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Pro Football Hall of Fame names Class of 2021

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The Pro Football Hall of Fame has announced their Class of 2021.

The group rolls eight deep, including five players selected by the Modern Era committee (three first-time-eligible inductees among them) – Peyton Manning, Charles Woodson, Calvin Johnson, Alan Faneca and John Lynch. In addition, the class features one selection each from the Coach, Contributor and Senior committees: Tom Flores, Bill Nunn and Drew Pearson, respectively.

After starting with some 130 nominees back in September, the Hall has steadily whittled down the number. From 25 semifinalists in December to 15 finalists in January to this, the final group, the list has been narrowed and narrowed until now, we have the Class of 2021.

And even for a Hall of Fame class, it’s a strong one.

Obviously, we start at the top with Peyton Manning. Not that it should come as any sort of surprise that he makes it in his first year of eligibility – when you have an argument for best ever at your position, you’re probably going to make the cut. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of the game knows Manning, who spent his 17 years in the league helping to redefine the possibilities of the quarterback position. His name is all over the record book. Single season marks? He holds the records for both most yards (5,477) and TD passes (55), set in 2013. Career totals? His 71,940 yards and 539 TDs are both third all-time. He’s the leader in both comebacks (43) and game-winning drives (54). He’s a five-time MVP – easily the most ever – and one of just two QBs with at least 200 total wins. He made 14 Pro Bowls and was named First Team All-Pro seven times. Oh, and he’s the first QB to win Super Bowls with multiple franchises – Tom Brady just became the second. As big a no-brainer as there is.

Next, we have Charles Woodson. In any year that didn’t feature a Peyton Manning, Woodson would be the biggest no-brainer; he was a defensive force who defined his position for a generation. Over the course of his 18 years in the league – 11 with Oakland, seven with Green Bay – he pulled down 65 interceptions, good enough for fifth all time. He returned 11 of those for touchdowns, tying him for second all-time in that category. Toss in his two fumble recoveries and he’s tied for fifth in non-offensive scores. He had nearly 1,000 career interception return yards and his 183 passes defended ranks fifth all-time. He’s the only player with 25 or more picks for two different teams. He made nine Pro Bowls, three All-Pro first teams and was the 2009 Defensive Player of the Year. Oh, and he’s the only primarily defensive player to win the Heisman – sure, it’s the Pro Football Hall, but still.

In what might qualify as a mild surprise, Calvin Johnson makes the cut in his first year. Not that he didn’t have the talent – he clearly did. Rather, the brevity of his career made him an interesting test case. His dominance ultimately won out. Johnson is one of the great what-ifs in recent NFL history; his first nine years in the league were among the best that any receiver had ever put up. They were also his only nine years; Johnson walked away from the sport at age 30. That means, obviously, that his career numbers aren’t as wildly impressive as some of his peers – hell, he could easily still be playing at a high level today if he had stuck around. Still, he’d have warranted a look just for his 2012 season alone (122 catches, 1,964 yards, 12 TDs); that yardage number is the largest single-season receiving total ever. In his nine years, he made six Pro Bowls and was named First Team All-Pro three times. Despite the Hall’s well-documented reticence for inducting wideouts, he’s here.

In addition to the three first-timers, we have a couple of guys who have been patiently waiting for their shot at the Hall finally getting the call.

Offensive lineman Alan Faneca was one of the best at his position in the first decade of the 21st century. We’re talking about a guy who made nine Pro Bowls and was named an All-Pro six times over the course of his 13 years in the league. He played a key role in Pittsburgh’s 2005 championship and was named to the NFL’s All-2000s squad. This year marked Faneca’s sixth as a Hall of Fame finalist.

The other holdover inductee is defensive back John Lynch. Over the course of his 15-year career – 11 with Tampa Bay and four with Denver – Lynch was named to nine Pro Bowl teams and was first-team All-Pro twice, playing both safety positions. He notched over 1,000 total tackles in his 224 NFL games to go with 26 interceptions, 68 passes defensed, 16 forced fumbles and 13 sacks. This was Lynch’s eighth consecutive year as a Hall finalist.

As for the other committee inductees:

Tom Flores was the first Latino coach to win a Super Bowl; he won two championships over the course of his career. He is one of just 12 coaches to win multiple Super Bowls and one of just two to win twice against Super Bowl-winning coaches. And before all that, he was already a groundbreaker as the first Latino QB in the NFL.

Bill Nunn is considered one of the best scouts of his era, serving as one of the prime contributors to the Pittsburgh Steelers squads that would dominate the 1970s when he was the team’s assistant personnel director; he’s one of the few to play a part in all six Steeler championships. His knowledge of HBCU football players was particularly important.

Wide receiver Drew Pearson finally gets into the Hall after decades of waiting. He was the last member of the NFL’s All-1970s team to gain entry. His career spanned 1973-83, all with the Dallas Cowboys. While his statistics might not look gaudy by today’s standards – 489 catches for 7,822 yards and 48 TDs – when adjusted for the era, they show him as the dominant force that he was. His Hall candidacy was a cause celebre for many, but now, finally, he’s in.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Induction Week celebration is currently scheduled for Aug. 5-9 of this year; the event will include the 2020 class as well, as last year’s ceremony was cancelled due to the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last modified on Wednesday, 10 February 2021 08:15

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