“There’s no GOAT in this game, because none of us can do this without our teammates.” – Hall of Fame Inductee Ed Reed
Canton, Ohio – The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019 was formally inducted on Saturday night in Canton, Ohio. This year’s star-studded eight-person class was decidedly heavy on defensive backs as a pair of iconic savants that roamed the defensive secondary for the better part of a decade were enshrined along with the second-most prolific pass-catching tight end in league history, and arguably its best-ever scout.
Cornerback Champ Bailey, tight end Tony Gonzalez, cornerback Ty Law, center Kevin Mawae, safety Edward Reed, Cowboys scout extraordinaire Gil Brandt, longtime Broncos Chairman Pat Bowlen, and safety Johnny Robinson were given the ultimate honor of being permanently enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
A nine-time Pro Bowl selection, Reed retired as the all-time leader in interception return yardage, with 1,590 yards. Blessed with uncanny preternatural instincts, and unparalleled range in the secondary, Reed led the league in interceptions on three different occasions. Along with fellow Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, he was undoubtedly the heart and soul of the dominant Ravens’ defense for the duration of his career in Baltimore, before finishing off his career by having short stints with the Jets and Texans. As evidence of what kind of unique weapon he actually was for his team, Reed recorded seven seasons with more than 100 yards in interception returns, four with over 150 return yards, and two seasons with more than 200 return yards in his incredible career.
“The NFL changed my life and put me in a place I never thought I would be.”
Likely remembered best for his thirteen-year tenure with Kansas City, Gonzalez, a 14-time Pro Bowl selection finished his career with Falcons, and at the time of his retirement, held virtually NFL career record for tight ends. Gonzalez also paced the league in receptions- all players, regardless of position- once, and finished among its top 10 in catches on five occasions. He became the first tight end to be enshrined in his first year of eligibility.
Champ Bailey entered the league in 1999 regarded as somewhat of a hybrid athlete that teams could use in a multiple of positions. However, it became crystal clear almost instantly upon his arrival with the Redskins that Champ Bailey was put on this earth to be a complete shutdown corner. Reading off his career accolades is downright staggering: elected to 12 Pro Bowls in his 15-year NFL career (which is an all-time record for the cornerback position), 52 interceptions, and an astonishing 203 pass breakups, to go along with seven forced fumbles and 908 tackles. Although Deion Sanders is rightly credited with being the first -and some would say the only– true shutdown corner, it says here that in many ways, Champ was in fact, the superior player when you take into account how effective he was in other aspects of the game (tackling in space, run support, variety of pass-covering techniques ) in addition to being superb in pass coverage.
Rounding out the triumvirate of talented defensive backs enshrined in Canton was longtime Patriots standout Ty Law. While Law certainly didn’t jump off the screen with his breath-taking and seemingly effortless playmaking ability the way Bailey and Reed did, he was without a doubt the consummate pro in coach Bill Belichick’s system, and also deserves much credit for influencing Darelle Revis to become the preeminent corner that he would emerge as, a generation later. Over the course of his 15-year NFL career the extremely physical corner out of the University of Michigan by way of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania amassed 53 career interceptions and 169 passes defensed, to go along with seven touchdowns, and like any other beloved player on a Bill Belichick defense (especially in the secondary) he always seemed to come up big by reading his keys, knowing the opponents’ tendencies and his assignment, and being in the right place at the right time in clutch moments to help his team secure a victory.
Also included among the iconic class of honorees was longtime Cowboys scouting director Gil Brandt, who began his career an astonishing 64 years ago as a part-time scout with the LA Rams, and would go on to revolutionize the way the NFL scouted talent as he spent almost 30 years as one of the most influential figures alongside legendary coach Tom Landry and GM Tex Schramm in building the now-iconic Dallas Cowboys franchise.
“What you do in locating and securing talent is the lifeblood of the sport of football. All that time in random hotels, seeing that player with something special …or going to a D-3 campus and finding a diamond in the rough, that’s the magic that keeps us out on the road for half the year and in the film room the other half.” – HOF Scout Gil Brandt
The 86 year-old Brandt, who along with Schramm is said to be one of the key architects in creating and cultivating the league’s annual scouting combine, mentioned a very interesting nugget about the combine – and the truly remarkable growth of it- when he recalled that the inaugural combine, in 1982, was attended by a grand total of seven members of the press; by contrast there were over 2,000 credentialed media at this year’s combine.
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