Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2018
Lost amid myriad headlines from Super Bowl weekend was the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s announcement of its 2018 inductees. I mentioned that TO finally got in, but it was his third year on the ballot and nobody lists “third ballot Hall of Famer” on their resume. The real headliners are Brian Urlacher, Ray Lewis, and Randy Moss, but we’ll have a look at all five inductees who played their careers during my football-watching lifetime.
As much as I love the stats these guys compiled in their playing days, I don’t really see a need to rehash that here. We know they were great, because . . . they just got elected to the Hall, so I propose a more anecdotal approach. If, while I am waxing nostalgic about these guys, you decide you just need the crib notes of their careers, that can be found here.
I mostly remember Dawkins as a leader. He was incredibly consistent; the kind of guy you just penciled in for the ProBowl every year. He played on those Eagles teams that made the NFC championship four straight years, but only made the one Super Bowl appearance. At the end of his career he went to Denver and was still a very serviceable pro. I like that guys like Dawkins get into the Hall of Fame because they really are the backbone of the NFL even if they rarely get the attention typically reserved for the glamor positions. Currently, Dawkins is the Philadelphia Eagles’ Executive of Football Operations for Player Development, meaning that he finally got that ring that eluded him as a player. HOF on Saturday, Super Bowl championship on Sunday. Tell me who had a better weekend than old #20!
The most iconic Chicago Bear of the last 25 years obviously has to be a defensive player and Brian Urlacher is that Bear. He’s the quintessential HOFer with the game of a throwback. When you think about the “glory days” of the NFL when players didn’t change teams and were all rugged, manly men, it conjures up images of dudes who looked and played like Urlacher. He’s the all time leading tackler for a franchise with defensive stalwarts like Dent and Singletary, but Urlacher has one Hall of Fame bona fide that doesn’t come with a statistic attached to it: he became iconic.
Allow me to explain. For four months in 2003, ESPN dabbled in original dramatic content with a show called Playmakers. Ultimately it was a little too gritty and real for the NFL so ESPN had to scrap it, but one of the main characters was a bald, white linebacker who wore #54. You take one look at the DVD cover for Playmakers and tell me that Brian Urlacher wasn’t the inspiration for Eric Olczyk. Believe me, THAT is the influence of a generational player.
The freaking Ray Lewis dance is probably enough to ensure his place in football immortality, but let’s go a little deeper. Like Urlacher, Lewis spent his whole career with one organization. He obviously played with a lot more flash than Urlacher, but #52 was much more than a product of hype. Winning followed him everywhere he went from his college days at The U to his illustrious career with the Ravens where he captured two Lombardi trophies. Lewis was the leader of the 2000 Ravens which is on the short list of teams allowed in the conversation about the greatest defensive team of all time.
Ray’s playing days weren’t free from controversy—from the murder trial to the deer antler spray—, but his success on the field combined with his charisma largely overshadowed the negatives. My only knock on Ray is that he struggles as an NFL analyst on TV (covered this last September), but I hate just about every analyst and Ray is a snappy dresser, so . . . whatever. The man kinda rewrote the book on playing middle linebacker so this was an easy one for the HOF voters.
Full disclosure: Randy Moss is my favorite player on this list. He may be the most naturally gifted receiver in the history of the league and, for a large chunk of his 14 year NFL career, you couldn’t walk away from the TV when his team was on offense. The closing years of his career when he made stops in Tennessee, San Fran, and back in Minnesota were as forgettable as his time with Notre Dame or Florida State, but all of that fades in the brilliance of his early Vikings days and then his dominance as a Patriot. He caught 23 of Tom Brady’s 50 touchdown passes in the (almost)-undefeated 2007 campaign and was simply unstoppable.
Like Ray Lewis, Randy has gone on to a gig on TV, but, unlike Ray, I actually find Moss to be quite likable. He has that thick West Virginia accent and seems like a guy you’d enjoy watching a game with even though he breaks out the swagger from his playing days in ESPN’s “You Got Moss-ed!” segment. The fact that his last name has become a term we use when a defensive back gets absolutely embarrassed by a wide receiver making a circus catch is a testament to his spectacular career.
TO is a unique one because I really remember his career in three stages. First there was the “quiet” stage where he was a super productive young wideout for the 49ers playing in the shadow of Jerry Rice. Then there was the “productive diva” stage where he really came into his own and joined the conversation for best WR in the NFL, but was a total pain in the ass. Finally there was the “washed up diva” stage where he bounced around to a few teams, talked too much, ended up in too much controversy, and was no longer productive enough for teams to justify the headache that accompanied him.
I joked above that he wasn’t a first ballot HOFer, but I really feel that was bourn of his contentious relationship with the media. By the numbers, I think he should have gone in immediately in his first year of eligibility. The Hall of Fame seems to mean different things to different people, but one understanding if it that appeals to me is the idea that the Hall is reserved for the greatest players of every era—the players so impactful that the story is incomplete without them. To me the story is incomplete without Terrell Owens. Iconic moments like celebrating on the star in Dallas or pulling the Sharpie from the sock truly define the era in which NFL players obliterated the line between sports and entertainment. I find it poetic and fitting that TO goes into the Hall in the year that the NFL finally relaxed its insanely rigid celebration rules—rules that were created in response to the in-game antics of guys like TO.