PHOENIX -- The 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame class was announced Saturday at NFL Honors, rewarding several all-time greats who had been on the proverbial doorstep the past few years.
Junior Seau, Jerome Bettis, Charles Haley, Tim Brown, Will Shields, Mick Tingelhoff, Ron Wolf and Bill Polian will receive their bust sculptures and gold jackets in Canton next summer. Tingelhoff was a Veterans Committee candidate while Wolf and Polian entered under the auspices of the new Contributor sub-committee.
Noticeably missing are former Indianapolis Colts legend Marvin Harrison as well as Orlando Pace and Kurt Warner of the "Greatest Show on Turf" St. Louis Rams. If the 2015 class is any indication, that trio will be honored in the coming years.
The late Seau was the lone first-ballot enshrinee. Standing with Lance Alworth, Dan Fouts and LaDainian Tomlinson on the San Diego Chargers' version of Mt. Rushmore, Seau earned six All-Pro selections and 12 Pro Bowl appearances in a 20-year career.
During Super Bowl XLIX week, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll cited the spirit with which Seau played as his lasting legacy.
"I think the style of play that he brought to the league," Carroll explained. "He was so outgoing and so aggressive and took chances and was a big risk taker.
Along with Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher, Seau was one of three greatest inside linebackers of the past two decades. He was a slam-dunk choice for the Hall of Fame.
Christened "The Bus" for his powerful, bruising running style as the most distinctive big running back of his era, Bettis boasted nimble feet that belied his 260-pound frame.
Bettis was the perfect back for Bill Cowher's Steelers teams that succeeded with a swarming, smash-mouth defense and a ball-control offense. Cowher lauded Bettis as the greatest football "closer" of all time, breaking tackles and wearing down defenses while killing the clock in close games. Bettis also deserves credit for his short-yardage and goal-line prowess.
Haley appeared in six NFC Championship Games in a span of seven seasons. His team won the division in 10 of his 12 years and produced a collective .700 winning percentage. If there was an NFC game of the week during Haley's career, chances are he was prominently featured making impact plays. His biggest drawback in the eyes of voters was locker-room behavior that would make Richie Incognito look like a choir boy.
Brown's 1,094 receptions rank fifth in NFL history, which is amazing considering the cast of suspect Raiders quarterbacks in the 1990s. One of the game's most dynamic return specialists early in his career, Brown didn't top 1,000 yards until his sixth season. He then accomplished the feat in eight consecutive years.
In the twilight of his career, a 36-year-old Brown teamed with a 40-year-old Jerry Rice to lift the Raiders to Super Bowl XXXVII.
Shields was a picture of consistency, earning 12 Pro Bowl nods with the Chiefs from 1993 to 2006. The Kansas City offensive lines that paved the way for Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson in the early 2000s were among the most dominant in recent memory, with Shields leading the way as a highly athletic pulling guard.
Among Hall of Famers, only Bruce Matthews played more years (19) and had more starts (292) than Tingelhoff's 17 and 259. An undersized center at 6-foot-2 and 237 pounds, Tingelhoff blocked for running backs that went to 13 Pro Bowls and played in four Super Bowls. He is perhaps best known for a brand of hard-nosed football that commanded respect from teammates as well as opponents.
Wolf is one of the most highly regarded talent evaluators and team architects in NFL history. He started his career as a scout under Al Davis with the Raiders in the early 1960s and helped build a dynasty that ran throughout the 1970s and culminated with the Super Bowl XVIII Championship team in 1983. As Packers general manager in the 1990s, Wolf traded for Brett Favre and recruited Reggie White to Green Bay, jump-starting six consecutive playoff berths and a pair of Super Bowl appearances.
How many football executives can say they engineered playoff squads in three different cities? Polian began his career by constructing the Bills teams that struck out in four consecutive Super Bowls. He then hopscotched to the expansion Panthers in 1995, quickly assembling a team that ended the Cowboys' dynasty with a trip to the NFC Championship Game a year later.
Polian capped off his career by drafting Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf, leading to 11 Colts postseason berths in a 13-year span, including the Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl XLI. The former executive already selected Marv Levy to present him for induction.
Looking ahead to 2016, Favre and Terrell Owens are the most interesting of the first-time eligibles.
Until then, the focus is on the eight men who will be rightfully feted this summer in Canton, the site of the NFL's 1920 founding in a Hupmobile showroom.
The latest Around The NFL Podcast previews Super Bowl XLIX and gives our picks for the big game. Watch the entire show (and Wess eat his softball pants) on NFL NOW.