Introducing the 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class
On Saturday evening, seven men will be inducted into a distinguished and exclusive club in Canton, Ohio.
That club, of course, is the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Though all from different backgrounds, these men share one thing in common: the love for the game of football. And all seven were very, very good at it at the professional level.
Now, before we get down to the business of meeting this year's enshrinees, can we please, for the love of all that's beige, do something about those hideous blazers?
Walter Jones, OT, Seattle Seahawks
There are those who consider offensive tackle Walter Jones the best to ever play the game at his position.
Given his many professional accolades, it's a case with merit. Over a 12-year career with the Seattle Seahawks, Jones was named a Pro Bowler nine times. Four times Jones was named a first-team All-Pro, and the former Florida State star was a member of the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 2000s.
In 2005 Jones paved the way for an NFL MVP season from running back Shaun Alexander and the Seahawks' first trip to the Super Bowl. That season, the Sporting News named Jones the NFL's top player at any position.
Then there's this little nugget from Elliott Harrison of NFL.com:
In 12 seasons at left tackle -- that's 180 games, mind you -- Jones gave up all of 23 sacks. Think about that for a moment: That's fewer than two sacks per year, or approximately one every eight games. And when you consider that a tackle participates in something like 60 plays per game, well ... let's just say he didn't get beat too often.
That's the very definition of dominance.
It's hardly a surprise that Jones got into Canton on the first ballot. As former teammate (and fellow Hall of Famer) Cortez Kennedy told Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com, "A Hall of Famer is somebody who brought it every game. You’ve got to be consistent week in and week out and you’ve got to be a player above the rest, and that was Walt. I’m so happy he’s joining me and Steve (Largent) in the Hall of Fame."
Bleacher Report's Dan Hope has a detailed look back at Jones' stellar career.
Ray Guy, P, Oakland Raiders
They say all good things come to those who wait.
That certainly holds true for former Oakland Raiders punter Ray Guy.
Over a two-decade stretch from 1992 to 2008, the 14-year veteran was a finalist for the Hall of Fame seven times. Seven times, Guy was passed over for induction.
This, despite the fact that Guy revolutionized the position, as fellow former Raiders punter Shane Lechler told Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle:
Ray put the punting position out there with importance behind it. Before his time, it was just another job for somebody to do. Once Ray came in and changed the field position and the whole "hidden yardage" part of the football game became important, and he was the reason for that.
Now, the seven-time Pro Bowl performer and member of the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team will finally get his day in the sun, thanks to the league's senior committee.
As Guy told Josh Dubow of The Associated Press (via ABC News), it's as much an honor for his position as it is for him as an individual:
That kind of bothered me because they were saying that's not a position, it doesn't take an athlete to do that, it's not important. That's what really got under my skin. It wasn't so much whether I did or didn't. I wish somebody had. It was just knowing that they didn't care. That's what kind of frosted me a little bit.
Bleacher Report AFC West Lead Writer Christopher Hansen has a look back at the greatest punter who ever lived.
Claude Humphrey, DE, Atlanta Falcons/Philadelphia Eagles
Of this year's seven inductees, Claude Humphrey's name is likely the least well-known to casual fans.
However, that certainly isn't the case in Atlanta, where Humphrey became one of the franchise's first defensive stars in the late '60s and early '70s.
Over 13 NFL seasons spent mostly with the Falcons, Humphrey racked up 122 career sacks (unofficially), made six Pro Bowls and was named a first-team All-Pro twice.
Humphrey also played in Super Bowl XV with the Philadelphia Eagles, but the most impressive moment of his storied NFL career came several years earlier.
Humphrey missed the entire 1975 season with a knee injury; in an era where such major injuries often ended careers, Humphrey not only returned the next season but thrived, tallying a career-high 15 sacks, according to Frank Schwab of Yahoo Sports.
Not only that, but as Elliott Harrison of NFL Sports points out, Humphrey was also one of the cornerstones of the greatest defense that no one's heard of:
Humphrey was the premier player on the best statistical defense of the modern era. Yes, you read that correctly. The 1977 Falcons still hold the modern mark for fewest points allowed in a single season. Head coach Leeman Bennett's unit, nicknamed the "Grits Blitz," yielded all of 129 points, which averaged out to 9.2 per game!
Bleacher Report NFC North Lead Writer Zach Kruse offered up this retrospective of Humphrey's days in the NFL.
Derrick Brooks, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It isn't very often that a single draft impacts an NFL franchise as much as the 1995 draft did for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The team's first of two first-round picks that year, defensive tackle Warren Sapp, entered the Hall of Fame in 2013.
Now, Sapp will be joined by Derrick Brooks (who was taken 28th overall) just as the two joined to form the foundation of one of the most feared defenses of the modern era.
Brooks was the perfect weak-side linebacker for Monte Kiffin's Tampa 2 defense, and it showed. Over 14 seasons in Tampa Bay, Brooks made a staggering 11 trips to the Pro Bowl. He was a Super Bowl champion, the 2002 Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year and he never missed a single game.
Brooks was also a fixture in the community, so much so that he was named the Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2000.
Sapp, never one to be at a loss for words, had this to say about his close friend and former roommate while speaking with Fred Goodall of the AP (via The Sacramento Bee):
People ask me all the time, who was the best? Brooks was. He could touch every person on your team and they'd walk away feeling like: "Oh yeah, I'm going to follow him and go through the wall." He's the greatest outside linebacker that never rushed the passer. Period. It's not even close.
Brooks himself had even more to say, sitting down recently with Bleacher Report's Nick Kostos to look back at his playing days.
Andre Reed, WR, Buffalo Bills
The old saying, "if you don't succeed, try, try again" certainly applies to wide receiver Andre Reed of the Buffalo Bills.
Despite 16 NFL seasons, over 950 catches, seven Pro Bowl nods and four trips to the Super Bowl, Reed was denied entry to the Hall, failing as a finalist in each of the past seven years.
Not only were Reed's regular-season numbers gaudy in their own right, but as former teammate (and fellow Hall of Famer) James Lofton told Mark Gaughan of The Buffalo News, Reed shined brightest when the pressure was greatest.
"Andre Reed played for winning teams for a long time and he was huge in big games," Lofton said. "Look at his playoff numbers."
Those playoff numbers, courtesy of Gaughan:
In 21 playoff games, Reed caught 85 passes for 1,229 yards. He ranks fifth all-time in postseason receiving yards. In his first 16 playoff games (equal to a full season), he had 75 catches for 1,117 yards and nine touchdowns.
Now, Reed will join quarterback Jim Kelly and running back Thurman Thomas in the Hall of Fame, and the "K-Gun" will have all its stars in Canton.
Kelly, who is battling cancer and in poor health, will be in attendance, according to what Jill Kelly told The Buffalo News' Jerry Sullivan:
He’s pushing it. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not as if he’s all better and good to go. There’s still the looming test in August, the not knowing if treatments worked, the fact that he’s still on a feeding tube. His life is still in that place of uncertainty, not knowing really what’s going to happen with all of this. So he’s still beat down; he’s still tired, he still gets sick quite a bit. But he would not miss this for the world.
Bronze busts are nice, but displays of respect don't get any better than that.
Bleacher Report AFC East Lead Writer Erik Frenz reflected on the career that inspired that level of respect and loyalty from Reed's old quarterback.
Michael Strahan, DE, New York Giants
It's been quite a while since Michael Strahan took the field for the New York Giants, but the defensive end with the disarming smile is still finding ways to help his old team.
As Strahan told Connor Orr of The Star-Ledger, earlier this year he sat down with young ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Damontre Moore in an effort to improve how they analyze game film:
I'll sit with the guys and teach them to watch film. Look for this, look for that. I remember the first time I went in and the film was running and they were just watching. They're doing the same thing as the casual fan sitting at home. This is your job, you have to pay more attention to the details. How is the tackle's hand. How is his feet? How is the stripe on his helmet when he's going in certain directions? How's the quarterback, does he do anything special before the ball is snapped to him? Does the center squeeze his off-hand before he snaps the ball?
It's that attention to detail (and more than a little talent) that made Strahan such a force on the gridiron.
Over 15 NFL seasons (all with the Giants), Strahan amassed 141.5 sacks, placing him fifth of all time in that regard. His 22.5 sacks in 2001 is the NFL record for a single season.
A seven-time Pro Bowler and the 2001 Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year, Strahan is also that rarest of NFL breeds: the player who went out on top.
Strahan's last game in the NFL was on February 3, 2008, when the Giants shocked the undefeated New England Patriots and won Super Bowl XLII.
Bleacher Report NFC East Lead Writer Brad Gagnon examined Strahan's legacy, which culminated recently in his appearance in Sharknado 2: The Second One.
That's the pinnacle right there, folks.
Aeneas Williams, CB/S, Arizona Cardinals/St. Louis Rams
Due mainly to a decade spent toiling on bad teams in the desert, Aeneas Williams' name doesn't usually come up when discussing the best cornerbacks of the last 25 years.
However, a look at Williams' career accomplishments tells another story. Over 14 seasons in the NFL with the Cardinals and St. Louis Rams, Williams was named to eight Pro Bowls and three All-Pro first teams. He was also named a member of the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1990s.
Said wide receiver Torry Holt of his former teammate on WXOS radio in St. Louis, per Howard Balzer of Fox Sports Midwest: "He was smart, instinctive, and you always had to be aware of where he was. If I had success against Aeneas during the week in practice, it gave me confidence on Sunday."
However, Holt went on to say it was the way Williams conducted himself off the field that truly set him apart:
But, more important, he was a great man and for what he was able to bring to our locker room in terms of leadership, humbleness, work ethic. He challenged guys on an everyday basis to get better on the football field, but not only on the football field. He challenged them to get better as a young man and get better at life.
That sentiment was echoed in a text message former Rams general manager Jay Zygmunt sent Williams when he learned of Williams' induction (via Balzer):
Congratulations on your selection to the Hall of Fame. In my 27 years with the Rams, I was blessed to be around many great players. You're at the top of that list with your incredible play. But your exemplary life as a man even surpasses your performances and accomplishments on the field. You are truly special and are the essence of an ultimate Hall of Famer.
The epitome of class on and off the field, Williams was profiled by Bleacher Report NFC West Lead Writer Tyson Langland.
How Does This Year's Class Stack Up?
The Hall of Fame Class of 2014 is certainly not short on talent.
Guy is unquestionably the greatest punter who ever lived. Arguments can be made that both Jones and Strahan are in that conversation at their respective positions.
However, of the over 50 classes that have been inducted into the Hall of Fame since Sammy Baugh, Bert Bell, Joe Carr, Earl (Dutch) Clark, Harold (Red) Grange, George Halas, Mel Hein, Wilbur (Pete) Henry, Robert (Cal) Hubbard, Don Hutson, Earl (Curly) Lambeau, Tim Mara, George Preston Marshall, John (Blood) McNally, Bronko Nagurski, Ernie Nevers and Jim Thorpe became the first group inducted, this year's group doesn't even rank in the top 25.
That's the opinion of Bleacher Report's Russell S. Baxter, who undertook the Herculean task of power ranking every class in the Pro Football Hall of Fame's history.
That king-sized inaugural class? Baxter ranked it fourth.