2022 NFL Hall Of Fame Class
On Saturday August 6th, the Pro Football Hall of Fame will enshrine eight men who have impacted the game of football from the 1950s to present. Before their enshrinement, let’s take a look at the path that brought these 6 players, one coach, and one official to Canton.
LeRoy Butler (Lambeau) Leaps into the Hall
LeRoy Butler pushed through wearing leg braces and using a wheelchair as a child to become one of the premier safeties of his era. Butler was born with such bad pigeon-toed feet that doctors broke bones in both his feet, so naturally a career as a pro athlete seemed beyond the realm of possibility. Not only did he make the NFL, he became the first defensive back to make the 20 sack/20 interception club. Butler, who played his entire 12 year career with the Green Bay Packers and started the franchise’s famous touchdown celebration, the “Lambeau Leap,” also helped the Packers to a super bowl win. He will be the final player on the 1990s All Decade Team to make the Hall of Fame.
Sam Mills “Kept Pounding” to the HOF
Sam Mills may not have made the hall of fame first ballot, or even in his 2nd, 3rd, or 19th round of eligibility for that matter, but he certainly has a first ballot story. Constantly told he was too short to play pro football, Sam Mills went undrafted and played in the USFL before following coach Jim Mora to the Saints. How did Mills persevere to make the NFL? His motto–‘keep pounding.’ Mills became a day one leader as a linebacker for the Saints defense, and later when he joined the Carolina Panthers in their inaugural 1995 season. Post retirement, he stuck with the Panthers as an assistant coach even after getting diagnosed with cancer in 2003. Yet, true to his character and despite his diagnosis, Mills kept pounding and outlived his prognosis by 17 months. While former coach Jim Mora will posthumously present Mills into the hall of fame, Mills’ spirit will live on in both the hall and at Panthers games, where the team bangs a “keep pounding” drum in his memory.
Richard Seymour Helped Build a Dynasty
Few have exemplified the famous Patriot Way better than Richard Seymour, who helped start the Patriots dynasty which won three super bowls in four years in the early 2000s. Known for his versatility, Seymour played any position on the defensive line depending on where his team needed him. Seymour was unlike any player Bill Belichick has coached, with Belichick even calling Seymour an “honor” to coach. The 3x first team all pro and member of the 2000s NFL All Decade Team played seven seasons from 2001-2008 with the Patriots and finished his career with the Raiders after being traded there in 2009. Seymour’s high school principal Titus Duren will present him into the hall of fame.
Meet the Father of Modern Officiating–Art McNally
At 97 years old, it’s no exaggeration to say Art McNally has waited a lifetime for this honor. After spending nine years as an NFL official, McNally became the NFL’s supervisor of officials in 1968 and worked in the league until 2015. He is known as both the Father of Instant Replay and the Father of Modern Officiating, as he established a system to train and grade NFL officials, then successfully lobbied for technological advancements in officiating, like instant replay. McNally will be only the second officiating figure to ever make the Hall of Fame, after Hugh Ray and the first on-field official to ever enter the hall. McNally will deliver his speech through a pre-recorded video.
Tony Boselli’s Short Career Has Eternal Ending
The Jacksonville Jaguars drafted tackle Tony Boselli second overall with the draft pick in 1995, the first player they ever selected. Boy did they strike gold as Boselli became the face of the young franchise. A quick footed tackle, Boselli helped lead the Jaguars to the AFC championship game in only their second season, and to four consecutive playoff appearances. He protected quarterback Mark Brunell and created running lanes for back Fred Taylor. Though he only played seven seasons, he is a member of the 1990s All Decade Team and was named first team all pro three times. Brunell will present him into the hall of fame.
Even Bryant Young’s Opponents Root For Him
Over his 14 year career with the 49ers, defensive tackle Bryant Young created a reputation through his incredible play which led him to a super bowl win and the 1990s All Decade Team. Despite this hall of fame caliber career, the hall passed up Young for almost a decade. His belated admittance to Canton came on the heels of an outpouring of support from six former opponents, namely former offensive lineman Steve Hutchinson and Willie Roaf. Also speaking to his character, Young won the 49ers most prestigious award, the Len Eshmont Award for a 49er’s inspirational and courageous play, a record eight times. No other 49er has won it more than twice. Young will finally ditch the 49ers red and stick with the gold as he marches into the hall with his new gold jacket Saturday.
Cliff Branch’s Final Route Ends in Canton
For many, Cliff Branch’s induction into the hall is long overdue. The incredible sprinter spent his whole 14 year career with the Raiders, winning three super bowls with the team. Branch had two separate 1,000 yard receiving seasons, a feat rarely achieved during his era. His average yards per reception of 17.3 was through the roof, demonstrating the impact of his speed, and he even had a gaudy 24.2 yards per catch in 1976. Even more impressive was Branch’s ability to show up in the postseason. In 22 playoff games, he established career playoff records for receptions and receiving yards, until Jerry Rice broke them in the 1990s. Raiders owner and Branch’s best friend, Mark Davis, will posthumously present Branch into the hall after Branch died in 2019.
Dick Vermeil Unusual Path to the HOF
In an era dominated by uptight, cold-seeming coaches like Bill Parcells, Paul Brown, and Tom Landry, Vermeil didn’t shy away from his emotions. Through sorrow, joy, or even when burnt out, Vermeil never hid his tears. He ascended the coaching ladder as the NFL’s first designated special teams coach before becoming the head coach of UCLA. The Philadelphia Eagles hired him as head coach in 1976 and by 1978, he led the Eagles to the playoffs for the first time since 1960. In 1980, he brought the team to their first super bowl appearance. Yet behind the scenes he only got four hours of sleep and endured exhaustion, leading to breakdowns during press conferences. This factored into his sudden retirement in 1983. The Rams lured him back to coaching in 1997 and in 1999 his Rams won the Super Bowl with one of the greatest offenses of all time, The Greatest Show on Turf. Vermeil, who also coached the Chiefs from 2001-2005, has been selected to give the closing speech on Saturday, and don’t be surprised if it’s a tear-jerker.