As a child I would watch the NFL Hall of Fame Game and ceremonies on television, never knowing who any of the players being inducted were. As I got older I started to recognize more and more names, but this is the first year that I can say I was personally able to watch members of the inducted class play while I was growing up. This year’s ballot was full of my childhood greats such as Brian Urlacher and Brian Dawkins. Urlacher had the terrible luck of playing for the Chicago Bears his entire career, but on the flipside, he did get the opportunity to play in Super Bowl XLI. Urlacher’s first year in the league, he was named the 2000 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and was selected to the Pro Bowl. In his 14 starts, Urlacher managed to get two interceptions, a forced fumble, eight sacks, and 101 tackles. The following two seasons he was voted First-Team All-Pro and again 2005 and 2006. Urlacher would lead the Bears to multiple playoff appearances and one Super Bowl. He would go on to be named to the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team. Urlacher played the game with a sense of pride and respect for his teammates and opponents alike. When two-time Super Bowl Champion and future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning was asked about Urlacher he said, “I really enjoyed getting to know Brian over the years. We played in a number of Pro Bowls, and I would see him at offseason banquets and events. I had a great respect for way he played the game.”
There’s been a lot of safeties that have been able to instill fear in their opponents with their hard-hitting ability, but none quite like Brian Dawkins. Besides Sean Taylor, I believe Dawkins was the hardest hitting safety of his era. He played the game with a level of intensity that couldn’t be matched. Over his 16-year career Dawkins made nine Pro Bowls and was named First-Team All-Pro four times. Over that period, he racked up nearly 900 tackles, 37 interceptions, and 120 defended passes. He was a tone setter on and off the field and was one of the leaders during the Philadelphia Eagles success in the early 2000s.
Linebacker Ray Lewis will be joining Urlacher and Dawkins in the 2018 HOF Class. If you were to take Urlacher’s size, strengths, and fundamentals, and match that with Dawkins’s hitting ability and intensity, you’d get Ray Lewis. Lewis was by far the best Linebacker of his generation, and one of the best all-time. Lewis was named First-Team All-Pro seven times, selected to 13 Pro Bowls, and two-time NFL Defensive Player of the year (2000, 2003). He spent the entirety of his career in Baltimore bringing the Ravens to several playoff appearances, as well as two Super Bowl rings. Lewis was captain of arguably the best defense of all time in the 2000 Ravens. The “Purple Pain” didn’t even allow over 1000 yards rushing and allowed just under 3000 passing yards. Ray played the game with a level of passion, and hunger that the league has never seen before. His teammates would feed from that, and players around the league noticed the type of guy Ray was. “Yeah, he’s a leader on the football field he teaches them how to play, how to watch film. But Ray has taken a horrific situation and made it to be a lesson for everybody, not just him. That’s the true definition of ministry: improving the lives of others through your own struggles”, said Hall of Fame wide receiver, Michael Irvin.
Speaking of Hall of Fame receivers, when you talk about one of the most athletically gifted athletes the league has ever seen, Randy Moss should be one of the first to come to mind. Moss will be joining inductees as part of the 2018 class this weekend. At 6’4, 210 pounds, a 4.25 40-yard dash, and a 51” vertical, Moss is a freak of nature. Randy took the NFL by storm, in 1998 he was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings. His rookie season he made the Pro-Bowl and was also selected First-Team All-Pro. Moss put up a staggering 1,313 receiving yards with 69 receptions, and 17 touchdowns, both rookie records. He was named Offensive Rookie of the year and finished third in receiving yards. His success would continue, in 2000 and 2003 he led the league in receiving touchdowns. In 2005 Moss left Minnesota and headed out west to play in Oakland where his success carried on, but it looked like Moss’s career was winding down. His best days were yet to come. In 2007 he was traded to the New England Patriots where Moss would team up with another future Hall of Famer, Tom Brady. All he did there was have a record-breaking season hauling in 98 catches for 1,493 yards, and 23 touchdowns (NFL record). Moss’s playstyle combined with his size and speed had never been seen in the NFL, and with his incredible jumping ability he kept fans glued to their couches on Sundays.
When talking about great receivers of the early 2000s, and all-time great receivers in general, you can’t leave out Terrell Owens. Owens shared Moss’s size, standing at 6’3, 224 pounds, running 4.45 40-yard dash, this guy was a monster. He played the game with a different approach then Moss, and most other players in the league. Owen’s never took a play off, and it can be easy to run a lazy route or give half effort on a block when you know the ball isn’t coming to you. Owens’ love for the game, and electric personality showed both on and off the field. While his off-field antics would spark controversy around the league, no one could deny his performance on Sundays. In 2005, seven weeks before the Super Bowl, Owens broke his leg and tore a ligament in his right ankle. Despite lacking his presence, the Eagles still managed to finish 13-3 on the season and found themselves playing in Super Bowl XXXIX. No doctor would clear Owens to play till the next season, but he cared too much to sit. Owens signed an injury waiver allowing him to play and managed to finish the game 122 yards on 14 targets. Even more impressive, he played in 62 of the 72 offensives snaps. Ultimately his mouth, and attitude would leave him looking for work, but when Owens was on the field no one could deny his competitiveness and passion.
This year’s selection was loaded, as it will be for many years to come, but I believe the voters got it right putting this group of guys in together. All playing during the early 2000s, their revolutionary athleticism changed the game for the better. Congratulations to the Pro-Football Hall of Fame class of 2018. For those that didn’t make it, there’s always next year! Written by Justin Smith
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