The 2014 Hall-of-Fame class includes three players who were arguably the best at their position in the previous decade, a pair of stars from the 90s, and two greats from the 80s.
Linebacker, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1995-2008)
Along with defensive tackle Warren Sapp, the small but diminutive (6’0”, 235 pounds) Brooks helped propel a dismal Buccaneers franchise into a perennial NFC South Contender. The Tampa 2 defense needed a player at outside linebacker with intelligence, range, and great instincts, and that is exactly what Brooks was for fourteen years, never missing a season in his 14-year NFL career.
The former Florida State Seminole was selected 28th overall in the 1995 draft, and started 13 games as a rookie, missing three starts. Those three non-starts were the only three he would have in his entire career, and made his first Pro Bowl in 1997 after a season in which he garnered 102 tackles and two interceptions, helping the Buccaneers reach the postseason for the first time since 1981.
Brooks would only miss the Pro Bowl once more in his career (2007), becoming a stable of consistent dominance for a Tampa Bay defense that was as good as any in the late 90s and early 2000s. His shining moment came in the 2002 season, as he tallied 117 combined tackles, a career-high five interceptions (three returned for touchdowns), and a fumble returned for a touchdown, leading to his sixth straight Pro Bowl selection and being honored as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Brooks’ great season extended to the Super Bowl, where he returned an interception for a touchdown in a defensive performance for the ages, as the Buccaneers picked off five passes from NFL MVP Rich Gannon, returning three of them for touchdowns in a 48-21 victory. While the star linebacker was great on the field, he was just as good if not better off of it.
Brooks won the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2000 for both his excellence on the field and community service, and then won the “Whizzer” White Man of the Year Award in 2003. Brooks founded the Brooks Bunch charity and youth scholarship foundation in Tampa Bay, along with the Brooks-DeBartolo Collegiate High School, which has had students accepted into institutions like Harvard University and MIT.
Brooks will contribute to the game in 2014, serving as an NFL appeals officer this season.
Punter, Oakland Raiders/Los Angeles Raiders (1973-1986)
Guy helped change the punting game forever after being a surprise first-round selection (23rd overall) for the Raiders, but he ended literally being one-of-a-kind at the position, as he is the first punter to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The All-American from Southern Mississippi had his best season out of the gate, averaging a career-high 45.3 yards per punt. He would lead the NFL in punting in three of the next four seasons (1974, 1975, 1977), and once went 619 punts and seven years without a punt being blocked.
Guy’s ability to change the starting point of an offense was huge for a Raiders team that was perennial contender for the Lombardi Trophy. Half of Guy’s seasons (seven) ended with him playing in at least the AFC Championship game, and being a member of three Super-Bowl winning teams (1976, 1980, 1983).
Guy was an All-Pro for six straight seasons (1973-78), and played in seven Pro Bowls, with one of them showing another example of his greatness. At the 1977 Pro Bowl at the Louisiana Super Done, Guy hit the Louisiana Superdome scoreboard that was 90 feet above the field.
To avoid it happening again, officials raised the screen from 90 feet to 200 feet. The NFC Pro Bowl team tested the ball to see if it had helium in it, and it did not.
Guy has set the standard at the punting position, with the Ray Guy Award being awarded to the nation’s best collegiate punter. The former Raider also holds kicking camps for high-school kickers, punters, and long snappers.
Defensive End, Atlanta Falcons (1968-1978) and Philadelphia Eagles (1979-1981)
As the third pick in the 1968 NFL draft from Tennessee State University, Humphrey came into the league as one of the best pass-rushers, and never wavered from that position, as he is credited with 122 career sacks.
Humphrey recorded 11.5 sacks as a rookie in 1968, and was named Defensive Rookie of the Year. Humphrey would go on to lead his team in sacks nine of the 13 seasons he played, and earn All-Pro honors in eight of his first-ten seasons, with the two seasons he didn’t being his rookie season (1968) and one that was lost due to a season-ending knee injury (1975).
Other than that injury-riddled campaign, Humphrey would only miss two other games in his career despite a small frame for a defensive lineman (6’4”, 252 pounds), and rebounded in 1976. Humphrey got a career-high 15 sacks that season, being named the Falcons’ most valuable player.
Humphrey retired briefly after the 1978 season, but soon came back and was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles before the 1979 season. There, Humphrey was a designated pass-rusher who showed he still had a lot left in him.
In 1979, he was second on the team in sacks and first in quarterback “hurries” with 31, and had a team-high 14.5 sacks in 1980, helping the Eagles reach Super Bowl XV. Humphrey is a member of both the Georgia and Tennessee Hall of Fame, as well as a member in the Atlanta Falcons ring of honor.
Offensive tackle, Seattle Seahawks (1997-2008)
Walter Jones was, at his simplest, a big man who created big holes.
After being selected as the sixth overall pick by the Seahawks out of Florida State University, Jones immediately earned the immensely important left tackle spot as a rookie. Jones was the blindside protector for 41 year-old signal-caller Warren Moon, helping the eventual Hall of Fame quarterback have his Pro Bowl season leading the best total passing offense in the NFL.
Jones was selected for the Pro Bowl after his third straight season, and would make it the next eight years as well (2000-2007) while only allowing 23 quarterback sacks in his NFL career. Jones was given All-Pro Honors six times (2001, 2002, 2004-07), and with his combination of power and graceful agility at 6’5”, 300 pounds, he was maybe just as good, if not better as a run blocker.
Running back Shaun Alexander went to three straight Pro Bowls running behind Jones (2003-2005), including to an unbelievable season in 2005. Alexander was named MVP after rushing for a team-record and league-best 1180 yards and a then-NFL record for single-season touchdowns (28), running often to the left side of the offensive line manned by Jones, with the Seahawks having the league’s best offense and reaching the Super Bowl.
His head coach in Seattle from 1999-2008, Mike Holmgren, called Jones the best offensive player he had ever coached, according to ESPN’s Mike Sando. That is remarkable when you consider that Holmgren had the privilege of coaching all-time greats like Steve Young, Brett Farve, and Joe Montana.
Jones has continued to provide good luck to the Seahawks despite no longer playing for them. He lifted the 12th man flag at Qwest Field before 7-9 Seattle beat the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints on wild card weekend in 2011 in one of the greatest playoff upsets of all-time, and was the Seahawks’ honorary captain in their Super Bowl victory against the Denver Broncos last February.
Wide Receiver, Buffalo Bills (1985-1999) and Washington Redskins (2000)
A fourth-round selection (86th overall) out of Division II Kutztown University in Pennsylvania in the 1985 draft not only became one of the best players of the class, but one of the best to ever play his position.
Andre Reed joined 1985 first-overall pick and future Hall of Famer Bruce Smith to aid quarterback Jim Kelly in making one of the best runs of consistent dominance in the history of the league, reaching four straight Super Bowls (1990-1993). Reed was extremely durable despite a small 6’2”, 190 pound frame and willingness to catch tough passes over the middle and from the slot receiver position (played in 234 career games).
The seven-time Pro Bowler was also very productive for much of his career, finishing with the tenth-most career receptions in history with 951, and eleventh-most touchdown receptions (87). Reed saved his best for the postseason, recording the second-most receptions (27, behind Jerry Rice’s 33) and third most- receiving yards in the Super Bowl (323, behind Lynn Swann’s 364 and Rice’s 604).
His greatest playoff performance came on January 3, 1993, when the Bills appeared to have their season ended by the hands of the Houston Oilers on wild card weekend, down 35-3 early in second half. However, Reed and backup quarterback Frank Reich, playing for an injured Jim Kelly, led an offensive onslaught of 35 second-half points.
Reed finished with three second-half touchdown catches on eight grabs for 136 yards, and Buffalo would go on to win the game in overtime. Reed is a member of the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame, and Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.
Andre Reed is a contributor to Pro Player Insiders, and founded the Andre Reed foundation in 2010 to help underprivileged children reach their full potential and become responsible contributors to their communities.
Defensive End, New York Giants (1993-2007)
Strahan was a late bloomer for of his football career, playing only one season of high school football before getting a scholarship offer to play at Texas Southern University.
After an All-American season in 1992, Strahan was taken with the 40th pick in the 1993 NFL draft. In his first four NFL seasons, Strahan only recorded 18 sacks, but in his final 11, Strahan was often one of the best in the game, collecting 123.5 quarterback takedowns to finish his career with 141.5.
The most dominant period of Strahan’s career was 1997-2005, when he had six double-digit sack seasons and helped lead the Giants to the Super Bowl in the 200 season. The next year, Strahan had 22.5 sacks, setting the NFL record for most in a season and cementing Strahan’s legacy as one of the best pass-rushers in league history, along with being a great run defender.
Strahan finished his career like a hollywood script, rebounding from a three sack season in 2006 to nine sacks in 2007 while playing on an elite defensive line that included Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora to the Super Bowl. In his final NFL game, got two tackles and a sack of NFL MVP Tom Brady, and largely aided an incredible defensive effort in a 17-14 win over the then-undefeated New England Patriots in one of the great upsets in pro football history.
Strahan co-hosts Live! with Kelly and Michael, and is an analyst for Fox NFL Sunday.
Cornerback/Safety, Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals (1991-2000), St. Louis Rams, (2001-2004)
Like Strahan, Williams was a late bloomer, only playing one year of college football at Southern University, but tying an NCAA Division I-AA record in that season.
Williams was drafted in the third round (No.59 pick) by the then-Phoenix Cardinals in the 1991 NFL draft, and immediately showed his one season at Southern University was no fluke. Williams tied the NFL lead in interceptions with 6. He was selected to his first Pro Bowl in 1994 after leading the NFL in interceptions with 9, and would make the Pro Bowl seven of his next eight seasons.
After the 1998 regular season, Williams was a key factor in the Cardinals getting their first playoff victory in over half a century (1997). He intercepted Troy Aikman twice in a 20-7 win in a wild card win that showed Williams’ ability to make big plays in the most important games.
Williams was traded to the St. Louis Rams on draft day in 2001, and immediately became a defensive force the offensively gifted Rams were missing, picking off four passes and bringing two back four touchdowns. Williams continued his postseason success in his first year for St. Louis, returning two Brett Favre interceptions in the divisional playoff round in a win, and picking off Donovan McNabb in final minutes of the NFC Championship game to clinch a victory and a berth in the Super Bowl.
In 2003, Williams moved to safety and went to the Pro Bowl after a four interception season. The eight-time Pro Bowl selection finished with 55 career interceptions, nine returned for scores, and 23 fumble recoveries, with three taken back of touchdowns.
Williams was inducted into the Arizona Cardinals’ Ring of Honor in 2008, and is the founding paster of Spirit of the Lord Family Church in St. Louis.
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