MINNEAPOLIS — By nature, all sports Hall of Fame selection processes are flawed, but I’ve always believed the NFL’s is the closest to getting it right, and it proved it once again Saturday evening when the class of 2018 including Bobby Beathard, Robert Brazile, Brian Dawkins, Jerry Kramer, Ray Lewis, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Brian Urlacher was announced.
Particularly notable are the selections of Urlacher, Moss and Lewis in their first year on the ballot, and Kramer, who becomes the 14th member of the Lombardi Era (1958-1968) Green Bay Packers to be inducted.
Urlacher is the 28th Chicago Bear in Canton, the most of any NFL franchise, and Kramer becomes the 25th Packer — with Green Bay having the second-most inductees.
Owens’ candidacy had been a hot button topic of conversation since he first became eligible in 2016, as nobody could have doubted he would eventually get in, but the perception was that he was being punished for his laundry list of off-the-field and locke room peccadillos that voters are not supposed to weigh but inevitably do.
Lewis and Moss each carried their own share of off-the-field baggage, but each had done a great deal more in recent years to clean up their images than Owens and were expected by many to earn their first-ballot nods.
Urlacher is clearly as deserving as Lewis and Moss, but because he has carried a much lower profile off the field and the committee rarely inducts multiple players at the same position in a single class, his and Owens’ selections were slightly less certain.
That the selection committee understood in the end there could be no justification for inducting Lewis and not Urlacher, or Moss and not Owens is testament to the outstanding job they did with this class.
There is also some poetic justice that longtime Philadelphia Eagle Brian Dawkins, another certain eventual choice but now in his second year of eligibility, was selected at only the third Super Bowl in Eagles history. He is a six-time All-Pro safety that went to nine Pro Bowls.
When those of us that have covered the game for some time think of the all-time great general managers and talent evaluators, Beathard’s is often the first name that comes to mind.
He was the director of player personnel for the undefeated 1972 and 1973 Miami Dolphin Super Bowl teams; the general manager of the Washington Super Bowl XVII and XXII champions; and the architect of the San Diego Chargers only Super Bowl team as general manager of the team that fell to the 49ers in XXIX.
Brazile, a Senior Committee nominee along with Kramer, played linebacker for the Houston Oilers from 1975-1984 and was a three-time All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowler who earned the nickname “Dr. Doom.”
Teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Ken Houston says of Brazile, “Before L.T. (Lawrence Taylor) there was Dr. Doom.”
In many folks' minds, Lewis was the most certain choice of this year’s class, having played 17 seasons from 1996-2012 all with the Baltimore Ravens and earning a Defensive Player of The Year award, Super Bowl XXXV MVP, eight All-Pro and 12 Pro Bowl selections and becoming the first player in NFL history with 40 sacks and 30 interceptions.
Urlacher arrived in the NFL four seasons after Lewis, and the two dominated the middle linebacker position for the next decade-plus, with Urlacher also winning a Defensive Player of the Year award, Defensive Rookie Of The Year, five All-Pro and eight Pro Bowl selections.
With 41 ½ sacks, 22 interceptions and five career TDs while primarily a middle linebacker, Urlacher also lined up at safety, tight end and wide receiver, and at 6-4, 255 with 4.6 40-yard dash speed, he redefined the way big men played defense. Hr was equaly adept at stuffing the run, rushing the passer and covering running backs, tight ends and wide receivers.
In 214 games over 14 seasons, Moss was a four-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowler who caught 982 passes for 15,292 yards, 156 TDs — trailing only Jerry Rice for the most ever. In 2007, he set the NFL record with 23 TD catches for the Patriots, surpassing Rice's 22 in 1987.
Owens, or "T. O.", was a five-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowler with 1,078 catches for 15,934 yards and 153 TDs. The 1,593 yards are the second-most in NFL history, while the touchdowns rank third- and the completions are the eighth-most in NFL history.