Power Ranking Every Hall of Fame Class in Pro Football History
This Saturday evening in Canton, Ohio (August 2), the Pro Football Hall of Fame welcomes its 52nd class, bringing the total count of members in the Hall to 287. One night later, the NFL preseason kicks off with the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game, featuring the Buffalo Bills and New York Giants.
To say one class is “worse” than another makes no sense when it comes to this prestigious honor. But here’s an attempt to add a little perspective in terms of the impact of these classes, a feat that makes for a fun stroll down memory lane as we honor the game’s greatest players and contributors along the way.
What were the criteria in terms of ranking? In terms of the players, a combination of sustained excellence on the field and impact on the game were the major factors. As for the coaches and contributors, we leaned toward championships and innovation. Take all those components and you make for 52 very difficult decisions.
And if you are looking for more information about the 287 enshrinees, here’s a shoutout to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, its staff and its website. They make it easy for writers like me to enjoy the history of this game even more, due in large part to their dedication and hard work.
Congratulations to the Class of 2014. Where do you think that groups ranks among the 52 entries on this prestigious list?
Enjoy yourself and take the time to soak in the memories.
52. Class of 1976
Coach Ray Flaherty, DE Len Ford, FB Jim Taylor
Taylor, the onetime Green Bay Packers fullback, would end his exceptional career in a New Orleans Saints uniform. But he was a vital cog in the Packers' effective ground attack and knew his way to the end zone.
End would be the better description for Ford, who began his career with the Cleveland Browns in the All-America Football Conference as a defender and pass-catcher but became a four-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman once he settled on one position.
Flaherty led the Washington Redskins to a pair of NFL titles (1937, 1942) before coaching in the AAFC.
51. Class of 1964
QB/Coach Jimmy Conzelman, T Ed Healey, FB Clarke Hinkle, T William Roy 'Link' Lyman, G Mike Michalske, Art Rooney, C George Trafton
Conzelman’s contributions on the field came with various teams but he also served as an owner. Conzelman also coached the then-Chicago Cardinals to the 1947 NFL championship, the franchise’s last league title.
Speaking of owners, the Pittsburgh Steelers had not enjoyed any success in their first three-plus decades under Rooney. But that would certainly change with hiring of head coach Chuck Noll in 1969, and the rest is NFL history.
Healey, Lyman, Michalske and Trafton all made their mark in the league’s early days, as did Hinkle, whose versatility was the key to a stellar career.
50. Class of 1970
S Jack Christiansen, End Tom Fears, RB Hugh McElhenny, End Pete Pihos
Before there was the performance of Cardinals’ Patrick Peterson in 2011, there was the talented Christiansen, who like Peterson also returned four punts for touchdowns as a rookie (1951). The rangy defender also picked off 46 passes, taking back three scores.
McElhenny was a member of the “Million Dollar Backfield” with the San Francisco 49ers (with Hall of Famers John Henry Johnson, Joe Perry and Y.A. Tittle). McElhenny, dubbed The King, was a six-time Pro Bowler.
Pihos led or tied for the league lead in receptions three straight seasons from 1953 to 1955, while Fears actually led the NFL in catches in each of his first three years in the league (1948-50).
49. Class of 1996
T Lou Creekmur, T Dan Dierdorf, Coach Joe Gibbs, WR Charlie Joiner, CB Mel Renfro
It's safe to say that Dierdorf, a native of Canton, Ohio, as well as Creekmur, could have teamed up to make one heckuva a tackle tandem.
Gibbs remains the only head coach in NFL history to win three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks, achieving that feat in his first of two stints with the Washington Redskins.
Joiner’s best years came with Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts and those amazing, talent-laden San Diego Chargers offenses.
Finally, Renfro was a mainstay in more than a few excellent secondaries for the Dallas Cowboys. The 10-time Pro Bowler also made four Super Bowl appearances and racked up a franchise-record 52 interceptions in 14 seasons with the club.
48. Class of 1968
RB Cliff Battles, DT Art Donovan, RB/End Elroy 'Crazylegs' Hirsch, End Wayne Millner, FB Marion Motley, RB/QB Charley Trippi, C/LB Alex Wojciechowicz
Talk about entertainment value. Along with being a standout defender, Donovan ranks right up there as one of the game’s great characters, and the stories of his playing days are legendary.
Hirsch was part of those high-scoring Los Angeles Rams teams of the 1950s with Hall of Fame quarterbacks Norm Van Brocklin and Bob Waterfield.
The massive Motley ran over defenders with regularity, while the versatile Trippi scored twice in the Cardinals’ last NFL title game win in 1947. Those were the days when the franchise was located in Chicago.
47. Class of 1972
Lamar Hunt, DE Gino Marchetti, RB Ollie Matson, QB Clarence 'Ace' Parker
The versatile Matson, a six-time Pro Bowler, was part of one of the biggest trades in NFL history, dealt by the then-Chicago Cardinals to the Los Angeles Rams in 1959 for an astonishing nine players.
Marchetti was a standout defender for the then-Baltimore Colts who specialized in getting to the quarterback.
Parker was a standout in the 1930s and '40s but played for just seven seasons, while Hunt was one of the original AFL founders and owners, and later, a guiding force behind the merger with the NFL.
46. Class of 1991
RB Earl Campbell, G John Hannah, G/DT Stan Jones, Tex Schramm, PK Jan Stenerud
Campbell, the “Tyler Rose,” was loved by the Oilers’ blue in Houston but not by opposing defenders trying to stop the imposing runner. Campbell led the NFL in rushing his first three seasons. For a quick sample, just sit back and enjoy the great highlight package above.
Many feel Hannah may be the best ever at his position, while Jones was a versatile seven-time Pro Bowler.
Finally, Stenerud remains the only pure place-kicker in this Hall of Fame. But in 2014, the star specialist was finally joined by another all-time great when it came to playing “just for kicks,” Ray Guy.
45. Class of 1974
RB Tony Canadeo, LB Bill George, T/PK Lou 'The Toe' Groza, CB Dick 'Night Train' Lane
Before there was Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary and Brian Urlacher in the Windy City, there was George—an eight-time Pro Bowler and one of the league’s first standouts at the position.
Another AAFC original with the Cleveland Browns dating back to 1946, Groza earned his nickname, The Toe, as a star kicker, following an all-star career at tackle.
Lane set an NFL record with 14 interceptions as a rookie in 1952, a mark which has still yet to be broken.
44. Class of 2002
Coach George Allen, TE Dave Casper, DT/DE Dan Hampton, QB Jim Kelly, WR John Stallworth
From the “Ghost to the Post” to the “Holy Roller,” Casper was the perfect complement to wideouts Fred Biletnikoff and Cliff Branch in the Oakland Raiders’ passing attack.
Hampton was a key cog in those great Chicago Bears defenses of the 1980s, while Kelly led the Buffalo Bills to a record four straight Super Bowls. The latter’s recent battle with cancer has been well-documented, but he has been named the Bills’ honorary captain for the 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame Game.
Stallworth always came up big for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs via his share of key receptions, while the passionate Allen did things his way (and for good results) with the Los Angeles Rams and Washington Redskins.
43. Class of 1966
RB Bill Dudley, RB Joe Guyon, QB Arnie Herber, G/Coach Walt Kiesling, RB George McAfee, T/Coach Steve Owen, Hugh 'Shorty' Ray, C/LB Clyde 'Bulldog' Turner
Best known for his days in Pittsburgh with the Steelers, Dudley led the NFL in 1946 in rushing, interceptions and returning punts and earned the nickname Bullet.
Herber, born in Green Bay, Wisconsin, was part of four championship teams with the Green Bay Packers and teamed with fellow Hall of Famer Don Hutson to form one of the game’s early great passing tandems.
Ray was the league’s supervisor of officials from 1938 to 1952, while Owen coached the New York Giants to a pair of titles during his 24 years at the helm of Big Blue.
42. Class of 1984
CB Willie Brown, T Mike McCormack, WR Charley Taylor, DT Arnie Weinmeister
The crafty Brown began his playing career with the Denver Broncos and then was traded to the Oakland Raiders (imagine that!). By the time it was over, he picked off 54 passes, not including his memorable 75-yard return for a score in Oakland’s Super Bowl XI win over the Vikings.
Taylor was one of the best receivers of his era, and his 79 touchdown receptions came on just 649 catches.
McCormack made his name on the Cleveland Browns offensive line, while Weinmeister was a defensive force in the late 1940s and early '50s.
41. Class of 1998
S Paul Krause, WR Tommy McDonald, T Anthony Munoz, LB Mike Singletary, C Dwight Stephenson
There are those who never understood why it took so long for Krause, the NFL’s all-time interception leader, to take his rightful place in Canton. He picked off 81 passes in his days with the Washington Redskins and mostly, the Minnesota Vikings.
Stephenson’s career was cut short by a devastating knee injury, but his impact was memorable. He was named to five Pro Bowls in eight seasons and helped lead the Miami Dolphins to a pair of Super Bowl appearances.
Some feel Munoz was the best lineman to ever play the game, and few would argue. Like Stephenson, he was also on a pair of Super Bowl squads (Cincinnati Bengals) and was named to 11 Pro Bowls.
One look into Singletary’s eyes and you knew he meant business, while the exuberant McDonald is the Hall of Fame’s all-time chest-bump leader and knew his way to the end zone.
40. Class of 1981
End Morris 'Red' Badgro, QB/PK George Blanda, DE Willie Davis, C Jim Ringo
For a long time, 2,002 and 26 were magic numbers in NFL history. And while Blanda’s career point total of 2,002 has been long since surpassed (he still ranks seventh all time), his 26 seasons played remains a record.
Davis began his career with the Cleveland Browns but earned glory in Titletown after being dealt to the Green Bay Packers.
Badgro was a two-sport standout and returned to football after a stint in baseball.
Ringo was a 10-time Pro Bowler, earning seven invitations with Green Bay and three more with the Philadelphia Eagles.
39. Class of 1969
T Albert Glen 'Turk' Edwards, Coach Earle 'Greasy' Neale, DT Leo Nomellini, RB Joe Perry, DT Ernie Stautner
Neale was certainly slick, leading the Philadelphia Eagles to three straight NFL title games (1947 to '49) and winning championships in his second and third tries.
Perry was with the pre- and post-AAFC San Francisco 49ers (who joined the NFL in 1950) and became the first player to rush for 1,000-plus yards in consecutive seasons (1953 and 1954).
Stautner was an imposing force on the Pittsburgh Steelers defense and went on to even further recognition as a Dallas Cowboys assistant coach.
38. Class of 2008
DE Fred Dean, CB Darrell Green, WR Art Monk, CB Emmitt Thomas, LB Andre Tippett, T Gary Zimmerman
Monk was one of the most reliable wideouts in the league and a key cog in Gibbs’ offenses with the Washington Redskins.
Green’s amazing speed was a constant for 20 seasons in Washington, while the pass-rushing Dean began his career with the San Diego Chargers and later went on to Super Bowl glory with the San Francisco 49ers.
Thomas was a mainstay in those great Kansas City Chiefs defenses in the 1960s and '70s, totaling a team-record 58 interceptions.
Tippett was the New England Patriots’ answer to fellow Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor, while the reliable Zimmerman was a force up front for both the Minnesota Vikings and Denver Broncos.
37. Class of 2003
RB Marcus Allen, DE Elvin Bethea, G Joe DeLamielleure, WR James Lofton, Coach Hank Stram
A former Heisman Trophy winner, Allen’s second season with the Silver and Black saw him garner Super Bowl XVIII MVP honors. His “reversal of fortune” run against the Washington Redskins that day is one of the game’s most electrifying plays.
Lofton was one of league’s deep threats, and Bethea was a steady force on the Houston Oilers’ defensive fronts, playing alongside Class of 2013 inductee Curley Culp.
While DeLamielleure was as reliable on the offensive front as any player, the show-stopper here is Stram. His “65 Toss Power Trap” still rings in the ears of football fans who watched and later listened to the Kansas City Chiefs head coach when he was miked for Super Bowl IV.
36. Class of 1965
QB John 'Paddy' Driscoll, G Dan Fortmann, QB Otto Graham, QB Sid Luckman, RB Steve Van Buren, QB Bob Waterfield
Rumor has it that the NFL is a quarterback-driven league these days, but this was quite the quarterback-led class. Waterfield shared the spotlight with the Los Angeles Rams with fellow Hall of Famer Van Brocklin.
Meanwhile, Luckman remains the Chicago Bears’ all-time leader with 137 touchdown passes and helped lead the franchise to four of its nine NFL titles.
Then there was Graham, who was 10-for-10 in reaching title games, winning seven league championships with the Cleveland Browns of the AAFC (four) and later the Browns of the NFL (three).
Van Buren ran for 1,000-plus yards with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1947 and ’49, the first player to achieve that feat twice.
35. Class of 2012
CB Jack Butler, C Dermontti Dawson, DE Chris Doleman, DT Cortez Kennedy, RB Curtis Martin, T Willie Roaf
It was a nuts-and-bolts class that included four of the best in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
2012's class also included one of the premier defenders in his era (Butler) and the league’s fourth all-time leading rusher in Martin, who ran for 14,101 yards with the New England Patriots and New York Jets and began his career with 10 straight 1,000-yard seasons. His words on the night of his induction into the Hall proved productive as well.
Roaf was an 11-time Pro Bowler with the New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs, and Doleman went from linebacker to all-star defensive end.
Dawson continued the fine tradition of centers with the Pittsburgh Steelers, while Kennedy was the 1992 NFL Defensive Player of the Year for the 2-14 Seattle Seahawks.
34. Class of 1994
RB Tony Dorsett, Coach Bud Grant, CB Jimmy Johnson, RB Leroy Kelly, TE Jackie Smith, DT Randy White
Dorsett (formerly DOR-sett) went from national champion and Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Pittsburgh to Super Bowl champion as a rookie with the Dallas Cowboys.
Dorsett got a lot of help from White, who was co-MVP of the Super Bowl XII win over the Denver Broncos. Smith enjoyed a stellar career with the St. Louis Cardinals but is often remembered for a moment in Super Bowl XIII while with the Dallas Cowboys.
Grant led the Vikings to four Super Bowls in an eight-year span (1969-76) and the Purple Gang hasn’t been back since. Finally, Kelly was a terrific performer who followed in the great tradition of Cleveland Browns running backs, scoring a combined 90 touchdowns and leading the NFL in rushing in 1967 and 1968.
33. Class of 1975
T Roosevelt Brown, T/LB George Connor, End Dante Lavelli, FL/RB Lenny Moore
Brown was a mainstay on the New York Giants’ offensive front and a nine-time Pro Bowler.
Meanwhile, Connor played virtually everywhere during his career with the Chicago Bears, earning all-league honors on both the offensive and defensive lines as well as linebacker.
Lavelli was one of Otto Graham’s favorite targets with the Cleveland Browns, while the unheralded Moore is sometimes lost in the discussion of versatile performers. His 113 touchdowns for the Baltimore Colts came via 63 runs, 48 receptions and a pair of returns.
32. Class of 1995
Jim Finks, DT Henry Jordan, WR Steve Largent, DE Lee Roy Selmon, TE Kellen Winslow
While Finks was once a quarterback and defensive back for the Pittsburgh Steelers for a seven-year stretch from 1949 to 55, he is in the Hall due to the fact that he was the architect of numerous teams (Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings).
Finally, the additions of Largent and Selmon gave the once-expansion Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, respectively, their first true Hall of Famers. And perhaps it’s ironic that in 2014, long-time Seahawks tackle Walter Jones and star Buccaneers outside linebacker Derrick Brooks are entering Canton together.
31. Class of 1992
CB Lem Barney, Al Davis, TE John Mackey, RB John Riggins
The talented Barney (with a terrific singing voice) also made music in the Detroit Lions secondary, picking off 56 passes in 11 seasons.
Mackey was a massive target with big-play ability and personified the position for years. The always entertaining Riggins personified the term workhorse, as evidenced by his memorable touchdown run for the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XVII.
Last but not least, Davis’ passion for the Silver and Black, as well as the game itself, made him a transcendent figure in football lore.
30. Class of 2001
LB Nick Buoniconti, Coach Marv Levy, G Mike Munchak, T Jackie Slater, WR Lynn Swann, T Ron Yary, DE Jack Youngblood
Former New England Patriots star turned Miami Dolphins star Buoniconti was indeed a name on the 1970s' No Name Defense, while Yary, Munchak and Slater (the latter of whom played 20 seasons with the Rams) were mainstays on their respective units on the offensive line.
The exuberant Youngblood could play defensive end with the best of them while Swann’s acrobatics led to some of the most memorable catches ever
Levy remains the only coach to take a team (Buffalo Bills) to four straight Super Bowls.
29. Class of 1978
WR Lance Alworth, Coach Weeb Ewbank, RB Alphonse 'Tuffy' Leemans, LB Ray Nitschke, S Larry Wilson
Ewbank was the Baltimore Colts head coach in the 1958 NFL title game (defeating the New York Giants in overtime), then led the New York Jets to their stunning Super Bowl upset of the same Colts franchise 10 years later.
Alworth earned the nickname Bambi and nary could a defensive player catch him, as he starred with the San Diego Chargers and ended his career with the Dallas Cowboys. Wilson knew how to get to an opposing quarterback in various ways, either via the blitz or evidenced by his 52 career interceptions.
Nitschke was the emotional backbone of the Green Bay Packers defenses (and played a pretty good game in the original version of The Longest Yard).
28. Class of 1986
RB Paul Hornung, S Ken Houston, LB Willie Lanier, QB Fran Tarkenton, RB Doak Walker
The “Golden Boy,” Hornung, could do it all for the Green Bay Packers, teaming often with Hall of Fame fullback Jim Taylor to give the team quite the punch.
Lanier was the middle man with the Kansas City Chiefs on a linebacking corps that featured fellow inductee Bobby Bell and unheralded Jim Lynch.
Houston had a nose for the football, and Walker was a five-time All-Star in six seasons with the Detroit Lions. Meanwhile, Tarkenton frustrated opposing defensive linemen with his scrambling ability and accuracy as a member of the Minnesota Vikings and New York Giants.
27. Class of 2005
QB Benny Friedman, QB Dan Marino, RB/Coach Fritz Pollard, QB Steve Young
Marino burst onto the NFL scene during the 1983 season, and you could only marvel at his quick release and production, his then-NFL record 48 touchdown passes and 5,084 passing yards each standing for at least two decades.
Young went from elusive running quarterback to six-time NFL passing champion and got the Super Bowl monkey off his back in Super Bowl XXIX.
Friedman played for numerous teams during the league’s early days in the 1920s and '30s, throwing a then-rookie record 11 touchdown passes as a first-year player with the Cleveland Bulldogs. And before Art Shell graced the sidelines for the Raiders in 1989, there was Pollard, the league’s first African-American head coach in 1921 with Akron.
26. Class of 2014
LB Derrick Brooks, P Ray Guy, DE Claude Humphrey, T Walter Jones, WR Andre Reed, DE Michael Strahan, DB Aeneas Williams
After years and years of waiting for the Hall to induct a punter, certainly a vital member of any football team, here is Guy, who was not any ordinary guy when it came to kicking.
Reed was a favorite target of fellow Hall of Famer Jim Kelly. The star wideout ranks 11th in NFL history with 951 receptions and was part of the Buffalo Bills’ four straight Super Bowl appearances in the 1990s.
Humphrey was a standout on those early Atlanta Falcons teams and would wind up reaching the Super Bowl with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1980. Meanwhile, Jones blocked everything in his path, was a nine-time Pro Bowler in 12 seasons with the Seattle Seahawks and started all 180 regular-season games he played in.
Finally, this class also includes some of the most opportunistic defensive players in recent history.
Strahan totaled 141.5 sacks in 15 seasons and closed his career with a Super Bowl XLII win over the New England Patriots.
Williams totaled 55 interceptions with the Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals, returned nine of those thefts for scores and also returned three fumbles for touchdowns.
Finally, Brooks was an 11-time Pro Bowler who totaled an impressive 25 interceptions in the regular season (six for touchdowns) and also had one of the team’s five interceptions (for a score, of course) of Oakland Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 48-21 win in Super Bowl XXXVII.
25. Class of 1982
DE Doug Atkins, LB Sam Huff, T/G George Musso, DT Merlin Olsen
It wasn't a big class that entered the Hall 32 years ago, and you would think that Musso had to feel a bit out of place. But a class dominated by defense also featured the versatile Chicago Bear, who played middle guard, offensive tackle and offensive guard for 12 seasons with the club.
Atkins was one of the most fearsome defenders of his generation and a true Monster of the Midway with the Chicago Bears, while Huff was one of the glamour middle linebackers of his era, excelling with both the New York Giants and later the Washington Redskins.
Olsen may have been better known years later as television’s “Father Murphy” or doing commercials for FTD but there was no denying his tenacity or impact, as he was named to a record-tying 14 consecutive Pro Bowls with the Los Angeles Rams.
24. Class of 2011
DE Richard Dent, RB Marshall Faulk, LB Chris Hanburger, LB/C Les Richter, Ed Sabol, CB Deion Sanders, TE Shannon Sharpe
Dent harassed quarterbacks into submission and was Super Bowl XX MVP in the Chicago Bears’ decisive win over the New England Patriots.
From opposite sides of the ball, both Faulk and Sanders were threats to score every time they got their hands on it. Sanders was also a threat on returns and later in spot roles as a receiver.
Sabol changed the way we watched football as the pioneer of NFL Films, while Hanburger was a nine-time Pro Bowler who waited much too long to get into the Hall.
Finally, the productive Sharpe was the member of three championship teams in a four-year span with the Denver Broncos and later, the Baltimore Ravens. But it’s the love he showed for his brother, Sterling Sharpe, and his grandmother that memorable evening in Canton that resonates with most.
23. Class of 1989
CB Mel Blount, QB Terry Bradshaw, T Art Shell, S Willie Wood
The parade of Pittsburgh Steelers into the Hall continued to come with the addition of two more standouts from the franchise’s glory days of the 1970s.
Bradshaw led the Steelers to four Super Bowl titles in six seasons and always came up big in those games, capturing Super Bowl MVP honors twice with a pair of 300-plus-yard performances in victories over the Dallas Cowboys (XIII) and Los Angeles Rams (XIV).
There was also the physical Blount, who had unfair size for a cornerback (6'3") and took full advantage of it.
Wood was part of those championship Green Bay Packers defensive units of his era, while the massive Shell teamed with fellow Hall of Famer/guard Gene Upshaw to keep the left side of the Oakland Raiders offense safe—paving the way for a variety of running backs while keeping the team’s quarterback out of harm’s way.
22. Class of 1997
CB Mike Haynes, Wellington Mara, Coach Don Shula, C Mike Webster
No head coach in NFL history has won more games than Shula, so enough said for the former sideline leader of both the Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins.
While he won just two titles, he is the only head coach to make six Super Bowl appearances. Of course, he also led the undefeated 1972 Dolphins to not only perfection but immortality.
Haynes was one of the great cornerbacks of this or any era, enjoying an excellent career with the New England Patriots and then moving on to the Los Angeles Raiders, where he was an important part of the team’s Super Bowl XVIII win over the explosive Washington Redskins.
Mara’s impact with the Giants and around the league can’t be understated, while Webster was a pivotal cog during the Pittsburgh Steelers’ dynasty of the '70s.
21. Class of 2007
G Gene Hickerson, WR Michael Irvin, OL Bruce Matthews, TE Charlie Sanders, RB Thurman Thomas, CB Roger Wehrli
The first of the “Triplets” to arrive in Dallas (1988), Irvin’s leadership and intensity was a big part of three Super Bowl titles with the Dallas Cowboys. His passion as a player and a human being was on full display in August of 2007 in Canton via one of the most stirring induction speeches in recent history.
Wehrli was a star with the St. Louis Cardinals and a top ball hawk, totaling 59 takeaways (including 40 interceptions) during his career. Hickerson was a mainstay on the Cleveland Browns offensive line and paved the way for Hall of Fame runners Jim Brown, Bobby Mitchell and Leroy Kelly.
Sanders was one of the Detroit Lions' most reliable pass-catchers, Matthews was named to a record-tying 14 Pro Bowls, and Thomas was the model of versatility in the Buffalo Bills’ Super Bowl backfields.
20. Class of 2009
WR Bob Hayes, G Randall McDaniel, DE Bruce Smith, LB Derrick Thomas, Ralph Wilson Jr., CB/S Rod Woodson
There's not a lot of good news here if you were an opposing quarterback. Smith (200.0) and Thomas (126.5), who combined for 326.5 sacks, were two of the best pass-rushers of their era. Woodson not only ranked third in NFL history with 71 interceptions but took back a record 12 for scores.
The steady McDaniel was a Pro Bowl regular, primarily with the Minnesota Vikings, while Hayes brought his Olympic speed to the Dallas Cowboys.
Wilson was one of the original owners in the AFL and remained very active with his Buffalo Bills until his passing earlier back in late March, as documented by NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal roughly four months ago.
19. Class of 1973
WR Raymond Berry, G/T Jim Parker, LB Joe Schmidt
What the'’73 class lacked in numbers it made up for in sheer excellence. Berry was the ultimate perfectionist in terms of route running, forming a legendary rapport with quarterback Johnny Unitas.
Parker was a big part of those Baltimore Colts teams as well, earning a combined eight Pro Bowl invitations at both guard and tackle.
Schmidt was a 10-time Pro Bowler and the superb middle man on the Detroit Lions defenses of the 1950s and early '60s.
18. Class of 2013
G Larry Allen, WR Cris Carter, DT Curley Culp, T Jonathan Ogden, Coach Bill Parcells, LB Dave Robinson, DT Warren Sapp
The Class of 2013 is a pretty impressive group, spearheaded by Parcells, the only head coach in NFL history to take four different franchises (New York Giants, New England Patriots, New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys) to the playoffs. The two-time Super Bowl champion earned both titles with the G-Men (XXI and XXV), and legend has it that the coach was the first to be showered with Gatorade from his players.
Carter certainly waited a while to get in and did more than just catch 130 touchdowns, his 1,101 grabs ranking fourth in NFL history. The aggressive Sapp brought heat up the middle during his prime with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, one of the better defensive units of the late 1990s and early 2000s, and finished his stellar career with the Oakland Raiders.
Ogden was the first player drafted by the Baltimore Ravens (1996) and is the franchise’s first primary Hall of Famer. The massive blocker played a dozen seasons for the club and was named to the Pro Bowl in each of his final 11 campaigns.
Robinson and Culp were key parts of championship teams with the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs, respectively, although Culp was perhaps better known for his days at nose tackle with the Houston Oilers.
17. Class of 2004
T Bob 'Boomer' Brown, DE Carl Eller, QB John Elway, RB Barry Sanders
Those fabled Purple People Eaters defenses of the Minnesota Vikings featured the menacing Eller, who got after opposing quarterbacks on a steady basis.
Brown went to a total of six Pro Bowls with three different teams (Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams and Oakland Raiders).
Elway is one of only two quarterbacks (Tom Brady) to start five Super Bowls, and his final two seasons saw him crowned an NFL champion. And it was somewhat appropriate that in his final appearance with the Denver Broncos (at least as a player), he was named Super Bowl XXXIII MVP in the team’s 34-19 win over the Atlanta Falcons and onetime Denver head coach Dan Reeves.
And perhaps there was no runner like Sanders, whose amazing feet and moves saw him rush for 1,300-plus yards nine times in 10 seasons with the Detroit Lions.
16. Class of 2006
QB Troy Aikman, LB Harry Carson, Coach John Madden, QB Warren Moon, DE Reggie White, T Rayfield Wright
Madden Curse? The former Oakland Raiders coach is a Super Bowl champion, was an iconic broadcaster and has done pretty well with that video game of his.
Moon began his career in Canada for all the wrong reasons and would then go on to light up the National Football League once he moved south. Between his exploits in the CFL and the NFL, the strong-armed signal-caller threw for more than 70,000 yards and 435 touchdown passes.
Aikman’s accuracy and demeanor made him the perfect field general for the talented 1990s Dallas Cowboys, who would win three Super Bowls in a four-year span.
But both he and Moon had to deal with White, who harassed anyone in the opposing backfield courtesy of his strength and quickness, and embarrassed more than one hardworking blocker along the way.
15. Class of 1999
RB Eric Dickerson, G Tom Mack, TE Ozzie Newsome, G Billy Shaw, LB Lawrence Taylor
Dickerson’s first two seasons in the league with the Los Angeles Rams saw him total a rookie rushing record 1,808 yards in 1983 and an NFL-record 2,105 yards in ’84.
Shaw and Mack were reliable to say the least, the latter an 11-time Pro Bowler. Newsome was the sure-handed component in the Cleveland Browns’ passing attack and is now one of the best executives in the game with the Baltimore Ravens.
But what can you say about Taylor? He revolutionized the 3-4 outside linebacking position, brought rarely seen ferocity to the game, and basically began the movement of making sacks an official statistic after his rookie season in 1981.
14. Class of 2000
DE Howie Long, CB/S Ronnie Lott, QB Joe Montana, Dan Rooney, LB Dave Wilcox
This class definitely had a West Coast feel to it, and it’s led by Montana, still the only three-time MVP in the Super Bowl, a game he helped the San Francisco 49ers win four times courtesy of 11 touchdown passes and zero interceptions.
Lott, Montana’s teammate with the Niners, was one of the league’s most physical players and was also on all four of those championship teams.
Wilcox was part of the steady Niners defenses of the 1960s and ’70s. Long has made an impact talking about the game and a bigger impact when striking opposing quarterbacks.
And what can you say about the impact Rooney had around the league? He is joined by his father, Art Rooney Sr., in the halls of Canton.
13. Class of 1990
DT Junious 'Buck' Buchanan, QB Bob Griese, RB Franco Harris, LB Ted Hendricks, LB Jack Lambert, Coach Tom Landry, T Bob St. Clair
Buchanan was a key member of those imposing Kansas City Chiefs defensive units, a defense that hammered the Minnesota Vikings into submission in Super Bowl IV.
Griese took the Miami Dolphins to three straight Super Bowls and won the last two (VII and VIII), which was followed by the dynastic Pittsburgh Steelers, featuring Harris (MVP of Super Bowl IX) and Lambert. The latter spoke to Howard Cosell of ABC’s Monday Night Football some 30-plus years ago, and it's safe to say, he might have his issues with today’s rules that apparently favor quarterbacks.
Both the talented Hendricks and the massive St. Clair were characters, but the opposition didn’t find anything too funny about lining up against them.
Finally, Landry was the Dallas Cowboys head coach for the franchise’s first 29 seasons and took the team to five Super Bowls, winning a pair of titles in 1971 (Super Bowl VI) and 1977 (Super Bowl XII).
12. Class of 1983
LB/DE Bobby Bell, Coach Sid Gillman, QB Sonny Jurgensen, WR/RB Bobby Mitchell, WR Paul Warfield
Regarded as the father of the modern passing game, Gillman’s impact on the game is legendary. Best known for his days with the San Diego Chargers, he helped make the American Football League and pro football in general the entertaining entity that it has become.
Speaking of throwing, Jurgensen could toss it with the best of them, starring for both the Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles. His 255 career touchdown passes still ranks 13th in league history.
Mitchell was a threat to score most times he had the ball and did it in a variety of ways. In a combined 11 seasons with the Cleveland Browns and Redskins, he found the end zone 91 times while receiving (65), rushing (18), and returning punts (three) and kickoffs (five).
Warfield was the big-play component for the Browns as well as the Miami Dolphins, totaling 85 touchdown receptions in 13 NFL seasons.
The amazing Bell was a nine-time Pro Bowler who picked off 26 passes (for 479 yards) and ran six of those interceptions back for scores. He would be an ideal fit in today’s NFL with the league’s emphasis on defensive versatility—even at the ripe young age of 64.
11. Class of 1987
RB Larry Csonka, QB Len Dawson, DT Joe Greene, RB John Henry Johnson, C Jim Langer, WR Don Maynard, G Gene Upshaw
The great Oakland Raiders/Pittsburgh Steelers rivalry of the 1970s (still the only teams to face each other in the playoffs five consecutive years) was personified by Upshaw and Greene. The former would go on to a stellar career both on and off the field, and helped lead the Silver and Black to three Super Bowl appearances and a pair of NFL championships.
Meanwhile, Greene was Pittsburgh’s first draft choice of the Chuck Noll era in Pittsburgh in 1969, and he terrorized opposing offenses from day one. Still, the 10-time Pro Bowler and four-time Super Bowl champion apparently had time to drink and smile.
Johnson was a workhorse for several teams, and Langer the anchor of one of the best offensive lines of his era—a well-schooled unit that blocked for Csonka and others. The hard-charging fullback remains the Miami Dolphins’ all-time leading rusher and was part of a pair of championship teams, capturing Super Bowl VIII MVP honors.
Maynard was Joe Namath’s favorite target with the New York Jets, who would go on to win Super Bowl III. One season later, the Kansas City Chiefs captured Super Bowl IV and the unsung Dawson was the game’s MVP.
10. Class of 1977
RB/FL Frank Gifford, T/G Forrest Gregg, RB Gale Sayers, QB Bart Starr, MG Bill Willis
Starr was Vince Lombardi’s field general with the Green Bay Packers, leading the team to five NFL championships while being named MVP of the first two Super Bowls.
Starr got plenty of help from Gregg, a Pro Bowl stalwart on the Packers’ talented offensive front. Gifford was named to eight Pro Bowls and was as versatile as they come, even playing in the secondary.
Willis was a two-way performer with the Cleveland Browns but was a standout in the middle of the defensive line, earning three trips to the Pro Bowl.
And what can you say that hasn’t been said about the Kansas Comet, as Sayers electrified the league during his short but impressive career.
9. Class of 1980
CB Herb Adderley, DE David 'Deacon' Jones, DT Bob Lilly, C Jim Otto
The longtime pivot on some of the great Oakland Raiders offensive fronts, Otto’s number (00) was as famous as his stellar play.
Adderley was a solid corner and scored the first defensive touchdown in Super Bowl history (60-yard interception return in Super Bowl II) for the Green Bay Packers.
The relentless Jones, who passed away in June of 2103, not only coined the term “quarterback sack,” he got plenty of them, the majority with the Rams’ Fearsome Foursome.
Lilly was the first player ever drafted by the Dallas Cowboys and was a rock on their talented defensive lines seemingly forever.
8. Class of 1967
C/LB Chuck Bednarik, Charles W. Bidwill Sr., Coach Paul Brown, QB Bobby Layne, Dan Reeves, RB Ken Strong, T Joe Stydahar, S Emlen Tunnell
Layne epitomized the rough-and-tumble game of the 1950s and did most of his best work in Detroit, where he led the Lions to three championships. Speaking of rough, Bednarik played both ways (center and linebacker) and was a star at both, earning the nickname Concrete Charlie.
Reeves—not the running back and celebrated head coach—was the owner of the Rams from 1941 to 1971 and oversaw the franchise’s move west in 1946. The team won NFL titles in 1945 and 1951 in Cleveland and Los Angeles, respectively.
Strong was a star in the early decades of the game and was a New York kind of guy, playing professional football in two different leagues (NFL and AFL) and for teams based in Staten Island and New York. Both Bidwill and Stydahar toiled in the Windy City for nine seasons, the former as an owner for the Cardinals and Stydahar as a blocker for the Bears.
Tunnell picked off 79 passes during his career, second most in NFL annals, while Brown brought many things to the game and was one of the most important innovators and head coaches in the history of professional football.
7. Class of 1985
C Frank Gatski, QB Joe Namath, Pete Rozelle, RB O.J. Simpson, QB Roger Staubach
Namath was the game’s first 4,000-yard passer in 1967 and made good on his guarantee of a win in Super Bowl III.
Meanwhile, Simpson was the league’s first 2,000-yard rusher, achieving that feat in 1973 with the Buffalo Bills during a 14-game season.
Rozelle’s impact on the National Football League can’t be overstated, and his contributions are perhaps the biggest reason the league has turned into the television product it is today.
Like Simpson, Staubach was a Heisman Trophy winner, and his “Captain Comeback” exploits saw him lead Landry’s Dallas Cowboys to four Super Bowl appearances in an eight-year span, winning titles in 1971 and 1977 and earning MVP honors in Super Bowl VI.
6. Class of 1988
WR Fred Biletnikoff, TE Mike Ditka, LB Jack Ham, DT Alan Page
This is a legendary quartet, and it has to start with Page, the first defensive player to be named the league’s Most Valuable Player. And to think, Page was actually on the Hall’s construction crew when he was a young man in Canton.
Biletnikoff caught everything, sometimes without his hands thanks to a little stickum, but he was clutch and the MVP of the Oakland Raiders’ Super Bowl XI win over the Minnesota Vikings.
Ham’s instincts were amazing. He totaled 32 interceptions and recovered 21 opponent fumbles during the Pittsburgh Steelers’ heydays of the 1970s. And Ditka (a 1,000-yard receiver as a rookie with the Chicago Bears) was the first tight end voted into the Hall of Fame.
5. Class of 1979
LB Dick Butkus, S Yale Lary, T Ron Mix, QB Johnny Unitas
There wasn’t a lot Lary couldn’t do as he excelled as a safety (50 interceptions) and punter (44.3-yard career average). He was also a threat as a return artist.
Mix was one of the finest players in AFL history. Meanwhile, Butkus epitomized the physical nature of the game and was simply relentless.
To this day, many insist Unitas was the game’s great quarterback, although one of his most fabled records (47 consecutive games with a touchdown pass) has now been surpassed by New Orleans Saints signal-caller Drew Brees (54 games) and New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (52 games).
4. Class of 1963
QB Sammy Baugh, Bert Bell, Joe Carr, QB Earl 'Dutch' Clark, RB Harold 'Red' Grange, Coach George Halas, C Mel Hein, T Wilbur 'Pete' Henry, T Robert 'Cal' Hubbard, End Don Hutson, Coach Earl 'Curly' Lambeau, Tim Mara, George Preston Marshall, RB John 'Blood' McNally, FB Bronko Nagurski, FB Ernie Nevers, RB Jim Thorpe
This charter class includes the legendary names of the game, with trophies and stadiums named after them to boot.
Halas was a founder, owner and player as well as a coach. “Papa Bear” was the Chicago Bears.
Baugh was “slingin” the ball all over the place and not only made his mark as a quarterback but one of the game’s greatest punters. For good measure, Baugh also picked off 31 passes as a defensive back.
Thorpe was not only an attraction on the field but was the league’s first president in 1920. He was succeeded by Carr from 1921 to 1939. Years later, Bell was the NFL’s commissioner, serving in that role from 1946 to 1959.
Elsewhere, Nevers still owns the NFL record for points scored in a game (40), while the names Grange and Nagurski just sound like football, and with good reason.
Hutson was so far ahead of his time, it boggles the mind. He still ranks ninth in league history with an amazing 99 touchdown receptions. That astounding total came on just 488 catches in 11 seasons with the Green Bay Packers (1935-45).
3. Class of 1971
RB Jim Brown, End Bill Hewitt, T Frank 'Bruiser' Kinard, Coach Vince Lombardi, DE Andy Robustelli, QB Y.A. Tittle, QB Norm Van Brocklin
When your class starts with arguably the greatest running back in the game’s history (Brown) and along the way includes perhaps the best head coach in NFL history (Lombardi), it speaks volumes.
Brown’s 12,312 yards rushing still ranks ninth in NFL history. He also scored 126 touchdowns (106 rushing, 20 receiving) in 118 regular-season contests.
Lombardi took a struggling Green Bay Packers program, led it to five league titles in the 1960s and has today’s Super Bowl trophy named after him. Enough said.
Of course, the rest of this group is pretty impressive in its own right. Quarterbacks Tittle and Van Brocklin made their impressive marks as well, the latter still holding to this day the single-game record for passing yards in a game (554 yards versus the New York Yanks in 1951).
2. Class of 2010
G Russ Grimm, LB Rickey Jackson, CB Dick LeBeau, RB Floyd Little, DT John Randle, WR Jerry Rice, RB Emmitt Smith
It doesn’t hurt when your group includes the NFL’s all-time receiving leader and touchdown scorer in Rice. Then add the league’s all-time rushing leader in Smith, who also ranks second in career touchdowns behind Rice.
LeBeau is more known these days as the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator, but he was a terrific corner. He currently ranks tied for ninth in league annals with 62 interceptions.
Randle totaled 137.5 career sacks for the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks. Not bad for not being drafted.
Little was one of the early stars for the Denver Broncos, while Grimm was a pivotal part of The Hogs, who paved the way for running back John Riggins and protected Joe Gibbs’ numerous quarterbacks with the Washington Redskins.
Jackson made his mark on a great linebacking unit with the New Orleans Saints but found Super Bowl glory with the San Francisco 49ers in 1994 (XXIX).
1. Class of 1993
QB Dan Fouts, G Larry Little, Coach Chuck Noll, RB Walter Payton, Coach Bill Walsh
Sadly, here is a class that entered the Hall just 21 years ago, but with the passing of Noll in mid-June (recapped by Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com), only two of the five legends (Fouts and Little) are still with us.
Little was a big part of the Miami Dolphins’ success in the 1970s, paving the way for Hall of Famer Larry Csonka, as well as running backs Jim Kiick and Mercury Morris.
Fouts led some of the most exciting offenses in the history of the game, while Payton, nicknamed Sweetness, was one of the greatest runners in the game’s annals and remains the Chicago Bears’ all-time leader in rushing yards and receptions.
And when you have the architects of the Pittsburgh Steelers (Noll) and San Francisco 49ers’ (Walsh) dynasties of the 1970s and 1980s, respectively, this is a group that’s pretty hard to top.