Hall of Fame 2015  

 

Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2015: What you need to know

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With another round of Hall of Famers set to be enshrined Saturday, NFL Media historian Elliot Harrison gets you up to speed on the Class of 2015, providing one thing you need to know about each man getting a bust in Canton.

Jerome Bettis, running back

Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams (1993-95), Pittsburgh Steelers (1996-2005)

You need to know: How he racked up the sixth-most rushing yards in NFL history.

As fleet of foot as Bettis was, and as effectively as he could get defenders to take bad angles, make no mistake ... this guy was a POWER back. There are so few running backs of this type who managed to be this productive for as long as Bettis (13 seasons). Many of the Bus' 13,662 rushing yards came on short runs in which he bowled people over. Just ask Brian Urlacher, who was pile-driven in a game in 2005 -- the last year of Bettis' career. That ability -- along with the fact that he won the Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 1993, the Comeback Player of the Year award in 1996 and a ring in Super Bowl XL -- is why Bettis is arguably the third-best power back of the Super Bowl era. Here is an unofficial ranking:

1) Earl Campbell
2) John Riggins
3) Jerome Bettis
4) Marshawn Lynch
5) O.J. Anderson

If you want to go old old school, think of Bettis as the Marion Motley of his day.

Tim Brown, receiver

Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders (1988-2003), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2004)

You need to know: That a humble start to his career made him work harder.

My first year covering pro football, I worked with Brown on an NFL show on Fox Sports Net. Brown was always a gentleman, and while he had the confidence of a player who had achieved much, he never displayed the kind of me-first attitude you often see in WR1s. That humility must have stemmed from his roots -- which included playing on a high school team (Woodrow Wilson, in Dallas) that won all of one game his senior year. That is to say, Brown didn't always taste success. Notre Dame was not the powerhouse under the first coach of Brown's tenure there, Gerry Faust, that it would come to be known as under his second, Lou Holtz. And his pro career didn't exactly start off swimmingly, either.

Consider: In his first five years in the NFL, Brown caught 147 balls ... that's fewer than 30 per season. A combination of injuries, coaching upheaval and some of the cruddiest quarterback play you've ever seen led to the lack of productivity. That Brown managed to work his way into the top five on the all-time career receptions list (he ranks fifth with 1,094) is a tribute to his character and fortitude.

Charles Haley, defensive end

San Francisco 49ers (1986-1991; 1998-99), Dallas Cowboys (1992-96)

You need to know: In his first 11 seasons, no team he was on won fewer than 10 games.

Haley is the only being walking upright on planet Earth to have won five Super Bowl rings as a player. But you've probably heard that. What you might not know about is the phenomenal overall win-loss records his teams enjoyed for the bulk of his career (before he retired the first time, in 1997).

Not only was Haley on seven teams that went to the NFC Championship Game over his time with the Niners and Cowboys -- he was arguably the best defensive player on the field. The worst squad Haley played on in that initial 11-season stretch was the 1991 Niners, who missed the playoffs -- thanks to a freak Hail Mary in Atlanta -- despite going 10-6. And that team lost its starting quarterback. Haley was a Pro Bowler that year, as he would be five times in his career. With apologies to Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Tom Brady, Haley is the ultimate winner in NFL history.

Junior Seau, linebacker

San Diego Chargers (1990-2002), Miami Dolphins (2003-05), New England Patriots (2006-09)

You need to know: How well he played for the dreadful '98 Chargers.

The eventual enshrinement of Seau -- the premier player in this class -- was a certainty the day he walked away from football. While he passed away far too soon, he clearly made an impact in both pro football circles and the community around him. Seau's virtues transcend any one interesting fact about his career. However, when thinking about his brilliant run in San Diego, the way he excelled for one of the worst teams he ever played on immediately springs to mind.

You might recognize the season. Chargers fans certainly do, as it was the year the club drafted eventual bust Ryan Leaf -- the JaMarcus Russell of the 1990s -- second overall. So you know the offense did nothing (the team passer rating was 44.9 -- ugh). Yet Seau drove a defensive unit that did everything it could to keep San Diego in games. Though the Bolts had one of the worst passing games in the NFL (perhaps in years), the defense finished No. 1. San Diego led the NFL in rushing yards allowed, yards per play allowed and forcing three-and-out drives. Seau was more than simply a leader, as he would receive first-team All-Pro honors from The Associated Press, the Pro Football Writers of America and The Sporting News. Whether he was stuffing runs, making more than 100 tackles or getting everyone lined up, Seau was a glorious player on the most inglorious of teams.

Will Shields, guard

Kansas City Chiefs (1993-2006)

You need to know: That he made the Pro Bowl 12 times.

These days, players drop out of the Pro Bowl faster than frat guys drop their space-physics summer class. Well, at least the quarterbacks do, anyway. But there was a time when being named to the Pro Bowl was considered a huge honor, especially for those who manned a no-frills position like guard. Shields, who dominated on the line in Kansas City for 14 years, was paid the ultimate compliment with all those Pro Bowl nods. To give you an idea of the significance of this, consider the short list of players who earned more:

Tony Gonzalez, 14
Peyton Manning, 14
Bruce Matthews, 14
Merlin Olsen, 14
Jerry Rice, 13
Reggie White, 13
Ray Lewis, 13

Matthews, Olsen, Rice and White were first-ballot Hall of Famers. Manning and Lewis will most assuredly be, as well. Those are seven of the top, what, 30 players in NFL history? Shields, who became eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2012, should not have had to wait this long.

Mick Tingelhoff, center

Minnesota Vikings (1962-1978)

You need to know: About his unreal durability.

The fact that Tingelhoff, the Seniors Committee's selection, competed at the size he did (6-foot-2, 237 pounds) for as long as he did is truly remarkable.

To start 259 consecutive contests, from Day 1 to the day he hung 'em up, would be impressive enough on its own. But to do so at center? It's the third-longest streak, behind only Favre and Jim Marshall. Tingelhoff, who also played in multiple Pro Bowls and Super Bowls, reached that total with defensive tackles pounding him on every play. He reached it in the mud and extreme cold of Metropolitan Stadium. And he reached it against some of the best players pro football has ever seen, like Merlin Olsen, Bob Lilly and fellow Viking Alan Page in practice. What an accomplishment.

CONTRIBUTORS

Bill Polian

You need to know: How strongly he's linked with Marv Levy.

Polian's entrance to the Hall of Fame is courtesy of the way he built the Bills, Panthers and Colts into prominent teams. What you might not realize is the extent to which Polian's NFL legacy is tied to Levy, as beautifully detailed in this piece from Mike Rodak at ESPN.

Levy hired Polian as a scout when he got his first coaching gig with the Chiefs in 1978. Levy and Polian worked together for the USFL's Chicago Blitz in 1984. And when Polian, freshly minted as the Bills' GM in 1986, needed to hire a head coach in Buffalo, he turned to an old colleague: Levy.

It's important to note precisely how bad the Bills of that era had been. They started the 1984 season 0-11, "rallying" to finish up at 2-14. They matched that sterling record again in 1985, when the team scored a paltry 12.5 points per game. The cupboard in Buffalo was mostly bare, save for young players like Bruce Smith and Andre Reed. Polian began building the nucleus of a four-time Super Bowl team first by hiring Levy, who will present him at the enshrinement ceremonies Saturday.

Ron Wolf

You need to know: About the secret success he had in Tampa Bay.

Wolf will forever be known as the man who acquired Brett Favre for the Packers, but he did a lot more than that during nearly four decades in the NFL. Before his tenure in Green Bay, Wolf was highly regarded for having scouted the many transcendent players on the '70s Raiders, including the recently deceased Ken Stabler.

What is not usually cited as a résumé highlight: the time he spent in Tampa Bay. After all, the Bucs went 2-26 their first two seasons, and Wolf was fired not long after the second awful campaign. However, he had drafted several of the core players who would help the Bucs reach the NFC Championship Game in only their fourth year of existence. Given that there was no free agency period at that time, going from 2-26 to the doorstep of the Super Bowl in that span was a big deal. The Bucs would make the playoffs in 1981 and 1982 before foolishly letting quarterback Doug Williams walk to the USFL. But three playoff appearances in four years came partly from Wolf's direction, even if it wasn't his best, or most famous, work.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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