Five takeaways from Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2015


PHOENIX -- You might have caught the NFL Honors show on Saturday night. I barely caught any. Standing backstage with the eight men who were told of their coming induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it was hard to pay attention to anything else.

Tucked into what looked like a makeup room of the Symphony Hall -- home of the award show that would recognize league MVP (Aaron Rodgers) and Defensive Player of the Year (J.J. Watt) among others -- were a handful of former players and executives who paved the way for a guy like Odell Beckham Jr. to receive his Offensive Rookie of the Year honors with the attention of an Academy Award winner. Moments later, these legends would walk on stage to their own applause, duly deserved after -- for some -- years of waiting.

The Hall of Fame Class of 2015 has been announced. See who made the cut.

So without further ado, here are five takeaways on the newest inductees into Canton: Jerome Bettis, Tim Brown, Charles Haley, Bill Polian, Junior Seau, Will Shields, Mick Tingelhoff and Ron Wolf.

1. The Class of 2015 ... "surprises" that shouldn't be

After catching up with several voters, and even a few candidates before the announcements, I knew at least two of the longtime finalists -- Bettis, Brown, Kevin Greene, Haley and Shields -- would get in, given that most league observers I spoke to felt Seau was the only lock in the class. Well, who would have thought four of the five guys who have waited for years to have their names called would get in? Call it accounting, call it taking care of overdue business ... either way, Bettis, Brown, Haley and Shields earned this honor, by virtue of their excellence ... and patience.

2. The cream of the crop

Seeing Seau's kids backstage right before the announcement represented that one spot in the universe where a tremendous amount of joy for someone meets a small degree of sadness. Of all the 126 nominees released back in September, Seau was the one guy I thought could not get passed up. A 12-time Pro Bowl pick and former Defensive Player of the Year, it would be impossible to write the history of the San Diego Chargers without mentioning his name near the top. I caught up with Panthers coach Ron Rivera, a former NFL linebacker and contemporary of Seau's in the early 90s, who stated flatly: "I would like to believe that for as many years as he played and as much success as he had, as a player in this league, I can't imagine him not being a first ballot (Hall of Famer)."

In an especially poignant moment in the backstage of NFL Honors, Seau's son Tyler couldn't help but mark the occasion properly: "This is with a heavy heart ... it should be him (accepting the honor)."

3. The only man on planet Earth who won five rings as a player will receive one heavily anticipated gold jacket

It was hard watching Charles Haley accept this award without getting choked up. Haley's first thought was that he got to share this with his teammates. Imagine that ... the guy who everyone thought had a bad attitude, or was a bad teammate, talking about sharing this with his teammates. In fact, on that note, I spoke with a couple of those former colleagues. Here's a thought from one you might of heard have heard of ...

"I absolutely love Charles Haley. Charles Haley is one of the greatest players to ever play this game. As a teammate ... (and he) was on five Super Bowl teams ... and he was the impetus for our team from the early 90s to take that next step. I love him to death. He was a warrior, he's what this game is all about, he's a Hall of Famer." former teammate and current Cowboys coach Jason Garrett.

4. Honoring history ... specifically, the 1970s Vikings

Seeing Mick Tingelhoff, the longtime center of the Minnesota Vikings, receive this award in his mid-70s was awesome. Jump on and take a full accounting of this man's career: 17 years, four Super Bowl starts and numerous Pro Bowls. The history of our game is important. How can we recognize Tom Brady's legacy, or a Marshawn Lynch, if we don't recognize who came before? If you don't believe me, you should have seen how the players listened intently when Tingelhoff opened his mouth to respond to the most concise of questions from a reporter ... "How does it feel?"

5. The legacy of the Hall of Fame's 52nd class

Funny how perception can change in a matter of hours. A class that many thought would be one of the least strong of recent vintage ended up being one of the stoutest in the museum's history, at least in terms of accomplishments. The NFL's sixth all-time leading rusher had his name called tonight (Bettis). The only player in history to win five Super Bowl rings is now in (Haley). The executive who put together the only roster to go to four straight Super Bowls was here, too (Polian). Not one, but two players with 12 -- 12! -- Pro Bowls each are also a part of this group (Seau and Shields). One of the architects of the Raiders' Super Bowl teams of 1976, 1980 and 1983, and the GM personally responsible for bringing Brett Favre to Green Bay? Yeah, he's in (Wolf). The player who lined up at center for the most consecutive games in history will receive his gold jacket with this class in August as well (Tingelhoff).

Lastly, we can round out the formidable class of 2015 with a player who received perhaps the best compliment I heard all night, Tim Brown. "I've always said, and I think everyone feels this," said former All-Pro tight end Jay Novacek, "that it wouldn't matter what team he was on, wouldn't matter what system they were running, he would have been successful. Tim Brown could have played for any team, any quarterback, and he would have been just as successful."

That's about as good as it gets in terms of peer respect, even for a guy like Brown, who hauled in 1,094 balls over a 17-year run. Of course, you could probably say that about any of the eight men inducted into Pro Football's Hall of Fame Saturday night, making this class, and NFL Honors, well, super.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.



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