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Pro Football Hall of Fame announces 2020 semifinalists

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The Pro Football Hall of Fame announces the list of semifinalists for their Class of 2020 last week.

Leading the way among the first-year eligible are safety Troy Polamalu, wide receiver Reggie Wayne and linebacker Patrick Willis. The trio is joined by 22 other hopefuls looking toward induction.

The list of 25 is to be trimmed to 15 in early January; after that, the selection committee will then choose five honorees from the remaining finalists. The Class of 2020 will be officially announced on Feb. 1 – the day before Super Bowl LIV.

These three newcomers will certainly warrant a close look from the committee.

The no-doubter is Troy Polamalu, who is considered by many to be the best safety of his generation. His raw numbers are top-tier for a safety – he picked off 32 passes, had over a hundred passes defensed (107, to be exact) and forced 14 fumbles, scoring five TDs on turnovers all told. He was named to eight Pro Bowls and four All-Pro teams. In 2010, he was the Defensive Player of the Year. He was a major key to bringing the city its first title since the Steel Curtain days … and then adding a second just three seasons later, all while building a reputation as one of the league’s hardest hitters and becoming a crossover cultural phenomenon. A Pittsburgh legend and beloved institution, one of the greatest players to wear the storied uniform.

Wideout Reggie Wayne is another superstar who spent his entire career with one team. In his case, it was 14 years with the Indianapolis Colts. Over those 211 games, he put up staggering numbers – he is one of just 14 to catch at least 1,000 passes; his 1,070 put him 10th on the all-time list. His 14,345 yards are also 10th all time. He had 82 TD receptions in his career as well. He was named to the Pro Bowl six times and was first-team All-Pro in 2010. One might argue that he benefitted from playing with two greats at QB – Peyton Manning at the beginning of his career, Andrew Luck at the end. But in truth, they benefitted from playing with him as well. A steady contributor who may run up against the odd prejudice against pass catchers held by some Hall voters.

Meanwhile, Patrick Willis likely has the largest hill to climb. Not that anyone doubts his worthiness in terms of talent – his seven Pro Bowl nods and five first team All-Pro honors are clear evidence that he was one of the very best linebackers in the league. However, those impressive honors came in just eight seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, in which he played a mere 112 games before retiring from the sport at age 29. For that brief a career, his numbers – 950 combined tackles (732 solo), 20.5 sacks, eight interceptions and 16 forced fumbles – are incredible. Still, the brevity of his career means that his counting stats simply aren’t as impressive; on a ballot packed with excellence, that might be enough for some voters to leave Willis off.

Others making their first appearances on the semifinalists list – albeit not in their first year of eligibility – include linebacker Carl Banks, defensive lineman Bryant Young and running backs Fred Taylor and Ricky Watters. Alas, they’ll likely have to content themselves with the honor of being nominated.

There are some intriguing holdovers as well. The backlog of receivers includes standouts like Hines Ward, Isaac Bruce and Torrey Holt. Running back Edgerrin James makes this list for the sixth time. There are a mess of defenders aside from Polamalu and Willis – Steve Atwater, Ronde Barber, LeRoy Butler, John Lynch, Darren Woodson as defensive backs; Banks, Clay Matthews, Sam Mills and Zach Thomas among linebackers. Plus a bunch of offensive and defensive linemen and the return to the semifinalists list (for the first time in nearly a decade) of special teams icon Steve Tasker.

(In addition to the five modern era inductees, there will be a special addition to the Hall in 2020 to celebrate the NFL’s 100th season. A special blue-ribbon panel consisting of some of the game’s luminaries will be putting together a list of 15 – 10 senior players (i.e. those who have been retired for more than 25 seasons), two coaches and three non-coach/player contributors.)

Look, there’s no denying that the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s process is a convoluted one without a lot of transparency. But even with that opacity, it’s hard to argue against the 25 names on this list of semifinalists. Whatever happens from here is anyone’s guess – just about any combination of 15 names will be more than worthy of the honor - but thus far, it looks like they’ve done a solid job of advancing a potential 2020 class.

Last modified on Tuesday, 03 December 2019 08:56

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