On the night before Super Bowl LV, which features one sure-fire Hall of Fame QB and another signal-caller 18 years his junior on pace for a place in Canton, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2021 was revealed at NFL Honors.
The rolling announcement of inductees took place over a two-hour window. Below are the names of the Class of 2021:
Peyton Manning: When the Hall of Fame Selection Committee met in January to nominate this year's inductees, Colts beat writer Mike Chappell spent no more than 13 seconds pleading Manning's case. And why not? What more do you say about the quarterback who's accomplished everything? The No. 1 pick of the 1998 draft by the Colts, Manning "changed the skyline" in Indianapolis, as David Letterman once put it. The son of Archie and the brother of Eli made a name for himself as the ultimate field general at the line of scrimmage, reading defenses with ease, changing plays under center and directing and re-directing his teammates, such as Hall of Famers Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James, Reggie Wayne and Demaryius Thomas, in real time. A 14-time Pro Bowler, seven-time first-team All-Pro and five-time NFL MVP, Manning long saw the Lombardi Trophy elude his grasp, instead watching his rival Tom Brady claim it early and often in the 2000s. But Manning finally won a Super Bowl in 2006 (XLI) and made another three years later. After sitting out an entire season with a neck injury, Manning joined the Broncos in free agency in 2012. In Denver, he won Comeback Player of the Year, set the single-season passing TD record (55) in 2013 and helped lead the Broncos to a victory in Super Bowl 50, becoming the only starting QB to win Super Bowls with two different franchises. Manning ranks in the top five of numerous categories: wins (200, second), passing yards (71,940, third), passing TDs (539, third), completions (6,125, fourth) and game-winning drives (54, first). A Walter Payton Man of the Year to boot, Manning's legacy on and off the field is incalculable, but this gold jacket was inevitable.
Charles Woodson: The preeminent defensive back of his era, Woodson spent nearly two decades in the NFL, bookending his prolific career as one of my most respected defenders to ever play the game. The fourth-overall pick in the 1998 draft and reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Woodson immediately took home Defensive Rookie of the Year honors with the Raiders. Woodson was a three-time first-team All-Pro and nine-time Pro Bowler over the course of his career and also was named Defensive Player of the Year in 2009, his fourth of seven seasons with the Packers. Woodson won his lone Super Bowl with Green Bay the following season, his second appearance in the Big Game, though he was knocked out halfway through the victory with a broken collarbone. Woodson returned to Oakland for his final three seasons and retired following the 2015 season, with 65 career INTs (fifth all-time) and 13 defensive TDs (most all-time) and as one of three players in league history with at least 25 picks with two different franchises. In his first year of eligibility, the great corner-turned-safety was safely inducted into the Hall.
Calvin Johnson: No receiver was more consistently dominant or physically imposing during his time in professional football than Johnson. You'd be hard-pressed to find one with a better nickname, too: Megatron. Paired with Matthew Stafford, Johnson transformed a moribund Detroit franchise into a competitive one during his nine-year career, though the 2007 second-overall experienced more personal than team success (zero playoff wins) in Detroit. Megatron led the league in receiving yards (11,619) and TDs (83) during the span of his career and set the NFL single-season record for receiving yards (1,964) in 2012. A three-time first-team All-Pro and a member of the 2010s All-Decade Team -- despite not playing in the decade's final four years -- Johnson finished his career second in NFL history with 86.1 receiving YPG, a testament to his reliable productivity. Despite his unusually short career, Megatron will enter the Hall in his first year of eligibility and at the age of 35, eight years younger than a certain QB playing on Sunday.
Drew Pearson: The recipient of the first Hail Mary didn't need much of a prayer to enter the Hall this year after being selected this August as the senior finalist for the 2021 class. In a storied, 11-season career with the Cowboys, Pearson rose from undrafted free agent to become a three-time All-Pro, three-time Pro Bowler, member of the 1970s All-Decade Team and Super Bowl XII champion. He did so by catching 489 passes for 7,822 yards -- both good for fourth-most in Cowboys history -- and 48 touchdowns in 156 career games. Pearson was equally as effective in the postseason, exceeding his yards per game mark and catching eight additional touchdowns in 22 playoff contests over 10 postseasons.
Alan Faneca: One of the 21st century's most decorated offensive linemen just earned a gold jacket after years with the Black and Gold. Faneca, an intimidating fixture of the early-aughts Steelers, was voted into the Hall of Fame in his sixth year of eligibility and as a finalist. The six-time first-team All-Pro was already named to the 2000s All-Decade Team. Drafted by Pittsburgh in the first round of the 1998 draft, Faneca spent 10 seasons with the Steelers, blocking for Hall of Fame RB Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker, who earned a combined seven 1,000-yard seasons running behind the grandiose guard. At the height of his career, Faneca delivered a crushing pull block on Parker's game-sealing and record-setting 75-yard TD run in Pittsburgh's Super Bowl XL victory. When he joined the Jets for the 2008 and 2009 seasons, Faneca paved the way for Thomas Jones to earn the final two 1,000-yard seasons of his career, as well. Faneca closed out his career in Arizona in 2010. Eleven years later, his legacy will live on in Canton.
Bill Nunn: One of two Steelers stalwarts to be inducted into the Hall of Fame this year, Nunn will be remembered as the assembler of the backbone of the 1970s Pittsburgh dynasty. A former sportswriter at the Pittsburgh Courier, Nunn joined the Steelers' scouting staff in 1967 after calling on Pittsburgh to consider prospects from historically Black colleges and universities. With the Steelers, Nunn was responsible for the scouting and drafting of the likes of L.C. Greenwood, Mel Blount, Ernie Holmes, John Stallworth, Donnie Shell and Jack Lambert, all of whom more than contributed to Pittsburgh's four Super Bowl titles in six years in the 1970s. As NFL Network's Jim Trotter wrote last July, Nunn "was as instrumental as anyone in the franchise's success." Nunn died in 2014 after spending 45 years with the Steelers organization. His life and legacy will now forever be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
John Lynch: Ahead of the Buccaneers' second-ever Super Bowl appearance, one of the stars of their lone title team has earned the ultimate football honor. Lynch has been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this week in his ninth year of his eligibility and his eight straight as a finalist. A two-time first-team All-Pro, Lynch was a founding member of Tampa Bay's terrifying turn-of-the-century defense, joining the franchise as a third-round pick in 1993. The safety recorded multiple interceptions in nine consecutive seasons in Tampa Bay and finished with 26 career picks, 13 sacks and 16 forced fumbles. One year after helping lead the Bucs to victory in Super Bowl XXXVII, he joined the Broncos in 2004 for the final four seasons of his career. Lynch, a football lifer, left the game following the 2007 season, moved into broadcasting soon after and is currently the general manager of the 49ers, the 2019 NFC champions.
Tom Flores: One of four coaches to have won two Super Bowls and not been inducted into the Hall of Fame, Flores can no longer claim that half-prestigious honor. The former Raiders coach played 10 seasons in the AFL for the Raiders, Bills and Chiefs before transitioning into coaching. Hired in 1979 by the then-Oakland Raiders, Flores led the franchise -- in Northern and Southern California -- to a 91-56 record, including the postseason, five postseason appearances and two Super Bowl titles in 1980 and 1983. In leading the Raiders to glory, Flores made history as the first minority head coach to win a Super Bowl. Flores also coached the Seahawks to a 14-34 record from 1992-94. Now 83 years old, Flores, who has spent a lifetime in professional football, will enjoy immortality in the halls of Canton.