The NFL Hall of Fame will be welcoming 6 new members this year. Of the six entries, two were in their first year of eligibility, one was a contributor, one was a senior candidate, and two were post-mortem inductees. Some of them are names you would recognize if you have watched football in the last 10 years, but some were not as recognizable. Here is a run down of how made it to Canton this year and how he changed the game.
Ralph Wilson – Founder/Owner Buffalo Bills (1960-Present)
The Bills had tremendous success in the mid-90s with owner Ralph Wilson. He helped build the team and managed to find the personnel to bring them to a lot of success. In 1998, the Bills honored him by naming their stadium, formerly known as Rich Stadium, after him. He was one of the main figures in forming the modern NFL and has truly helped bring the NFL to where it is today. This contributor earns a well deserved spot in the Hall of Fame.
Bruce Smith – DE – (1985-2003)
The most opposing defensive end in the early 1990s, Bruce Smith is became a name that many NFL fans knew and many quarterbacks feared. His career record 200 sacks left many a quarterback running for his life when his tackle was left wondering what happened to the guy he was supposed to be blocking. Bruce recorded 10 or more sacks in a season in 13 of his 19 seasons and was a Pro Bowler and All-Pro in 11 seasons. His career high 19 sacks came in 1990 only 5 years after becoming the first player selected in the 1985 draft. He earned the honor of being selected to the hall of fame in his first year of eligibility – an honor he shares with only 62 other players. Bruce Smith changed forever the way offenses prepared for a game, drawing double and triple teams frequently.
Rod Woodson – CB/S – 1987-2003)
Many Hall of Fame players stay with one or maybe two teams, but Rod Woodson played for 4 in his 17 seasons, although his best years were arguably with the Pittsburgh Steelers. When people think of legendary Cornerbacks, they think of Woodson grabbing interceptions and heading for the end-zone. He was the 10th player selected in 1987’s version of the NFL Draft and went on to set the record for touchdowns off interceptions with 12 and return yardage with 1,438 yards. His 71 interceptions are the third best of all time and he was known early in his career for his punt and kick return skills. He was a top player in his time making 11 Pro Bowls. He joins Bruce Smith and 61 other men in being inducted into the Hall of Fame on his first ballot. Woodson changed forever how quarterbacks looking downfield thought of that defensive back lurking near their receiver with his bait and pick approach, playing slightly out of position, but in a place where he could still make the interception. Incidentally, he becomes the first player in the Hall who played for the Baltimore Ravens.
Derrick Thomas – LB – (1989-1999)
Derrick Thomas was selected 4th in the 1989 NFL draft and entered the league with a bang. He earned the Defensive Rookie of the Year award and the next year recorded 20 sacks, including an NFL record 7 in a single game. He played for 11 seasons totaling 126.5 sacks – the forth most by a linebacker, but instead of breaking that record or maybe challenging Bruce Smith for the sack record, his career ended with a car accident which eventually ended his life at the age of 33. His post mortem election was well deserved, though many wonder what would have been had he finished out his career. He was nearly un-blockable and opposing defenses had to make sure he was accounted for, even when running in the opposite direction.
Bob Hayes – WR – (1965-1975) (Senior Candidate)
Most NFL guys are only drafted once, but most don’t decline a spot in the NFL to run in the Olympics. Bob earned 2 Olympic Gold medals in 1964 and the title of “World’s Fastest Human”. He accumulated 7,414 yards and 71 touchdowns in an age when passing was not used the way it is today. He passed away in 2002 at the age of 59 and his post mortem election allows him to join some of his teammates from that era, such as Roger Staubach, Coach Tom Landry, and Rayfield Wright. Bob’s speed lead NFL defenses to try to find a way to cover him, eventually developing the “Bump and Run” defense to try to slow him down.
Randall McDaniel – G – (1988-2001)
When the Vikings took Randall McDaniel with the 19th pick of the 1988 NFL Draft, they probably didn’t know that he would start in 202 consecutive games over his 14 seasons. They hoped he would be a good blocker, but his ability to overpower defenders or use technique if needed made him one of the best offensive linemen ever and allowed him to block almost anyone. With 12 selections to the Pro Bowl, this dominant blocker was a leader for the Vikings through the 1990s when their offense produced six 1,000 yard rushers and five 3,000 yard passers. His style of blocking changed the way linemen strive to block and how defenses rush the passer or stop the run when facing a dominant lineman. With his consistency and skill, this iron man clinched a well deserved Hall of Fame spot.
The NFL will honor these six legends of the game for their contributions. Each of these men changed the game in a way that made it better for the players, fans, and for football in general. Every one of them will now live on in infamy as a bronze bust in the small town of Canton, Ohio, but more importantly as a member of the NFL Hall of Fame.