CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) — This year’s class of NFL Hall of Fame inductees is similar to every other. There will be a couple of marquee names everyone recognizes, a few others that fans of specific teams will cheer for and at least one who only true fans of the game (and trivia nuts) will recognize.
Let’s start with the man who “changed the skyline of Indianapolis,” as David Letterman once said, Peyton Manning.
When it comes to football families, you don’t get much deeper than Peyton’s. His dad, Archie, played quarterback for the Saints back in the years when the team was so dismal that fans were famous for wearing paper bags over their heads and dropping the “S” from the name, calling them the “Ain’ts.”
Peyton’s brother, Eli, won two Super Bowls with the Giants although it wasn’t necessarily through his offensive mastery. Let’s just say that Eli had the desire to play, just not quite the talent of his big brother. He did, however, by virtue of playing in a big market (NYC) end up with higher career earnings.
But on to Peyton, leading the 2021 class into the Football Hall of Fame this year. There aren’t many records he hasn’t held, and until this year he was the only QB to win the Super Bowl starting for two different teams. He’s held just about every record available for signal-callers, and his leadership ability on the field was unquestioned.
His encyclopedic knowledge of the game has been fodder for late-night comedians, and he’s a natural on camera as a commentator and soundbite generator.
Charles Woodson spent nearly two decades playing two of the toughest positions on the defense, cornerback and safety, and playing them at a level few will ever reach. He went from winning the Heisman Trophy to becoming Defensive Rookie of the Year with the Raiders. He split his career between the Raiders and the Packers, winning his only Super Bowl with the latter.
Yes, the Packers actually DID have a defense during the Favre era, and with Woodson roaming the backfield it was feared by most opponents.
He retired with the most defensive TDs of any player (13) and stands as one of only three players in NFL history to notch at least 25 interceptions with two different teams.
The history of the NFL is filled with the names of men who had stellar careers but never got a Super Bowl ring. (Dan Marino, line 1) The man known as Megatron, Calvin Johnson, is a shining example. During a nine-year career with the Detroit Lions, he set the single-season receiving yards record and was a first team All-Pro three times. He also led the league in receiving yards over the span of his career.
Sadly, the Lions failed to win a single playoff game during his tenure despite his best efforts. Their futility is legendary, having not won a playoff game since 1991 and making the playoffs only three times so far this century, all as wild card teams.
You’ve heard the term “Hail Mary” to describe a high, arching pass with little to no chance of being caught, right? Well, the man who caught the original Hail Mary was Drew Pearson. In a 1975 playoff win over the Minnesota Vikings, Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach threw a bomb of a pass that Pearson hauled in for the game-winning touchdown. Interviewed after the game, Staubach said, “I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary.”
Pearson only came out of his career with one Super Bowl ring, but he was the backbone of a Cowboys passing attack that struck fear into the hearts of defenses league-wide. When it came to going to up compete for a pass, Pearson was fearless. He was a three-time All-Pro and was selected for the Pro Bowl three times.
If you were a running back early in the 2000s, one of your greatest good fortunes would have been to have Alan Faneca out front clearing the path for you. Jerome Bettis may have been “The Bus,” but Faneca was the snowplow who cleared the road for the bus to get through. During Faneca’s 10 seasons with the Steelers, running backs Bettis and Willie Parker piled up seven 1,000-yard rushing seasons. He threw a legendary block that sprung Parker loose for a 75-yard TD run in Super Bowl XL that put the game out of reach.
Faneca moved to the Jets for the 2008 and 2009 seasons, and still had enough power left to open holes to let Thomas Jones get his final two 1,000-yard seasons.
If you’re a Steelers fan, or a fan of the game at all, you should know Bill Nunn’s name. Nunn was one of the pioneer scouts recruiting talent from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and it was his genius ability to spot talent in young players that led to the Steelers winning four Super Bowls in the ’70s.
He scouted legendary names like L.C. Greenwood, John Stallworth, Jack Lambert and Mel Blount, and it’s not a stretch to say that the Steelers wouldn’t have made much noise in the ’70s without Nunn’s abilities.
Those who only know of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the last year or so because of their acquisition of Tom Brady may not be aware of the decades of futility that preceded his arrival. One of the few bright spots during that span was winning Super Bowl XXXVII largely on the strength of a defense led by John Lynch, a safety who was as feared for his ability to blitz and sack the quarterback as he was for his talent at intercepting passes.
Lynch has given much of his life to football. He left Tampa in 2004 to play four seasons with the Broncos, then went into broadcasting and is now general manager for the 49ers, completing a coast-to-coast career.
In the history of players who became coaches, there is perhaps no more storied name than that of Tom Flores, the first minority head coach to win a Super Bowl. After a 10-year playing career for the Chiefs, Bills and Raiders, he was hired to coach the Raiders, who were then in Oakland.
Cultivating the bad boy image of the team, Flores led them to win the Super Bowl in 1980 and ’83, compiling a 91-56 record over his career there. He finished out his career with a less-stellar run with the Seahawks from 1992-94.
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