Randy Moss and Terrell Owens are among the eight men who will be enshrined into football immortality this summer in Canton, Ohio. Ray Lewis, Brian Dawkins, Brian Urlacher, Bobby Beathard, Robert Brazile and Jerry Kramer were also named as the newest Pro Football Hall of Famers, as announced Saturday night at NFL Honors.
All eight men have such fantastic stories and roads to enshrinement, with particularly long waits for induction ending for Brazile and Kramer. Lewis, Dawkins and Urlacher are fitting teammates as some of the hardest-edged defenders of their era. But it's hard not to start telling the story of this class without noting that the two most electric, productive and headline-grabbing receivers of their era will head to Canton together.
Randy Moss never quite passed Jerry Rice as the greatest receiver of all time, but for many he was the most dominant ever at his very best. A league-changing talent from his first game with the Vikings, Moss was a vertical threat problem that virtually no defense could solve. He led the league in touchdowns with 17 as a rookie and wound up averaging 1,395 yards and 13 scores in his first six seasons. As a member of the Patriots, he and Tom Brady reset what was possible for a passing offense to achieve, with Moss scoring 23 times in 2007. Moss was on the first-team All-2000s squad as named by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, doing it with a magnetic style on and off that field that was impossible to ignore. Few players in NFL history were more fun to watch, which helps to explain Moss' enduring popularity with younger generations to this day. I can't wait until his speech.
Terrell Owens shouldn't have had to wait three tries to get his hall call, but that's unfortunately what happens when only five modern era candidates can make it every year. It was always only a matter of time before the voters recognized Owens' sustained brilliance in his stops with the San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys.
While he had his share of controversies over the years, no one ever questioned Owens' work ethic or excellence on the field. He was a first-team All-Pro five times, once more than Moss. Owens had memorable clutch moments in the playoffs with a game-winning touchdown for the 49ers and an epic 122-yard performance in the Super Bowl with Philadelphia, just seven weeks after breaking his leg and tearing ligaments in his ankle. Few receivers more consistently beat the man across from him snap after snap than Owens. It was time for Hall of Fame voters to love them some T.O.
Moss and Owens will be joined by three defenders who helped define the era they played in. Ray Lewis owned the mantle as the league's preeminent middle linebacker, bringing a ferocity in his tackling that was only matched by his versatility and intelligence. He was part of a new school of do-everything middle linebackers, like Urlacher, who excelled against the run and the pass. A rare player to win Defensive Player of the Year twice, Lewis also won Super Bowl MVP in 2000. Known as one of the great leaders of all time, Lewis maintained the Ravens' level of defensive excellence throughout the aughts. He was a first-team All Pro seven times, the type of number that made him a shoo-in first ballot Hall of Famer.
Like Owens and Moss entering the Hall together, it's great to see Urlacher and Lewis make it the same year. Another first-time nominee, Urlacher was Lewis' NFC counterpart as the best middle linebacker of the last decade. Showing rare speed and deep coverage ability for a linebacker, Urlacher's skills helped to popularize the Tampa-2 defense that spread across the league. But no other team could find a player quite like Urlacher, whose instincts and speed could erase big plays before they happened. He was both the Defensive Rookie of the Year (2000) and Defensive Player of the Year (2005) in a career that included five first-team All-Pro nods.
Perhaps the induction of Eagles great Brian Dawkins is a positive omen for Philadelphia's chances in Super Bowl LII. The hard-hitting safety was nominated in his second year of eligibility after after a 16-year career that included four first-team All-Pro nods. Dawkins had a knack for making big plays, recording 37 interceptions with 26 sacks and 36 career forced fumbles. He played an enforcer-style at the position, without sacrificing any range, that almost doesn't exist anymore.
Both senior finalists, Packers guard Jerry Kramer and Oilers linebacker Robert Brazile, have finally earned induction after careers that ended decades ago. Kramer was a finalist for induction eleven times and got into the Hall after helping to anchor the Lombardi-era Packers offensive line. One of the most colorful players of his era, Kramer was all-NFL five times and a member of the NFL's All-Decade team of the 1960s. You can't write the story of the NFL without Kramer. He opened up the hole that helped Bart Starr score the winning touchdown in the "Ice Bowl" and helped change the way NFL players were seen after writing a book "Instant Replay" with the late Dick Schaap. Kramer is finally headed to Canton, 45 years after he was first eligible.
Brazile is lesser known, but no less deserving. The Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1975 as the sixth overall pick, Brazile made first-team All Pro in five straight seasons (1976-1980.) He was a member of the 1970s All-Decade team and is the latest in a crop of recent worthy Hall of Famers that had brilliant peaks to their career without crazy longevity. As described by Chris Wesseling, Brazile was the league's first dominant 3-4 outside linebacker.
Former personnel boss Bobby Beathard was this year's Contributor Finalist and is now a Hall of Famer because of his excellent work across four decades with the Chiefs, Falcons, Dolphins, Redskins and Chargers. He is best known for his work with the Redskins, where he became Redskins general manager in 1978. Often using a method of trading away his first round picks, the RedskinsSuper Bowl XVII title included 27 free agents. Beathard led the Redskins to two Super Bowl titles. Throughout his career, his teams advanced to seven Super Bowls and won four of them.
Every Hall of Fame class is strong, but this is a particularly high-wattage group from top to bottom. The modern-era candidates were all major stars elected early in their eligibility. It sets up what should be a memorable weekend in Canton this summer, where eight more gold jackets will be given out to complete some of the greatest football careers of all time.