MAUI, HAWAII — On Sunday, Super Bowl LIV (54) in Miami will conclude by crowning the champion of the 2019 National Football League season. The winning team will lay claim to having the best football players on the field last fall. One day earlier, on Saturday, several retired NFL players and contributors will join the greatest team ever for all eternity. For that’s the day they’ll join the roster of all-time greats in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (HOF) in Canton, Ohio. Which means that it’s time to present our HOF enshrinement predictions for the class of 2020.
Secret meetings are not just for Washington
Forty-six sportswriters will meet in a secret location in New York metropolitan. In the football equivalent of an underground bunker, vigorous debates will take place. Some of them will predict their shadows on Super Bowl Groundhog Day. At the conclusion of their deliberations, America will have several new Hall of Fame nominees.
This year was the 100th year of the NFL. So, fittingly, an expanded class is being inducted. Rather than the usual seven or eight nominations, 20 individuals will be enshrined for all eternity. 15 of the nominees have already been announced. Those 15 include two coaches, three contributors, and 10 senior nominees. You can find the list of those 15 men by following this link. And you can try your hand at your own Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement predictions while you’re at it.
What about those missing categories?
The selection process is imperfect. Currently, the Pro Football Hall of Fame designates no category at all for assistant coaches. This must change in future years. Neither Michelin Man Wade Phillips or Norv Turner are among the all-time great NFL head coaches, but they are among the very best coordinators. The son of Bum Phillips deserves induction as a defensive coordinator, as does Turner as an offensive coordinator. Hopefully the league will create this category before they retire.
Likewise no category exists for special teams players. Devon Hester is the greatest return man in NFL history. Steve Tasker blocked punts. Bill Bates busted up wedges. Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, Mike Nelms, Van Sikahema, Dante Hall and Mel Gray all showed us how vital the return game is to football. Hester in particular must get in.
As for categories that do already exist, it is ludicrous that former Arizona Cardinals and San Diego Chargers coach Don “Air” Coryell is still waiting to get into the Hall of Fame.
HOF Enshrinement finalists
Problems aside, the 2020 suspense is only for which five modern-era players will join them. The forty-six voting sportswriters began with a list of 100 names. They later chopped it down to 25. Recently, they whittled it down to 15 finalists.
- Tony Boselli, Tackle – 1995-2001 Jacksonville Jaguars
- LeRoy Butler, Safety – 1990-2001 Green Bay Packers
- Steve Hutchinson, Guard – 2001-05 Seattle Seahawks, 2006-2011 Minnesota Vikings, 2012 Tennessee Titans
- Edgerrin James, Running Back – 1999-2005 Indianapolis Colts, 2006-08 Arizona Cardinals, 2009 Seattle Seahawks
- Troy Polamalu, Safety – 2003-2014 Pittsburgh Steelers
- Richard Seymour, Defensive End/Defensive Tackle – 2001-08 New England Patriots, 2009-2012 Oakland Raiders
- Reggie Wayne, Wide Receiver – 2001-2014 Indianapolis Colts
- Bryant Young, Defensive Tackle – 1994-2007 San Francisco 49ers
A case can be made to induct all 15 of these players. Choosing five is not a knock on the other 10. At some point they may all get in.
Every year produces one or two no-brainers. When Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith and Ray Lewis were nominated, those discussions probably took 60 seconds.
Our 2020 Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Predictions
The following five players deserve to be enshrined in Canton right now:
Isaac Bruce —
Bruce was the lead receiver on the “Greatest Show on Turf.” An ordained minister, “The Minister” even returned a kickoff for a touchdown. His quarterback Kurt Warner is in. Running back Marshall Faulk is in. Left tackle Orlando Pace is in. It is long past time for the top receiver on a team that scored at will to get in to the HOF. His time is now.
John Lynch —
Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks are in. Now the third member of the 2002 Buccaneers defensive triumvirate gets in. He stands as the hard-hitting safety that all teams running the Tampa 2 defensive scheme try to emulate. Forget that he is the General Manager of the current NFC Champion 49ers. This is about what he did as a player. He’s waited long enough. His wait is over.
Steve Atwater —
Atwater was one of the most feared safeties of all time. The only thing keeping him out of the Hall is the limit on the number of players allowed in every year. Lynch gets in before Atwater because Lynch was more vital to his team winning it all, while Atwates’s Broncos won games on offense. However, both men have been skipped over too many times. Atwater deserves induction.
Sam Mills —
When a statue of you exists outside a stadium, you mattered. “The Field Mouse” died of cancer at age 45, but this is not a sympathy vote. This linebacker was the leader of a defense that won two USFL Championships with the Philadelphia Stars. It is the Pro Football Hall of Fame, not the NFL Hall of Fame. His United States Football League stats matter. On top of that, his NFL career was fantastic. He led what may have been the greatest linebacking core of all time with the New Orleans Saints. Mills was the only player to start every single game in the expansion Carolina Panthers first three seasons. He became at age 37 the oldest defensive player ever selected to the Pro Bowl, his fifth trip. Jim Mora Sr. called Mills “The best player I ever coached.” Mills must get in.
The final spot comes down to Troy Polamalu and Zach Thomas. One of them won multiple Super Bowls. The other one never made it to the big game and will have to wait a year.
Troy Polamalu —
It may seem strange to have three of the five enshrinees play safety, but they all deserve to get in now. Polamalu was soft-spoken off the field and a brutal hitter on the field. He was the emotional leader of a defense that led the Steelers to three Super Bowls, winning two of them. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went 9 of 22 in the 2005 Super Bowl win, yet the Steelers still won. The defense held a very good Seattle Seahawks team to 10 points, and Polamalu was a major part of that effort.
And that’s it for this year’s Pro Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Predictions.
— Headline image: Old entrance to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. GNU license 1.2.