The list of 15 modern-era finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2021 is loaded with big-name stars like Peyton Manning and Charles Woodson, both first-year eligible players. But there's one finalist whose remarkable career I had a front-row seat to, and he's every bit as deserving of a gold jacket. That person is Richard Seymour.
The former New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders defensive lineman has been a finalist for three straight years, and I strongly believe he should be a favorite when selectors meet Tuesday during a virtual session to select the Class of 2021. This is the first time they will cast their ballots electronically and remotely. In addition to voting on the modern-era finalists, the 48-person panel will say yes or no to Tom Flores, Bill Nunn and Drew Pearson, finalists in the coach, contributor and senior categories. The Class of 2021 -- which the selection-process bylaws state will include anywhere between four and eight honorees -- will be revealed during NFL Honors on Saturday, Feb. 6.
It's no wonder Seymour is a three-time finalist, given everything he accomplished during his 12 NFL seasons. Seymour was a seven-time Pro Bowler, three-time first-team All-Pro selection, three-time Super Bowl champion and he was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 2000s All-Decade Team. These are the accolades that voters and fans alike size up when examining which players are HOF-worthy, but Seymour was much more than these résumé toppers.
Let's start at the very beginning. I was the Patriots' personnel director in the fall of 2000, and on the way to a game against the Indianapolis Colts, I made a stop in Lexington, Kentucky, to watch the Georgia Bulldogs play the Kentucky Wildcats. During the 2000 NFL season, it was clear that our department needed to focus on building our offensive and defensive lines in the coming offseason, through free agency or the draft. So that particular weekend presented an opportunity to see two of the top defensive linemen in the SEC: Seymour and his Georgia teammate, Marcus Stroud. What I saw that day during pregame warmups left me shaking my head.
I was in the end zone watching Seymour and Stroud put on a show before kickoff, and it was obvious they weren't trying to show off, rather they were simply preparing for the task at hand. Seymour really stood out to me. His size and natural explosiveness out of his stance was unlike anything I had ever seen, and his ability to bend his long limbs and uncoil his body with explosive power was staggering. Sometimes in football, you hear things that only make sense to evaluators or scouts, but that afternoon, I heard the explosion of Seymour's play up close.
After watching the pregame defensive line drills, I followed Seymour as he walked away from the group over to the end zone, where he started to work his hands, swatting and swimming on the goal post. When his enormous paw swatted the padded post, my eyes saw and my ears heard the sound of rare power and explosion. From that moment until April 21, 2001 (the first day of that year's draft), Seymour was my top-rated player on the Patriots' board. We ended up selecting him sixth overall.
He made a number of key plays throughout his career, but there are two games, in particular, that stand out to me: one in his rookie season with the Patriots and another during his 11th pro season, when he was with the Raiders and I with the Chiefs. During the 2001 AFC Divisional Round -- more commonly known as the Tuck Rule Game or Snow Bowl -- Seymour made one of the contest's biggest plays, even though it's rarely talked about. The Raiders, who had one of the league's best short-yardage offenses, led 13-10 and faced a third-and-1 with 2:24 remaining in regulation. On the snap, Seymour exploded past guard Frank Middleton and met fullback/lead blocker Jon Ritchie on the power play to completely disrupt running back Zack Crockett's path, and Tedy Bruschi and Ty Law were credited with making the tackle. The Raiders were forced to punt, Adam Vinatieri kicked a game-tying field goal to send it into overtime and the rest is history.
Seymour and I were together in New England for eight seasons before we both went separate ways in 2009. He was traded to the Raiders and I became the Kansas City Chiefs' general manager, so we would get to see each other twice a year for the next four seasons. In 2011, the Chiefs had a chance to win back-to-back AFC West titles if we had won the final three games of the season. We won two of those games, but lost to the Raiders on Christmas Eve, making Seymour the Grinch who stole Christmas. He blocked two field goals during regulation, including one of the final play, to help the Raiders ultimately earn a 16-13 overtime victory.
I have spent over 25 years in the NFL as a scout and executive -- primarily in pro personnel, evaluating every guy in the league -- and Seymour was one of the best players I saw during my time scouting. He was dominant at times, but most of the time, he had to play within Bill Belichick's system. He played selfless football that did not afford him the opportunity to stockpile personal statistics. Instead, he willingly played within the scheme and helped New England win championships.
In a letter to the HOF selection committee, Belichick wrote how Seymour was one of the best defensive linemen he had ever coached: "Richard had a rare combination of size, speed, strength and athleticism. Although primarily a defensive end in our 3-4 defense, Richard also played nose tackle. In the four-man line, Richard could play defensive end or defensive tackle depending on the situation and desired matchups."
Another comment that springs to mind in regards to the type of impact Seymour had on his team's success came in a statement from my good friend Theo Epstein, who recently left his role with the Chicago Cubs to become a consultant for Major League Baseball. He said, "The executives, like me, who have spent a lot of time using analytics and other measures to try to optimize individual and team performance have unwittingly had a negative impact on the aesthetic value of the game and the entertainment value of the game in some respects."
Like Epstein emphasized, there is more to sports than just reaching production marks. They are important, but can't become the tail that wags the dog. Certain players like Seymour -- who humble themselves for the greater good -- exemplify why football is the ultimate team sport. He should not be punished for making the choice to be a champion and elevate those around him. He should be celebrated.