Just over two weeks after 15 footballing greats were announced as members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Centennial Class of 2020, the 20-person fraternity was rounded out by five modern-era nominees.
Steve Atwater, Isaac Bruce, Steve Hutchinson, Edgerrin James and Troy Polamalu will be enshrined in Canton, Ohio this summer, as announced Saturday night at NFL Honors. The enshrinees range in experience and patience; Polamalu got in in his first year of eligibility, while Atwater finally reached Canton in his 16th.
A hard-hitting safety with eight Pro Bowls to his name, Atwater was apparently a big hit with the Hall's selection committee this time around. Atwater entered the league as a first-round pick of Denver in 1989 and more than lived up to his billing. A member of the All-Rookie Team in '89, Atwater keyed the Broncos' run to the top of the conference and to his first of three Super Bowl appearances. Over the course of his 11-year career, Atwater delivered over 1,000 tackles, most of them memorable and devastating. The free safety logged multiple picks in all but three seasons and finished his career with 24 interceptions. Atwater was named first-team All-Pro twice, in 1991 and 1992, and helped Denver to Super Bowl titles in 1997 and 1998. Voted as a member of the 1990s All-Decade Team, Atwater's career will now be recalled for all-time in Canton.
The Greatest Show on Turf would have been just another offense without Bruce. The wideout followed the Rams from Los Angeles to St. Louis and led them into the spotlight around the turn of the century. A second-round selection in 1994, Bruce broke out in 1995 with a 13-touchdown campaign and a career-high 1,781 receiving yards. The following season, he led the league with 1,338 receiving yards. But Bruce wouldn't leave his most lasting marks until Kurt Warner took over for Trent Green under center in 1999. Along with Torry Holt and Marshall Faulk, Bruce keyed a Rams offense that burned through the opposition in '99 on its way to Super Bowl XXXIV. Though Warner took home Super Bowl MVP honors, Bruce logged the game-winning score, a 73-yard catch-and-run TD that put St. Louis up for good and delivered the Rams their only Super Bowl title. Bruce was never named first-team All-Pro but was voted to four Pro Bowls over his career. When he retired in 2010, Bruce was the Rams' all-time leader in receptions, receiving yards and yards from scrimmage, and his 15,209 receiving yards were the second-most all-time.
A stalwart in Seattle, Minnesota and Tennessee, Hutchinson was one of the most reliable offensive linemen of his era. A member of the All-Rookie team after being selected by Seattle in the first round of the 2001 draft, the guard paved the way for three consecutive Seahawks playoff appearances and Shaun Alexander's 2005 MVP season. Hutchinson started at guard in Seattle's defeat in Super Bowl XL, only to sign a massive deal with Minnesota in free agency the following season. In Minneapolis, it was more of the same. Hutchinson cleared alleys for Adrian Peterson and led the Vikings to the cusp of a Super Bowl appearance in 2009. A member of the All-Decade Team of the 2000s, the offensive lineman was also voted to seven Pro Bowls and named first-team All-Pro five times before retiring after the 2012 season.
Peyton Manning's backfield mate for seven seasons in Indianapolis, James was the engine behind the Colts' excellent early-aughts offenses. Drafted fourth overall in 1999, James broke out right away, securing rushing titles in his first two seasons (1,553 and a career-best 1,709 yards) and winning Rookie of the Year and earning first-team All-Pro honors in '99. Complemented by Manning, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, the running back helped Indy to four division titles and an AFC title game. Though he missed reaching the Super Bowl with Indy, James made it to the big game with the Cardinals in 2008. James topped 1,000 yards seven times and 1,500 on four occasions over his 11-year career. The tailback was also voted to four Pro Bowls and named to the 2000s All-Decade Team.
Arguably the preeminent safety of his generation, Polamalu reached the Hall by more than a hair -- though he had plenty to go around. The Steelers strong safety had a preternatural sense for the ball and was known for his tenacious tackling at the line of scrimmage. With Polamalu in the defensive backfield for 12 seasons, Pittsburgh made seven playoff appearances, won five AFC North titles and reached three Super Bowls. Polamalu's unforgettable pick-six in the 2008 AFC title game propelled Pittsburgh to Super Bowl XLIII, where the Steelers snagged their NFL-record sixth Lombardi Trophy. Two years later, Polamalu took home 2010 AP Defensive Player of the Year honors after logging seven interceptions. A member of the 2000s All-Decade Team, Polamalu was voted to eight Pro Bowls and was named first-team All-Pro four times. In his first year of eligibility, Polamalu earned the highest honor of them all.