The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced the 25 modern-era semifinalists for the ultimate honor in football, entry into the Class of 2019 -- and what an incredible group it is. Now I would like to take a moment to give you my personal ranking of the semifinalists.
Note that the list is NOT MEANT TO BE A PREDICTION OF THE CLASS OF 2019. Rather, this is how I would vote if given a chance, including the 15 I think should make the cut as finalists and the five I'd like to see in the Class of 2019. Many of you will likely be thankful I don't have a vote, and that's cool. Please understand that all of the men on the list are incredible players and coaches who were at the very top of their game. This is the elite of the elite, and sometimes you have to make tough choices. Go ahead and jump into my mentions and flame me.
25) Hines Ward, wide receiver (Pittsburgh Steelers, 1998-2011): Solid player who was a two-time Super Bowl winner for the Steelers. Loved him in "The Dark Knight Rises" a few years back. But Terrell Owens and Randy Moss set an incredibly high bar at the receiver position as part of the Class of 2018. And there are greats like Calvin Johnson on the horizon.
24) Tony Boselli, offensive tackle (Jacksonville Jaguars, 1995-2001; Houston Texans, injured reserve, 2002): I was a huge fan of his when he played at USC, and I thought the Jaguars made an excellent choice with their first-ever selection, taking Boselli second overall in 1995. But the fact that he played just three 16-game seasons, to me, limits his chances.
22) LeRoy Butler, safety (Green Bay Packers, 1990-2001):Packers fans like to tell you that they didn't have a defense during the Brett Favre years. But with studs like Reggie White and Butler, that clearly was not the case. Butler was a four-time All-Pro and a member of the NFL's all-decade team of the 1990s.
21) Isaac Bruce, wide receiver (Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams, 1994-2007; San Francisco 49ers, 2008-09): Played for the original version of the Los Angeles Rams. He was a dependable receiver for a lot of years and had an amazing career. But he kind of runs into the same problem Ward has. Plus, he's eligible with a teammate who had better numbers.
18) Karl Mecklenburg, linebacker (Denver Broncos, 1983-1994): In the late 1980s, it seemed like those late-afternoon AFC West contests were always the Karl Mecklenburg show. He was an All-Pro in each season from 1985 to '89, save for '88, when he played in just nine games.
17) Richard Seymour, defensive end/tackle (New England Patriots, 2001-08; Oakland Raiders, 2009-2012): He was a huge part of the Patriots' first three Super Bowl wins, and he might have been the best defensive lineman of his era. Strange how defensive players from those early Patriots title teams are now eligible for the Hall -- and Tom Brady is still out there playing.
16) Ty Law, cornerback (New England Patriots, 1995-2004; New York Jets, 2005, 2008; Kansas City Chiefs, 2006-07; Denver Broncos, 2009): Such a stud. His pick-six of Kurt Warner in Super Bowl XXXVI was such a huge moment in NFL history. I was confident in the Patriots in that game -- but that was when you thought, Whoa, they are going to win this thing.
MY PICKS FOR FINALISTS
15) John Lynch, safety (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1993-2003; Denver Broncos, 2004-07): Lynch went to Stanford to play quarterback, and he also played baseball. Fun fact: He threw the first pitch in Florida Marlins history. Turns out, he was a pretty good football player, too. But in terms of safeties, I preferred the next guy on my list.
14) Darren Woodson, safety (Dallas Cowboys, 1992-2004): A remarkably solid player for the Cowboys during their championship-winning run of the 1990s. Everyone talks about the Triplets, but that defense was pretty great. It's weird that only one guy from that unit (Charles Haley) has made the Hall of Fame so far -- and begrudgingly, too.
13) Sam Mills, linebacker (New Orleans Saints, 1986-1994; Carolina Panthers, 1995-97): Mills began his career as an undrafted free agent who was released by the Browns. But the dude worked his way through the USFL to become one of the best who ever did it. And since this is the Pro Football Hall of Fame, his time with the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars should be considered a help, not a hindrance.
12) Jimmy Johnson, coach (Dallas Cowboys, 1989-1993; Miami Dolphins, 1996-99): One half of the duo that rescued the Dallas Cowboys from the doldrums of the late 1980s. In addition to leading the Cowboys to two Super Bowl wins, he set the roster that delivered on another. And if I'm being honest, he wasn't that bad in Miami. It's just that last game against Jacksonville. Woof.
11) Edgerrin James, running back (Indianapolis Colts, 1999-2005; Arizona Cardinals, 2006-08; Seattle Seahawks, 2009): I always feel like that makeup game with UCLA in 1998, when he rushed for like 900 yards for Miami, put him on the Colts' radar. With Marvin Harrison already in and Reggie Wayne no doubt getting in, you have to put James in, too.
10) Alan Faneca, guard (Pittsburgh Steelers, 1998-2007; New York Jets, 2008-09; Arizona Cardinals, 2010): The Steelers had a lot of quality running backs during the Bill Cowher era, and a big reason why was the offensive line. Faneca was widely regarded as one of the best of the best during his career.
9) Steve Hutchinson, guard (Seattle Seahawks, 2001-05; Minnesota Vikings, 2006-2011; Tennessee Titans, 2012): He was a key component of Shaun Alexander's 2005 MVP season. Then he was traded to Minnesota and helped launch Adrian Peterson's Hall of Fame-caliber career. But I have to admit, I almost feel like a football hipster when I talk about linemen.
8) Kevin Mawae, center (Seattle Seahawks, 1994-97; New York Jets, 1998-2005; Tennessee Titans, 2006-09): It's always tough for the linemen, because as the old cliche goes, they only get recognized when they mess up. Mawae was a Pro Bowler in eight of his NFL seasons and a first-team All-Pro in three, and he was clearly the best at his position during his career.
7) Zach Thomas, linebacker (Miami Dolphins, 1996-2007; Dallas Cowboys, 2008): It stuns me that it's taken this long for Thomas to get consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The list of superlatives for him is sizable, but you could start with the fact that he was a five-time first-team All-Pro. And a two-time second-team All-Pro. What was I missing?
6) Don Coryell, coach (St. Louis Cardinals, 1973-77; San Diego Chargers, 1978-1986): One of the most innovative minds in NFL history. He is widely credited with helping create the lineage of many of the modern passing concepts still used to this day. He's the first coach to win 100 games on both the collegiate and NFL level.
MY PICKS FOR THE CLASS OF 2019
Note: This is not reflective of my feelings of the contributor finalists or the senior finalist; rather, these are my top five picks of the modern-era semifinalists, given that each class can currently have no more than five modern-era members.
5) Champ Bailey, cornerback (Washington Redskins, 1999-2003; Denver Broncos, 2004-2013): The premier shutdown cornerback of his era. Bailey took the torch from his teammates Deion Sanders and Darrell Green and carried it. He's also interesting because he was in a weird trade for Clinton Portis. I say weird because those trades rarely happened in the NFL back then. Now you've got Jon Gruden trading Hall of Famers -- or at least one likely Hall of Famer -- like it's NBD.
4) Steve Atwater, safety (Denver Broncos, 1989-1998; New York Jets, 1999): I'm not sure if one play is going to get you into the Hall of Fame. But dude absolutely rocked Christian Okoye on "Monday Night Football" in 1990. It was the kind of play that sticks with you forever once you see it. And you know how the Hall loves to bundle its players -- an Atwater/Bailey/Pat Bowlen trio would be a nice feature, making Denver a great candidate to play in the HOF game.
3) Tom Flores, coach (Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders, 1979-1987; Seattle Seahawks, 1992-94): The first Latino starting quarterback and first minority head coach in NFL history to win a Super Bowl. Actually won two Super Bowls compared to John Madden's one. He, along with Mike Ditka, are the only people in NFL history to win a Super Bowl as a player, assistant coach and head coach.
2) Ed Reed, safety (Baltimore Ravens, 2002-2012; Houston Texans, 2013; New York Jets, 2013): Reed joined the Ravens when they were at the top of their game, but he quickly became the leader of that Baltimore defense. He won an NFL Defensive Player of the Year award and a Super Bowl ring, and he was easily the best at his position.
1) Tony Gonzalez, tight end (Kansas City Chiefs, 1997-2008; Atlanta Falcons, 2009-2013): Did you know Gonzalez played basketball in college? Amazing, right? But he's the most automatic player on this list. Retired with well over 1,300 receptions and, even in an era when tight ends evolved more into pass-catchers, he was easily the best to ever do it. Especially when you consider the number of years for which he was able to do it, too.