Seau was widely regarded as the one automatic selection in this year’s class. Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said during the week that he could not imagine a Hall of Fame without Seau, who was in his first year of eligibility.
“It’s obviously got to happen,” Belichick said earlier in the week.
Seau was a 12-time Pro Bowl selection during a career that included the Chargers, Miami Dolphins and Patriots. He was named to the all-decade team of the 1990s and was the NFL’s defensive player of the year in ’92.
“The one word that comes to me when I think of Junior in life and football [is] passion,” Belichick said. “He’s a very passionate guy — lot of energy, lot of enthusiasm.”
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said during the week he had “no doubt” that Seau would be elected.
“He was a phenomenal player, teammate, friend,” Brady said. “His attitude was infectious. He brought enthusiasm every day to practice. He showed up in the room and he’d be the first person there at 6 in the morning on the treadmill running, going into his 18th year in the league.
“He had a love for life and he’s missed by all of his family and friends, and certainly by me and the guys that had a chance to be around him. He was a special person. … If he can’t make it, nobody can. He’s truly one of a kind. It was a privilege playing with him,” Brady said.
Seau died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in May 2012 at age 43.
“This is a huge honor for our family,” said Seau’s son, Tyler. “It’s definitely with a heavy heart because it should be him.”
Bettis was a six-time Pro Bowler for the Los Angeles and St. Louis Rams and Pittsburgh Steelers. He is the sixth-leading rusher in NFL history with 13,662 yards and ended his career in glorious fashion with a Super Bowl triumph with the Steelers to cap the 2005 season.
“To think a little fat kid from Detroit who had never played football until high school could ascend to this level… at no time did I ever feel I had the ability to get to the Hall of Fame,” Bettis said.
Brown has the sixth-most receiving yards in league history with 14,934. He played for the Los Angeles and Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers and also was a game-breaking return man.
“You know you have to wait your turn,” Brown said. “I came into this year hoping for better things and am delighted to be sitting here.”
Haley was a ferocious pass rusher and is the only five-time Super Bowl winner in league history. He had three of those victories with the Dallas Cowboys and two with the San Francisco 49ers. He had 100-1/2 career sacks.
“I played with some of the greatest men…. To me, that’s what makes this special,” Haley said.
Shields reached 12 straight Pro Bowls as a guard for the Kansas City Chiefs and never missed a game in 14 seasons.
Tingelhoff, a center, never missed a game in 17 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and was named all-NFL or all-pro seven times.
Wolf built Super Bowl teams with the Raiders and Packers and was perhaps best known for making the trade that got quarterback Brett Favre to Green Bay. He also was in the front offices of the Buccaneers and New York Jets.
“My induction is the result of a lot of people that made this happen,” Wolf said.
Polian was a six-time NFL executive of the year with the Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts.
“It’s really overwhelming,” Polian said. “Never in a million years would I have thought I’d ever be here.”