Apr 28, 2022; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Pro Football Hall of Fame busts on display at the NFL Draft Experience. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Kraft, Roger Craig among Hall of Fame semifinalists

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and three-time Super Bowl-winning running back Roger Craig are among the 54 seniors, coaches and contributors who have moved forward in the process toward selection as part of the Class of 2023.

The Seniors Committee unveiled the list of 25 semifinalists who will move to the next round of consideration. To be eligible, the player must not have appeared in a game beyond the 1996 season.

Among those joining Craig, who played eight of his 11 seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, on the list are former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson and Jim Marshall, a member of the Minnesota Vikings’ famed Purple People Eaters.

The Hall of Fame’s Coach/Contributor Committee revealed the list of 29 semifinalists to be considered for election, and it’s a who’s who of owners and coaches. In addition to Kraft, the owners list includes Bud Adams, Art Rooney Jr. and Art Modell.

Coaches in the group include Don Coryell, Mike Holmgren, Dan Reeves, Marty Schottenheimer and Mike Shanahan.

The two committees now will further pare down the nominees, and by Aug. 16, the Seniors group will have three players for final consideration. The Coach/Contributor members will whittle its list to just one to be voted upon for selection.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame class traditionally is announced during Super Bowl week.

In all, the Seniors group is made up of: Anderson, Maxie Baughan, Mark Clayton, Craig, LaVern Dilweg, Randy Gradishar, Lester Hayes, Chris Hinton, Chuck Howley, Cecil Isbell, Joe Jacoby, Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, Mike Kenn, Joe Klecko, Bob Kuechenberg, George Kunz, Marshall, Clay Matthews Jr., Eddie Meador, Stanley Morgan, Tommy Nobis, Ken Riley, Sterling Sharpe, Otis Taylor and Everson Walls.

On the Coach/Contributor list are: Adams, Roone Arledge, C.O. Brocato, Coryell, Otho Davis, Ralph Hay, Holmgren, Frank “Bucko” Kilroy, Eddie Kotal, Kraft, Rich McKay, John McVay, Art Modell, Clint Murchison Jr., Buddy Parker, Carl Peterson, Reeves, Lee Remmel, Rooney, Schottenheimer, Jerry Seeman, Shanahan, Clark Shaughnessy, Seymour Siwoff, Amy Trask, Jim Tunney, Jack Vainisi, Lloyd Wells and John Wooten.

–Field Level Media

Dec 22, 2019; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago Bears former player Devin Hester is introduced before a game between the Chicago Bears and the Kansas City Chiefs at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Andre Johnson, Devin Hester among 15 PFHOF finalists

Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson, Chicago Bears return specialist Devin Hester and Dallas Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware were among the 15 finalists announced Thursday for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2022.

Johnson, who also played one season apiece for the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans before retiring after the 2016 season, finished his 14-year career with 1,062 receptions for 14,185 yards and 70 touchdowns. He could become the first player to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as a Texan.

In 11 seasons, Hester made a name for himself as the greatest returner in NFL history. He returned 14 punts and five kickoffs for touchdowns in his career, plus a 108-yard return TD on a missed field goal. His kick return touchdown to open Super Bowl XLI against the Colts was the fastest touchdown in Super Bowl history.

Ware recorded 138.5 sacks in his 12-year career, which currently ranks 13th in league history. He was named a first-team All-Pro four times and finished his career with the Denver Broncos, where he won Super Bowl 50.

Four other first-year eligible players on the list of semifinalists — wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Steve Smith and defensive linemen Robert Mathis and Vince Wilfork — did not make the cut.

Johnson may face competition from other receivers for a spot in the class, with longtime Colts star Reggie Wayne and former Rams standout Torry Holt also among the finalists.

The Class of 2022 will be revealed during the NFL Honors awards show on Feb. 10.

The full list of 15 finalists is below:

Jared Allen, defensive end, 2004-15
Willie Anderson, tackle, 1996-2008
Ronde Barber, defensive back, 1997-2012
Tony Boselli, tackle, 1995-2001
LeRoy Butler, safety, 1990-2001
Devin Hester, return specialist/wide receiver, 2006-16
Torry Holt, wide receiver, 1999-2009
Andre Johnson, wide receiver, 2003-16
Sam Mills, linebacker, 1986-97
Richard Seymour, defensive lineman, 2001-12
Zach Thomas, linebacker, 1996-2008
DeMarcus Ware, linebacker, 2005-16
Reggie Wayne, wide receiver, 2001-14
Patrick Willis, linebacker, 2007-14
Bryant Young, defensive lineman, 1994-2007

–Field Level Media

Aug 7, 2021; Canton, Ohio, USA;  General view of enshrined busts at the Professional Football Hall of Fame before the HOF enshrinement ceremonies at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Hall of Fame reveals 26 semifinalists for Class of ’22

Pass rusher DeMarcus Ware, wide receiver Andre Johnson and return specialist Devin Hester are among the seven players eligible for the first time for induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

They were part of the 26 modern-era players announced Wednesday as semifinalists for election to the Class of 2022.

The other first-time eligible players are wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Steve Smith, edge rusher Robert Mathis and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. Each last played during the 2016 season.

The remaining semifinalists are listed alphabetically along with the number of times they have made it this far in parentheses:

CB Eric Allen (two times), DE Jared Allen (two), T Willie Anderson (two), CB Ronde Barber (five), T Tony Boselli (seven), S LeRoy Butler (five), RB Eddie George (one), WR Torry Holt (eight), LB Sam Mills (five), DL Richard Seymour (five), special teamer Steve Tasker (nine), RB Fred Taylor (three), LB Zach Thomas (four), WR Hines Ward (six), RB Ricky Watters (two), WR Reggie Wayne (three), LB Patrick Willis (three), S Darren Woodson (six) and DT Bryant Young (three).

The 26 semifinalists will be reduced to 15 finalists before the final voting process takes place over the Super Bowl weekend in February.

–Field Level Media

Apr 28, 2021; Canton, Ohio, USA; A general overall view of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Jake Long, DeMarcus Ware among first-year football Hall of Fame nominees

Ten first-year candidates are among the list of 122 modern-era nominees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022, announced Wednesday.

The first-year player list is made up of wide receivers Anquan Boldin, Andre Johnson and Steve Smith, as well as Devin Hester, who was best known as a kick and punt returner; offensive linemen Jake Long and Nick Mangold; linebacker DeMarcus Ware; defensive linemen Robert Mathis and Vince Wilfork; and defensive back Antonio Cromartie.

The group of nominees will be reduced to 25 semifinalists in November and to 15 finalists in January. Induction ceremonies at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, will be held in August.

Also on the list are nine finalists from 2021 who fell short of the votes needed for enshrinement: receivers Torry Holt and Reggie Wayne; tackle Tony Boselli; defensive linemen Jared Allen and Richard Seymour; linebackers Zach Thomas and Sam Mills; and defensive backs LeRoy Butler and Ronde Barber.

Other nominees include Boomer Esiason, Donovan McNabb, Gary Anderson, Eddie George, Herschel Walker, Hines Ward, Jeff Saturday and Simeon Rice.

The 49 members of the selection committee will consider the 15 player finalists and three special finalists — senior finalist Cliff Branch, contributor finalist Art McNally and coach finalist Dick Vermeil — when they choose the 2022 class. Under Hall of Fame regulations, between four and eight candidates will be enshrined.

–Field Level Media

Fans look at the photo display in the HOF museum the Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement ceremony Sunday, Aug. 8, 2021 at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio.

Hof Calvin

Cliff Branch, Dick Vermeil named Hall of Fame finalists

Former wide receiver Cliff Branch and ex-coach Dick Vermeil were chosen as finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2022 on Tuesday.

Branch was named the Senior Finalist and Vermeil was tabbed Coach Finalist.

Branch, who died in 2019 at age 71, was a three-time Super Bowl champion and a four-time Pro Bowler with the Oakland and Los Angeles Raiders from 1972-85. He caught 501 passes for 8,685 yards and 67 touchdowns in 183 regular-season games.

Branch also excelled in the postseason with 73 receptions for 1,289 yards and five touchdowns in 22 games.

Vermeil, who turns 85 on Oct. 30, compiled a 120-109 regular-season record and 6-5 in the postseason. He won a Super Bowl with the St. Louis Rams in the 1999 season and lost in the Super Bowl with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1980.

Vermeil went 54-47 with the Eagles from 1976-82, 22-26 with the Rams from 1997-99 and 44-36 with the Kansas City Chiefs from 2001-05.

Vermeil was one of seven coaches under consideration. The Coach Committee only considers coaches whose careers ended at least five years ago.

The Senior Committee began with a list of 16 nominees. Only players whose careers ended at least 25 years ago are eligible.

To be elected to the Hall of Fame, Branch and Vermeil must each receive 80 percent of the vote by the full 49-member Selection Committee when it meets early next year.

–Field Level Media

Peyton Manning gives a thumbs up to the left of his bust at the Class of 2021 Enshrinement at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio., on Sunday, Aug. 8, 2021.

Hpt 2021 Class Enshrinement Hof 23

Peyton Manning highlights Class of ’21 at Hall of Fame ceremonies

One day after 20 new members, the five-person Class of 2020 and 15 from the Centennial class, were enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, eight new inductees celebrated their inductions Sunday at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

Five-time league Most Valuable Player Peyton Manning headlined the Class of 2021 as part of the five-member modern-era group of former players, along with Charles Woodson, Calvin Johnson, Alan Faneca and John Lynch.

The other whose Hall of Fame busts were unveiled Sunday were senior inductee Drew Pearson, former coach Tom Flores and contributor and longtime scout Bill Nunn.

The Hall of Fame capped a busy weekend of celebration that included the annual Hall of Fame Game between the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday. The NFL preseason and 2020 induction ceremonies were canceled last summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The biggest no-brainer among the group was Manning, who earned 14 Pro Bowl selections (tied for most in NFL history) and seven AP first-team All-Pro nods, tied for the most among quarterbacks, as well as more MVP awards than any other player. The two-time NFL champion was the first starting quarterback in NFL history to win Super Bowls with two different franchises, Indianapolis in 2006 and Denver in his final season, 2015.

Manning’s close friend and perennial rival Tom Brady was in attendance, teeing up Manning to quip, “By the time Tom Brady is inducted in the first year of his eligibility in the year 2035, he’ll only have time to post his acceptance speech on his Instagram account,” referencing the Hall’s requested speech guidelines of eight minutes per person this weekend.

Pearson, who had endured a 33-year wait until finally being voted to football’s most celebrated shrine, was the first to speak, although he ignored any restrictions and talked for more than 11 minutes.

A Cowboys star wideout for all 11 seasons of his career (1973-83), the three-time All-Pro retired as the team’s all-time leader in catches and receiving yards. He was also famous for the first play referred to as a “Hail Mary,” a game-winning touchdown scored in the 1975 playoffs at Minnesota.

Flores was next to the Hall of Fame stage. After 10 seasons as a quarterback in the AFL, Flores became the NFL’s second Hispanic head coach and first ever to win the Super Bowl in 1980 with the Oakland Raiders. He would lead the Raiders to another title three years later while they were playing in Los Angeles, and still owns the league’s second-best playoff mark at 8-3 (.727) — behind only Vince Lombardi.

Lynch, currently the San Francisco 49ers general manager, was one of five players whose primary position was safety to be inducted over the weekend. He earned nine Pro Bowl berths in his 15 seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1993-2003) and Denver (2004-2007).

Johnson, a former Detroit Lions receiver who retired after the 2015 season at age 30 after nine NFL seasons, earned induction as the second-youngest Hall of Famer voted in on his first ballot — behind only Gale Sayers. Johnson led the NFL twice in receiving yardage and still owns the single-season mark of 1,964 yards in 2012.

Faneca starred at guard for 13 seasons with three teams, the Steelers (1998-2007), the New York Jets (2008-2009) and Arizona Cardinals (2010). He earned nine Pro Bowl nods and was a six-time All-Pro first-teamer.

A Heisman Trophy winner at Michigan in 1997, Woodson played a remarkable 18 seasons and made nine Pro Bowl squads. His 65 career interceptions are tied for fifth on the all-time list, and his 13 defensive touchdowns are tied for the NFL record. He also is one of just three players ever with 25 or more picks with two different franchises, the Raiders (1998-2005, ’13-15) and Green Bay Packers (2006-2012).

Nunn, who died in 2016, spent 47 seasons with the Steelers and helped lead the team to draft several Hall of Famers en route to four Super Bowl wins in the 1970s. He is credited as among the first to start scouting historically black colleges, and the franchise benefitted greatly with stalwarts such as John Stallworth, Mel Blount and Donnie Shell.

The Class of 2020 that was honored Saturday included safety Steve Atwater, wide receiver Isaac Bruce, guard Steve Hutchinson, running back Edgerrin James and safety Troy Polamalu. The Centennial group included two head coaches — Bill Cowher and Jimmy Johnson — along with three elected as contributors (Steve Sabol, Paul Tagliabue and George Young) and 10 former players.

–Field Level Media

Aug 7, 2021; Canton, Ohio, USA; Members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Centennial Class, Donnie Shell, left to right, Cliff Harris, Isaac Bruce, Troy Polamalu, Bill Cowher, Harold Carmichael, Jimbo Covert, Steve Hutchinson, Steve Atwater, Edgerrin James, Jimmy Johnson pose for a photo during the induction ceremony at the Pro Football Hall of Fame at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. Paul Tagliabue is not pictured. Mandatory Credit: Ron Schwane/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports

Class of 2020 finally gets enshrined into Hall of Fame

Five members of the Class of 2020 and 15 from the Centennial class were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday night in Canton, Ohio.

They were forced to wait a year due to the coronavirus pandemic postponing the enshrinement last year.

The Class of 2020 includes safety Steve Atwater, wide receiver Isaac Bruce, offensive guard Steve Hutchinson, running back Edgerrin James, safety Troy Polamalu and two head coaches — Bill Cowher and Jimmy Johnson — along with three elected as contributors (Steve Sabol, Paul Tagliabue and George Young).

James had the message — and the line — of the night.

“Proudly represent the real you,” he said. “And to all of those who have been judged prematurely, because of their appearance, the way they speak or where they come from, and in the minds of many should be locked up in prison, I represent us. I’m forever immortalized, locked up in the Canton Correctional Institution. Inmate No. 3-3-6 in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. My career started with gold teeth and ended with this gold jacket.”

Polamalu was presented his gold jacket Saturday night after arriving late due to his bout with COVID-19. He was finally cleared to travel and took part in the Hall of Fame parade in the morning.

The Class of 2021 gets enshrined Sunday night. Peyton Manning and Calvin Johnson are the headliners.

–Field Level Media

Feb 1, 2020; Miami, Florida, USA; Pro Football Hall of Fame president David Baker announces the class of 2020 inductees during the NFL Honors awards presentation at Adrienne Arsht Center. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Football HOF starts mental health program for players

The Pro Football Hall of Fame has created an avenue to help current and former players and their families with mental and behavioral health issues.

Called Hall of Fame Behavioral Health, the program’s mission will be “to make mental health and the treatment of issues surrounding athletes and those who care for them destigmatized, accessible and widespread,” the Canton, Ohio-based Hall of Fame said in a news release issued Thursday.

Ambassadors to the program include Hall of Fame members Ronnie Lott, Brian Dawkins, Steve Atwater, Tim Brown and Andre Reed, along with current players Adrian Peterson and Calais Campbell.

“We have to end the stigma surrounding mental health, and that includes athletes,” Dawkins said. “It’s OK to ask for help and to reach out if you are having issues. It’s OK not to be OK. But it’s not OK to stay that way — because our silence is killing us and damaging our families.”

The program can be accessed through a call center and a crisis line that will pair the athletes with accredited treatment and counseling services across the country. Issues they can address will include addiction, performance anxiety and post-career transition. It has partnered with a dozen health and wellness centers around the country that will provide services.

“The Pro Football Hall of Fame has always been about protecting the most important part of the game of football: the players,” said David Baker, the Hall’s president and CEO. “With Hall of Fame Behavioral Health, our mission is to make mental and behavioral health services that meet the Hall of Fame’s standards of excellence easily accessible and available not only to Hall of Famers but to every player of this game, the people who support them and the kids dreaming about one day playing in the League.”

Wes Cain, the president and CEO of Hall of Fame Behavioral Health, said taking the first step to getting help is most important.

“Whether it’s affordability, access or simply saying the words ‘I need help’ to a trusted friend, current and retired athletes have faced an uphill battle in seeking and receiving mental health services. Our goal is to let everyone know that if you are a first-ballot Hall of Famer or a practice squad player, we hear you and we are here to support you. No one should be left behind on their journey to live a healthy life.”

–Field Level Media

Aug 1, 2019; Canton, OH, USA; General overall view of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Wait almost over for Hall of Fame Class of ’21

In the seemingly unending year of COVID-19, the Pro Football Hall of Fame is holding its breath … again. For two reasons.

Following the cancellation of a massive Centennial Celebration last August and September that would have enshrined an unprecedented class of 20, eight will likely be added to the list and unveiled Saturday night at a very different NFL Honors show the night before a very different Super Bowl.

On Jan. 19 (yes, 18 days before NFL Honors), the 48 Hall-of-Fame selectors (of which I am one) gathered on Zoom for almost nine hours to elect this year’s class rather than the normal in-person meeting the day before the game.

That’s where the first deep breaths began, hoping over the last two weeks that there would be no leaks from candidates when they began finding out whether a Gold Jacket will be coming or if they’d have to wait another year.

Pro Football Hall of Fame President and CEO David Baker and his hard-working board have to be pleased that as of this writing, only safety LeRoy Butler let it be known he won’t be in the class and word got out that quarterback Peyton Manning (surprise, surprise) will be.

When Indianapolis presenter Mike Chappell, a long-time selection committee member, was set to talk for Manning, he simply said: “Peyton Manning … Now just pretend I’m dropping the mic,” and that was it. Nothing more needed to be said.

That was not the case with wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who was subject of the final discussion of the day and lasted more than 39 minutes. However, much of that debate also included two other receiver finalists — Torry Holt and Reggie Wayne — who had also been discussed previously.

The day began with nearly 90 minutes spent on head coach Tom Flores, contributor/personnel executive Bill Nunn and senior candidate wide receiver Drew Pearson. All three likely received enough votes to be elected.

What makes the process so excruciating is the presence of first-time eligibles like Manning, Johnson and cornerback Charles Woodson that eats up the five modern-day spots available and results in long waits for players like safety John Lynch (eighth year as a finalist), tackle Tony Boselli (14th year of eligibility, fifth year as a finalist) and guard Alan Faneca (a finalist for all six years of his eligibility).

Over the last four years (2017-20), nine of the 20 slots (45 percent) have been taken by first-time eligible players who never received that disappointing “wait until next year” phone call. Of course, waiting is not unusual. Wide receiver Lynn Swann was enshrined in 2001 in his 14th year as a finalist.

Consider that longtime Cleveland Browns linebacker Clay Matthews is in his final year of eligibility and was a finalist this year for the first time after being a semifinalist (top 25) in four previous years. If Matthews is left at the altar, as cornerback Everson Walls was in 2018, he heads to the deep abyss of the seniors group.

Special-teams standout Steve Tasker, eligible since 2003, has been a semifinalist eight times and never a finalist. Next year is his last year of modern-day eligibility, as it will be for finalist linebacker Sam Mills (four-time semifinalist, two-time finalist) if he isn’t elected this year.

Holt has been a semifinalist seven times and a finalist twice, but he had to wait in line behind Rams teammates Orlando Pace, Kurt Warner and Isaac Bruce as all four became eligible for the first time together in 2015.

Other finalists this year not previously mentioned are cornerback Ronde Barber, defensive end Jared Allen (first-time eligible), linebacker Zach Thomas and defensive lineman Richard Seymour.

All 15 are deserving, and once this year’s five are announced, there will be more breath-holding in the upcoming months while everyone hopes the pandemic will get under control and the Hall will be able to have “Twice the Fun in ’21,” with the Centennial Class being enshrined Aug. 7 and this year’s class the following day.

After all, no one wants to face the prospect of there being “way too much to do in ’22.”

–By Howard Balzer, Field Level Media

Nov 10, 2019; Indianapolis, IN, USA;  Indianapolis Colts former quarterback Peyton Manning stands on the field before a game between the Colts and the Miami Dolphins at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Peyton Manning headlines 15 finalists for Pro Football Hall of Fame

When you retire from the NFL after 18 seasons with 71,940 passing yards and 539 passing touchdowns, it’s a near certainty you’ll be a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame as soon as you’re eligible.

That’s why no one was shocked Peyton Manning, who retired after the 2015 season, was announced as one of six first-time finalists Tuesday.

The former Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos quarterback was among 15 finalists that will be voted on by a 48-member Selection Committee during a virtual meeting Jan. 19. A maximum of five modern-day players can be elected by getting approval from 80 percent of the committee.

The winners will be announced Super Bowl weekend.

Manning, a 14-time Pro Bowler and seven-time first-team All-Pro selection, as well as a two-time Super Bowl champion, ranks third on the NFL all-time passing yards list and passing touchdown list. He shared the 2003 NFL MVP with Steve McNair and won it outright four other times (2004, 2008, 2009, 2013).

Defensive back Charles Woodson, wide receiver Calvin Johnson, defensive lineman Jared Allen, cornerback Ronde Barber and linebacker Clay Matthews Jr., were the other first-time finalists.

Offensive lineman Tony Boselli, safety LeRoy Butler, offensive lineman Alan Faneca, wide receiver Torry Holt, safety John Lynch, linebacker Sam Mills, defensive lineman Richard Seymour, linebacker Zach Thomas and wide receiver Reggie Wayne are also among this year’s finalists.

This is Matthews’ 20th year of eligibility.

The committee will also vote on Tom Flores in the coach category, scout Bill Nunn as a contributor and receiver Drew Pearson as a senior candidate.

Inductees are scheduled to go into the Hall in a ceremony in August along with the class of 2020 and a special centennial class. The coronavirus pandemic postponed the latter two groups from having their ceremonies this year.

–Field Level Media