Seven former NFL players will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton this weekend. From defensive standouts such as Derrick Brooks to some offensive playmakers, there promises to be some tears flowing when the ceremonies get rolling.
Let’s take a gander at the top moment from each member of the 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame class.
Derrick Brooks, Linebacker
Simply put, Brooks is one of the top-10 linebackers to ever play the game. He racked up 100-plus tackles in his first 12 seasons in the league and scored a total of seven touchdowns on the defensive side of the ball. As an emotional leader on the field and unquestioned community guy off the field, Brooks’ status as one of the greatest Tampa Bay Buccaneers of all-time makes him deserving of enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It helps that he was one of the best players on one of the best defenses in the modern history of the game.
Brooks’ 11 Pro Bowl appearances are only trumped by the nine All-Pro teams that he made in an extensive 13-year career. He’s a member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team from the 2000’s and earned a Super Bowl title following the 2002 season. And that’s what makes up the top moment of his career.
The 2002 Buccaneers finished the regular season with a 12-4 record and the top scoring defense (12.2 points per game) in the NFL. Brooks earned All-Pro honors, putting up 117 tackles and a whopping three defensive touchdowns. It was, however, Super Bowl XLVII that represents the greatest moment in the history of the franchise. Taking on the Oakland Raiders, this team absolutely dominated in every possible way.
Tampa Bay put up a 34-3 lead after defensive back Dwight Smith intercepted a Rich Gannon pass and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown. Overall, the Buccaneers defense forced five Raiders turnovers. For his part, Brooks put a cap on the game with a fourth quarter interception for a touchdown with just over one minute remaining in the game. It was a shining moment in a stellar NFL career. It also capped off a season that saw Brooks earn NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Ray Guy, Punter
Widely considered the greatest punter to ever play the game, Guy becomes the first player at his position inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Guy punted 1,049 times and averaged a whopping 42.4 yards per punt. He led the NFL in average three times and failed to put up 40-plus yards per punt only once in his 14-year career with the Raiders. He made seven Pro Bowl trips and earned six All-Pro honors in the process. What Guy is best known for is just how long his punts hung in the air. Returners simply didn’t have the ability to make a play, because the Raiders kick coverage team beat the ball down the field on a consistent basis. It was a thing of beauty.
Lost in the Raiders 38-9 victory over the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVIII is the fact that Guy punted a total of seven times for 299 yards and pushed the Redskins inside their 20-yard line a whopping five times. When football experts say that Guy was the first punter that actually won games for his football team, you listen…because he was.
Claude Humphrey, Defensive End
Sacks were not an official stat during Humphrey’s prime in the 1970’s, but he was an absolute terror against opposing quarterbacks. Unofficially, Humphrey racked up 126.5 sacks in a 13-year career that started with the Atlanta Falcons in 1968. As a rookie that season, Humphrey earned Defensive Rooke of the Year honors. Overall, he made five consecutive Pro Bowls from 1970-1974. As one of the first pure pass-rush specialists, this former Tennessee State standout was a trendsetter during his dominating years.
One of Humphrey’s best seasons came in 1980 when he helped the Eagles earn the NFC championship and a trip to the Super Bowl. Unofficially, he led the team with 14.5 sacks. Interestingly enough, one of his most famous moments was when the former defensive end threw a flag at an official in Super Bowl XV after he was called for roughing the passer against Oakland Raiders quarterback Jim Plunkett.
Walter Jones, Offensive Tackle
Jones is among the most underrated offensive linemen to ever play. After being selected with the sixth overall pick in the 1997 draft by the Seattle Seahawks, the offensive tackle went on to earn eight trips to the Pro Bowl while starting 180 of a possible 192 games. He opened up holes for the likes of Ricky Watters and Shaun Alexander on the ground and could hold off the best pass rushers in the game. A truly dominating force, Jones was widely respected around the league as one of the first true franchise left tackles of the modern era. Along with Tony Boselli in 1995, Jonathan Ogden in 1996 and 1997 draft mate Orlando Pace, Jones started a trend of top-10 picks at the offensive tackle position. Prior to 1995, three offensive tackles had gone in the top six in 10 years. In the two decades since, a total of 20 have gone in the top six. Just think about that.
Offensive linemen don’t receive individual praise for what they do. There are no benchmarks that indicate greatness. No statistics that tell us who is among the best in the game. Instead, it’s all about either keeping your quarterback clean or opening up holes for your running back. Jones did both among the best in the history of the game. Former Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren even took it a step further by calling Jones the greatest offensive player he ever coached (via ESPN.com).
Prior to retiring Jones’ jersey in 2010, the Seahawks had only retired two jerseys in the history of the franchise…Steve Largent and Cortez Kennedy. This has to be considered the greatest moment of Jones’ career, even if it came after he was forced from the game due to a knee injury in 2008. Among other accolades, the state of Washington has coined April 30th “Walter Jones Day.”
Andre Reed, Wide Receiver
The last of Buffalo’s Big 3 to be enshrined into the Hall of Fame, Reed’s on-field success speaks for itself. He put up four 1,000-yard seasons, played for four conference championship teams, earned seven consecutive Pro Bowl appearances and is the Bills all-time leading receiver by nearly 4,000 yards. Drafted in the fourth round of the 1985 draft out of Kutztown University in Pennsylvania, there weren’t many who knew about Reed when he entered the league. Within just a couple years, he was among the best receivers in the game. Despite playing in four Super Bowls with Jim Kelly, Reed’s greatest moment came in the playoffs with Kelly sidelined due to injury.
In what is considered the greatest playoff comeback of all-time, Reed scored three consecutive touchdowns on passes from backup quarterback Frank Reich in the third quarter of the 1992 AFC Wildcard playoffs against the Houston Oilers. The first one came with Buffalo down 35-17 in the third quarter. The final one, just a few minutes later, put Buffalo up 38-35. In the end, Buffalo came back from a 35-3 third quarter deficit to defeat Houston 41-38. For Buffalo, this game was the springboard to the third of four consecutive AFC championships. Unfortunately for Reed and the Bills, they lost all four Super Bowls.
Michael Strahan, Defensive End
Selected in the second round of the 1993 draft out of Texas Southern, it took some time for Strahan to get his footing in the NFL. He played in just nine games as a rookie and tallied a total of 17.5 sacks in his first four seasons with the New York Giants. Over the course of the next 11 years, Strahan would average double-digit sacks per season. His best campaign came in 2001 when the Hall of Fame inductee broke the single-season sack record with 22.5. Overall, Strahan earned seven Pro Bowl trips and was named an All-Pro four times. But the most memorable moment of his career didn’t come in the form of an indivudal accolade.
Playing the undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, New York pulled off the greatest upset in the history of the big game. While the defining moment of the Giants victory was David Tyree’s fourth quarter reception from Eli Manning, it’s important to note that their defense stepped up big time in this game, holding a Patriots team that averaged 36.8 points per game in the regular season to just two touchdowns. For his part, Strahan recored two tackles and an important sack. The Hall of Fame inductee went out on top, retiring immediately following the Super Bowl.
Aeneas Williams, Defensive Back
Williams might not be the best known inductee in the 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame class, but he was a darn good football player during a 14-year NFL career. The man who once lined up in the same defensive backfield as Pat Tillman with the Arizona Cardinals, really made a name for himself when he moved on to the St. Louis Rams following the 2000 Season. In his first season with the Rams, Williams earned his seventh trip to the Pro Bowl and was named First-Team All-Pro. He recorded 74 tackles, four interceptions and two touchdowns in his first year with the Rams. The top moment of his career came in the playoffs against Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers that season.
While we can’t find a video, Williams intercepted two Favre’ passes (returning both for touchdowns) while recovering a fumble in the NFC Divisional playoffs, which helped the Arizona defeat the Packers 45-16. One week later, Williams clinched the Cardinals first trip to the Super Bowl with a fourth quarter interception against Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback Donovan McNabb. Talk about stepping up when it was needed the most.
Photo: Fox Sports