Dawkins spoke at length about the obstacles facing everyone in their lives. For a select few, that could mean going through the agonizing process of waiting to hear a rap on the hotel-room door from David Baker, president of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, indicating entry into the Hall. It's clearly a draining exercise for these former players, to have their perceived legacy in the hands of voters, then have zero idea if the largest honor they could ever receive will come. Imagine sitting in a room with all the closest people in your lives, waiting for hours, only to not get that knock on the door, or that phone call from the Hall.
The announcement of the Class of 2019, which will come the Saturday before Super Bowl LIII, will be seen as yet another road block for several deserving players. There is a strong possibility the Hall of Fame will induct three first-ballot players for the second consecutive year, meaning only two who've been idling for years -- among the group of Tony Boselli, Ty Law, Edgerrin James, John Lynch, Darren Woodson, Steve Atwater, Alan Faneca, Kevin Mawae and the family of late coach Don Coryell -- will see Mr. Baker's smiling grill, or get a phone call they'll never forget.
Ed Reed, S, Ravens/Texans/Jets (2002-2013). There is no stronger candidate than Ed Reed. Tony Gonzalez is considered a shoo-in, but Reed is in a different stratosphere from most players in league history, in terms of impact. At the height of his career, Reed forced quarterbacks and offensive coordinators to change their whole approach. He could make any play a safety can make, while also becoming instant offense whenever he got the ball in his hand. Reed excelled as the best player at his position in the NFL in 2004. No, he didn't win MVP ... only Defensive Player of the Year. He dominated for a mediocre Ravens team, picking off nine balls and returning them for 358 yards -- 358 yards!!! That's the second-most all-time in a single season. His career figure (1,590 return yards) is the most all-time. He also scored two defensive touchdowns that year. Reed is the only safety to lead the NFL in interceptions three times -- and he should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer three times over.
Tony Gonzalez, TE, Chiefs/Falcons (1997-2013). Another easy choice. Tony Gonzalez owns the rare distinction of being considered the top player at his position for a decade. Really, who else can say that? Tom Brady? Lawrence Taylor? That's the level of player we're talking about. Gonzalez didn't change the tight end position in the way he is sometimes credited with doing (Hall of Famers John Mackey and Kellen Winslow deserve that recognition), but he played it at a higher level -- for longer -- than anyone. I doubt any tight end will approach Gonzalez's career numbers in receptions (1,325) or receiving yards (15,127), where he ranks in the top 10 even among wide receivers (No. 2 and No. 6, respectively). Well, unless the sport evolves (or devolves) into flag football, as many have speculated. This Hall nod to the great Chiefs tight end isn't mere speculation -- there is no way he doesn't get voted in come February.
Champ Bailey, CB, Redskins/Broncos (1999-2013). I spoke with a Hall voter on the phone who felt Champ Bailey is too well-known amongst the members of this younger voters' room to not be among the Class of 2019. With the Class of 2018 boasting three first-ballot players, it would be odd if next year followed suit. Considering how many deserving players are in wait, inducting a player like Bailey on his first try might seem a tad unfair. Still, Bailey was certainly the equivalent of Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher (a 2018 enshrinee), if not as dominant as Reed and Gonzalez over the course of his career. And what a long, productive career Bailey had. Bailey is, of course, known for his 12 Pro Bowl appearances, but more important is what that reputation was born out of: an ability to play man-to-man, make up ground quickly when he was beaten and ultimately create turnovers, even when teams threw away from him. Bailey's run in 2005-06 was otherworldly. He picked off 18 balls, not including the postseason, returning three for touchdowns. His eight picks in '05 all came in key sequences -- and he added a ninth off Tom Brady in the Divisional Round of the playoffs. Of course, that play is remembered for more than just Bailey's exploits.
Tony Boselli, OT, Jaguars/Texans (1995-2002). Tony Boselli has waited long enough. While his catalogue is shorter than those of other all-timers, Boselli carries the same distinction as these other players: being the premier player at his position. His candidacy goes down the same road Terrell Davis' did two years ago. It asks the fundamental question: Who should the Hall of Fame reward more: very good players with long careers, or elite players with shorter runs in pro football? There should be room for both, although the voters have traditionally awarded the guys who played forever. This could be the year for the former Jaguars All-Pro, who has come awfully close in the Hall process the last few years.
Ty Law, CB, Patriots/Jets/Chiefs/Broncos (1995-2009) OR Edgerrin James, RB, Colts/Cardinals/Seahawks (1999-2009). I feel Law and James will vie for the final spot among the current-era candidates. Law, a two-time finalist, has over 50 career interceptions (plus three high-profile picks off Peyton Manning in the 2003 AFC title game); in other words, he carries the numbers. The other big number? Three. As in, three Super Bowl rings. That's where Edgerrin James comes up short in comparison. The Manning-era Colts won their Super Bowl in 2006 with Joseph Addai, not Edge. Should this matter? No. James is the best running back who is not in the Hall of Fame. That said, predicting what the voters will do means reading tea leaves -- and Super Bowl rings make for shiny tea leaves.
Every other year, two Seniors finalists can be named, with only one being named in alternating years. (The number of Contributor finalists flip-flops; when there are two Seniors, there is one Contributor, and vice-versa.) In 2018, two Seniors were nominated and inducted (Jerry Kramer and Robert Brazile), meaning only one Seniors finalist will be on the ballot for 2019. Put your money on Drew Pearson, WR, Cowboys. Pearson was most recently put back on the map by his antics at the 2017 NFL Draft, but one of the top players of the 1970s didn't actually need the extra pub. At least, not in theory. Here's a fun fact (well, unless you are Drew Pearson): Of all the skill-position players to have made the first-team All-Decade squads of the 1930s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s OR '90s, Pearson is the only one to not be in Hall of Fame. Oh, and good luck finding a more clutch player in NFL history. Ask Viking fans. Try asking the old Fulton County Falcons crowd, too.
So, as explained above with a compass, protractor and TI-81 graphing calculator, two Contributor finalists will be allowed in 2019. Look for the Contributor nominees to be Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and Cowboys personnel czar Gil Brandt. John Elway, among others, has pushed loudly for Bowlen. Bowlen's work off the field, as well as the winners his employees produced on it, merits his inclusion. Feel strongly that this is the year for Bowlen.
Fielding a winner is precisely what Brandt is heralded for, and he drew from the ranks of the drafted and undrafted. Pearson is one of many Brandt gems culled from non-football powerhouses who went on to win a heckuva lot of games in the NFL. Some folks feel that plucking talent from off the beaten path is where Brandt thrived, whether he was picking up Chuck Howley at a gas station or inviting three-time interception king Everson Walls to camp. Brandt's real legacy? Overhauling scouting departments through the use of information technology, a topic worth a deep dive for another day. For now, how about the Class of 2019?