Wide receiver Reggie Wayne was passed over by the voters in his first year of eligibility despite being ranked in the NFL’s top 10 for career catches and receiving yards.
The new inductees were elected on the eve of Super Bowl LIV during a meeting in Miami of media members who serve as the Hall of Fame selection committee. The voting results were announced at the taping of the “NFL Honors” show later Saturday.
The new Hall of Famers will be enshrined in August in Canton, Ohio, as part of a special 20-member class for the NFL’s 100th season. The other 15 members were selected previously by a special panel. They are coaches Bill Cowher and Jimmy Johnson; contributors Steve Sabol, Paul Tagliabue and George Young; and players Harold Carmichael, Jim Covert, Bobby Dillon, Cliff Harris, Winston Hill, Alex Karras, Donnie Shell, Duke Slater, Mac Speedie and Ed Sprinkle.
To ensure there would be a 20-member class, the election procedure was tweaked for Saturday’s meeting. After the list of 15 finalists was trimmed to five, selectors did not take the final yes-or-no vote, as is the usual custom, on each remaining candidate; the final five candidates simply were considered elected. This year’s unusual measures came amid public comments by one Hall of Famer, cornerback Deion Sanders, suggesting that too many candidates are being enshrined.
Polamalu was regarded as a no-doubt choice. He played his entire career for the Steelers, between the 2003 and 2014 seasons, and established himself as one of the most dynamic safeties in league history. His trademark hairstyle and high-energy playing style endeared him to fans. He started three Super Bowls and won two. He was the NFL’s defensive player of the year in 2010, a rarity for a safety, and was selected to eight Pro Bowls and the all-decade team of the 2000s.
“His skill set, his preparation, instincts, his playmaking ability just superseded anybody I’d ever been around,” said Cowher, formerly Polamalu’s coach in Pittsburgh. “At times we had to live with Troy’s decisions. It was not always easy at times. But I would say for every mistake he made, he probably won us three or four games.”
Polamalu said he was honored to be elected in the same year as Cowher and Shell, another former Steelers safety.
“Obviously it was a huge blessing for me to play for a Hall of Fame coach for the time frame that we had together, as well as Donnie Shell,” Polamalu said. “The Pittsburgh Steelers defense of the ‘70s laid the foundation for the great teams that I’ve been a part of. It’s a tremendous honor for me to be in the same class with him as well.”
Atwater was elected in his 16th year of eligibility as a third-time finalist. He spent 10 seasons with the Denver Broncos before finishing his career with one season with the New York Jets in 1999. Atwater was known as a rugged tackler in the secondary and was selected to eight Pro Bowls. He was a member of the NFL’s all-decade team of the 1990s.
“It’s truly a blessing to be recognized with some of the greats,” Atwater said.
Bruce was chosen in his sixth year of eligibility, having been a finalist on three previous occasions. He spent most of his career with the Los Angeles and St. Louis Rams, and was a key member of the “Greatest Show on Turf” offense with Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner and wideout Torry Holt, a fellow finalist this year. Bruce is 13th on the NFL’s career list with his 1,024 catches and fifth with his 15,208 receiving yards.
Hutchinson was a decorated guard who played for the Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings and Tennessee Titans. He was chosen all-pro five times and was selected to seven straight Pro Bowls, making the all-decade team of the 2000s. Hutchinson blocked for Shaun Alexander during the running back’s MVP season in Seattle, and for Adrian Peterson in Minnesota.
“It’s a hard day,” Hutchinson said. “I was talking to Troy as we were getting ready to walk in here. I think I said, ‘I’ve never been so tired without doing anything.’ It just wears you out. … It’s pretty special.”
James, a running back, is the 13th-leading rusher in NFL history. with 12,246 yards. He is best known for his time with the Indianapolis Colts but also played for the Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks. He won league rushing titles in his first two NFL seasons and also was a reliable receiver out of the backfield. James was a four-time Pro Bowler and was chosen to the all-decade team of the 2000s.
“My thing has always been to be patient,” James said. “The work is done. It’s just a matter of time. It’s one of those things that you can’t get too high or too low about. You just wait and then your number is called.”
Wayne was not elected despite being ranked 10th on the NFL’s career list with his 1,070 catches and 10th with his 14,345 receiving yards. He played 14 seasons for the Colts, ending in 2014, and teamed with quarterback Peyton Manning and fellow wideout Marvin Harrison to form one of the NFL’s most memorably great passing offenses. He’ll have to continue to wait for his Hall of Fame nod.
In addition to Wayne and Holt, the other finalists passed over Saturday were Tony Boselli, LeRoy Butler, Alan Faneca, John Lynch, Sam Mills, Richard Seymour, Zach Thomas and Bryant Young. Lynch, the former safety for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Broncos, is now the general manager of the San Francisco 49ers, who face the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl on Sunday.