First time was a charm for three position-defining legends on Saturday evening.
In their first years on the ballot, Tony Gonzalez, Ed Reed and Champ Bailey will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, this summer, joined by fellow enshrinees Ty Law, Kevin Mawae, Pat Bowlen, Gil Brandt and Johnny Robinson, as announced Saturday night at NFL Honors.
Tony Gonzalez, the man who redefined the tight end position, has been properly recognized as such. The most prolific pass-catching tight end in the game's history, Gonzalez was a game-changing talent who changed the perception of what a tight end could be in the NFL. A first-round pick out of Cal by the Chiefs in 1997, Gonzalez rampaged through defenses for 12 seasons in Kansas City and five in Atlanta, ensuring his place on the All-2000s Team. Make no mistake, the charming Gonzalez had a steely resolve and was the NFL's equivalent of an ironman as a position player. The tight end missed just two games over the course of his 17-year career. Gonzalez still holds the record for most receiving yards by a tight end (15,127), but is also second all-time receptions by any player to the great Jerry Rice. From 1999 through 2013, he missed the Pro Bowl just once, in 2009, his first season with the Falcons. Gonzalez's pass-catching prowess paved the way of other dual-threat tight end greats, like Jason Witten, Antonio Gates and Rob Gronkowski, all of whom can lend credit to Gonzalez if and when they receive knocks on their doors on future Super Bowl Saturdays.
The pick-six king, Ed Reed will be crowned with a gold jacket this summer, just one year after his fellow Ravens legend Ray Lewis was enshrined in Canton. The faces of a fierce Baltimore defense whose reputation persisted over three decades, Reed and Lewis will now rest near each other in perpetuity in the Hall of Fame. A shoo-in for enshrinement, Reed was arguably the greatest safety of his generation along with division mate Troy Polamalu. The hard-hitting, ball-hawking center-fielder of Baltimore's great defenses, Reed was named to nine Pro Bowls and five All-Pro first teams. The 2004 Defensive Player of the Year, Reed recorded at least five interceptions in seven of his nine years in the pros and finished with 64 picks and seven pick-sixes, including two that went end zone to end zone. Reed earned the respect of quarterbacks who feared him and coaches who revered him, like Bill Belichick. The Patriots coach said once of Reed, "He's the best weak safety I've seen since I've been in the National Football League in my career. He's outstanding at pretty much everything." That will be confirmed by the safety's enshrinement this August.
One of the most dangerous cover-corners of his era, Champ Bailey secured enshrinement in his first year on the ballot. It's a high honor for a corner who has seen his share of them. Over the course of a 15-year career with the Redskins and Broncos, Bailey was named to the Pro Bowl 12 times, the most ever for a corner, and was a first-team All-Pro in three consecutive seasons, his first three in the Mile High City. The cornerback was a member of the All-2000s team and recorded 52 career interceptions. Though Champ never won a ring, he has now secured the honor of a life-time.
Kevin Mawae was the "center" of attention for 16 seasons in the NFL. A fixture on the offensive line for the successful Jets teams at the turn of the century, Mawae made eight Pro Bowls and was named a first-team All-Pro three times, most notably seven years apart in 2001 with New York and 2008 with Tennessee. Mawae at one point held a streak of 177 consecutive games played from his first season to his 12th. A great not only on the field, but off it, Mawae served two terms as president of the NFL Players' Association. Mawae will be one of just four Hall of Famers to have played most of his career with Gang Green.
One of the founding members of the Patriots' dynasty, Ty Law saw his career culminate with the highest honor on Saturday, one day before New England plays in its ninth Super Bowl since it drafted him in 1995. A first-round pick of the Patriots, Law turned into the cornerstone of New England's Super Bowl-champion defenses of the early 2000's. Law's pick-six in the first half of Super Bowl XXXVI keyed the beginning of an improbable run of success for the franchise, and his three-INT performance in the 2003 AFC title game ensured it. The corner finished his career with 53 interceptions, five Pro Bowl appearances, two first-team All-Pro honors and three Lombardis. Law earned a celebrity endorsement ahead of Saturday's announcement, when Tom Brady wrote a recommendation letter on Thursday for Law's enshrinement. Law was "a pain in the ass," the Pats QB wrote, "which I know he would acknowledge as the term of endearment it is intended to be."
The two contributor finalists from the Class of 2019 both made it to the Hall. Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and longtime Cowboys personnel executive and NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt will both receive gold jackets this summer as "individuals who made outstanding contributions to professional football in capacities other than playing or coaching."
Since purchasing the Broncos in 1984, Bowlen, 74, has been one of the NFL's most accomplished owners. Bowlen is the only owner ever to achieve 300 victories during his first 30 seasons. Robert Kraft of the Patriots is the sole owner in NFL history with more Super Bowl appearances (10) than Bowlen's seven. A battle with Alzheimer's disease has forced Bowlen to cede day-to-day control to CEO Joe Ellis since July of 2014.
"The Godfather" of roster-building, Brandt, 85, was the architect of a Cowboys franchise that generated five Super Bowl appearances and two Super Bowl titles during his 29 years in Dallas. Brandt was a trailblazer in scouting, developing an extensive network of informants among the college ranks, popularizing the use of psychologic tests, initiating the search for prospects outside of the United States and Canada and in other sports. During the height of his success, Dallas registered an NFL-record 20 consecutive winning seasons (1966-1985), earning 18 trips to the postseason in that two-decade stretch. Come this August, Brandt has will join 15 players currently residing in the Hall of Fame whom he acquired while in Dallas' front office.
Johnny Robinson was the lone senior finalist nominated for enshrinement this year and, on Saturday, received the call to Canton. Now 80 years old, Robinson was one of the first members of the Chiefs organization, then known as the Dallas Texans, when it began play in 1960. A six-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowler, Robinson was a key defender on Kansas City's late-sixties Super Bowl squads including the Super Bowl IV champions and recorded 57 career interceptions over a prolific 12-year career.