The Pro Football Hall of Fame will induct its 2022 class Saturday, with eight new enshrinees joining the illustrious group.
The class includes offensive tackle Tony Boselli, wide receiver Cliff Branch, officer Art McNally, linebacker Sam Mills, defensive lineman Richard Seymour, coach Dick Vermeil and defensive lineman Bryant Young. The ceremony airs at noon ET on NFL Network and ESPN. The Athletic also is following the event live.
Here is more on each of the inductees:
Tom Coughlin knew exactly who he would be taking with the first draft pick in Jacksonville Jaguars history back in the spring of 1995, but once the team was on the clock at No. 2, he still waited for most of their allotted 15 minutes, just to listen on any trade offers trying to convince them not to take Southern Cal offensive tackle Tony Boselli.
“We sat there with our pick for like 10 minutes, just seeing if anybody was going to come up, whoever might be interested, not that we didn’t have our player. We had our player,” Coughlin said. “I had told him to sit tight, that he was going to be our pick, and he did. He sat there watching the clock, wondering, ‘What the heck are they doing now?’ He was our guy. So when we took him, when we picked Tony and flew him in, the first thing he said when he walked in the draft room was, ‘What took you so long?’”
Some 27 years later, the same question applies, as in his sixth year as a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a patient Boselli will be inducted into Canton as the first player in Jaguars history to be enshrined. Read more here
Clifford Branch is a symbol of speed.
The banner that hung in the stadiums the Raiders called home in the 1970s and ’80s said as much.
“SPEED KILLS #21”
What Branch could also be a symbol of is player development. In the history of the game, there is not a better example of a player who went from raw to refined.
He began as a stone-handed rookie wide receiver, a proverbial “track guy.” He became a three-time All-Pro whom Raiders owner Al Davis told NFL writer Rick Gosselin was “one of our greatest players — maybe our greatest, certainly our most valuable.” Read more here
For all the incredible things LeRoy Butler did during what is set to officially become a Pro Football Hall of Fame career after he’s inducted Saturday — redefining the safety position, forcing opposing offensive coordinators to design game plans that accounted for him on every play, inventing the “Lambeau Leap” — perhaps one of his least-known but still important accomplishments is what he did for his quarterback, Brett Favre.
Because for all the swashbuckling moments Favre delivered during his own Hall of Fame career, his ability to play fearlessly and take risks — often against coach Mike Holmgren’s orders — could be traced in part to Butler and the Packers defense.
While Favre was orchestrating the offense, Butler was running the defense from his strong safety spot while also delivering the perfect leadership ying to the devoted Minister of Defense Reggie White’s yang in the locker room.
“We don’t win nearly as many football games as we did — or have the kind of success we did — without LeRoy Butler,” Favre said. Read more here
McNally, 97, will make history as the first on-field official to enter the Hall of Fame, although his induction has more to do with his overall body of work than his time on the field. Officiating is an essential part of football, but the merit of an official can be hard to quantify or qualify for Hall consideration. A player has statistics. A coach has a record. An owner has organizational accomplishments. McNally’s entry is based on the reputation he earned through decades in the league. When McNally received the call to inform him he was a finalist, it was explained to him that “integrity” was the word echoed during his candidacy.
“He … personifies integrity and credibility,” said Walt Anderson, the NFL’s senior vice president of officiating. “So much of what officiating stands for is maintaining, protecting, preserving the integrity of the game, and I don’t think anybody personifies that more so than Art McNally.” Read more here
Mills started 13 games in 1986 and helped form the vaunted “Dome Patrol” linebacking corps with eventual Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson, eventual Defensive Player of the Year Pat Swilling and four-time Pro Bowler Johnson, also a USFL alum. Mills earned four trips to the Pro Bowl and two second-team All-Pro nods while in New Orleans from 1986 to ’94.
“We played the Rams in New Orleans. Eric Dickerson, do you know how he runs tall through the hole for a running back?” said Bobby Hebert, the former Saints quarterback. “Well, I didn’t even see Sam coming. He’s running off tackle. Sam came out of nowhere and jacked him in the jaw. Eric said it was the hardest he ever got hit.
At 36, Mills finished third in Defensive Player of the Year voting after posting 110 total tackles, 4.5 sacks and five interceptions. A season later at 37, Mills earned first-team All-Pro honors and finished fourth in Defensive Player of the Year voting, finishing with 122 total tackles and 5.5 sacks.
“He’s a hero for two teams in the NFC South,” Hebert said. “That’s unbelievable.” Read more here
“The right team drafted me,” said Seymour, who was taken by the Patriots in the NFL Draft’s first round in 2000. “I had the right coaches, the right group of players. There are certain things that happen in your life that are out of your control, but you’re grateful and blessed for them to happen.”
And to Seymour’s credit, he was selfless enough to take on the role of a facilitator. He consistently consumed a bevy of blockers to free up rush lanes for the Patriots’ talented linebackers, but that came at the expense of his sack totals, which naturally magnify the personal spotlight.
“He made my job easier,” said Hall of Famer Ty Law, Seymour’s teammate and close friend. “He would have made my job a hell of a lot easier than it was if they just let him go get the quarterback, but that just wasn’t his responsibility. He helped out the guys next to him and Tedy Bruschi a lot more than me. I wanted him to rush the quarterback so the ball would come out faster.” Read more here
As someone who has always admired his coaching peers, Vermeil enjoyed the day in 1983 when Sid Gillman, his former quarterbacks assistant with the Philadelphia Eagles, was inducted into the Hall of Fame as one of the original innovators of the forward pass. In 1993, Vermeil watched Bill Walsh, the legendary coach with the San Francisco 49ers and someone he worked alongside early in his career at Stanford, be enshrined. Vermeil made sure to salute Bill Parcells when the famed coach, who won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants, was a member of the Hall of Fame’s 2013 class.
Saturday will be Vermeil’s 12th trip to the hall — and the first in which he will be applauded by his peers for his memorable contributions to the sport, his first day as one of the hall’s newest inductees.
“I never really pictured myself sitting next to (Parcells) on that stage,” Vermeil said last month. “This is a real overwhelming experience for me. The closer I get to the day, the more I realize what’s going on. It’s very exciting, very humbling. I’m an emotional guy. When I seriously start thinking about it, I start tearing up. That’s me.” Read more here
On Dec. 7, 2018, former Chicago Bears center Olin Kreutz posted side-by-photos of Young and Aaron Donald, the modern-day wrecking ball for the Los Angeles Rams with the caption: “Bryant Young is the guy Donald reminds me of .”
It hardly went viral. Six retweets, 114 likes more than three years later. But check out those replies. Former Seahawks lineman Robbie Tobeck, who faced Bryant 16 times, chimed in with: “Great comparison. BY still doesn’t get his due! Great player for a long time. He should be a HOFer in my opinion.”
“100%,” former Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck added.
“Guy certainly gave me fits,” Hall of Fame guard Steve Hutchinson added.
When Kirk Reynolds, a former 49ers media relations director, went looking for a way to boost Young’s profile with voters years later, someone directed him to that tweet. Reynolds instantly recognized the power of such a chorus. While it’s customary for ex-teammates to bang the drum for a candidate’s Hall of Fame case, getting such emphatic and spontaneous support from across enemy lines was practically a debate-ender.
“There we go,” Reynolds remembered thinking. “These guys can do the talking so BY doesn’t have to.” Read more here
(Photo: Kirby Lee / USA Today)