When your class starts with arguably the greatest running back in the game’s history (Brown) and along the way includes perhaps the best head coach in NFL history (Lombardi), it speaks volumes.
Of course, the rest of this group is pretty impressive in its own right.
Quarterbacks Tittle and Van Brocklin made their impressive marks as well, the latter still holding the single-game record for passing yards in a game (554 yards vs. the New York Yanks in 1951).
G Russ Grimm, LB Rickey Jackson, CB Dick LeBeau, RB Floyd Little, DT John Randle, WR Jerry Rice, RB Emmitt Smith
It doesn’t hurt when your group includes the NFL’s all-time receiving leader and touchdown scorer in Rice then adds the league’s all-time rushing leader in Smith, who also ranks second in career touchdowns behind Rice.
LeBeau is more known these days as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive coordinator but was a terrific corner.
Randle totaled 137.5 career sacks for the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks. Not bad for being undrafted.
Little was one of the early stars for the Denver Broncos, while Grimm was a pivotal part of “The Hogs,” who paved the way for running back John Riggins and protected Joe Gibbs’ quarterbacks with the Washington Redskins.
Jackson made his mark on a great linebacking unit with the New Orleans Saints but found Super Bowl glory with the San Francisco 49ers in 1994 (XXIX).
QB Dan Fouts, G Larry Little, Coach Chuck Noll, RB Walter Payton, Coach Bill Walsh
Little was a big part of the Miami Dolphins’ success in the 1970s, paving the way for Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Mercury Morris.
Fouts led some of the most exciting offenses in the history of the game, while “Sweetness” was one of the greatest runners ever and remains the Chicago Bears’ all-time leader in rushing yards and receptions.
And when you have the architects of the Pittsburgh Steelers' (Noll) and San Francisco 49ers' (Walsh) dynasties of the 1970s and 1980s, respectively, this is a group that’s pretty hard to top.