Haley Leads Hall of Fame Inductees

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PHOENIX — Late linebacker Junior Seau, offensive guard Will Shields, defensive end Charles Haley, wide receiver Tim Brown and running back Jerome Bettis were chosen as the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2015.

They will be joined by contributors Ron Wolf and Bill Polian and seniors committee candidate Mick Tingelhoff.

The class will be formally enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015. The Enshrinement Ceremony takes place at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio.

Seau was the only first-time-eligible finalist voted in by the Hall of Fame selection committee, which met Saturday in downtown Phoenix before the official results were released during the “NFL Honors” awards show.

“From the day we drafted Junior, we knew he was special,” Chargers Chairman

of the Board and President Dean Spanos said in a statement released by the team. “He was such an energized, charismatic person. He attacked life the same way he attacked ball carriers. It’s that passion that turned him into the Hall of Fame player he is. His athletic ability was clear, but it’s his passion and energy that separated him from the rest of the league. It’s that same passion for life that made him an icon in San Diego. Junior certainly is deserving of being a first-ballot inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”

Not since 2007 has one of the final five finalists not been inducted. Former commissioner Paul Tagliabue was a finalist that year.

Chosen to 12 consecutive Pro Bowls, Seau is second in NFL history among linebackers with 268 games played. Energetic and explosive, he played for the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots. He retired in 2006, but signed with the Patriots mere days later and played 38 games in four seasons in Foxborough. Seau committed suicide in 2012.

“I can’t imagine having a Professional Football Hall of Fame without Junior Seau in it,” Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said this week.

Bettis, who won a Super Bowl with the Pittsburgh Steelers and played for the St. Louis Rams, was a five-time finalist in his fifth year of eligibility, and several Steelers greats — Dermontti Dawson (seven years), Lynn Swann (14 years) and John Stallworth (10 years) — endured longer waits. Linebacker Kevin Greene was not selected in 2015, his 11th year of eligibility.

Bettis retired as the NFL’s fifth-best rusher, with 13,662 yards. He is currently sixth on the all-time list but had been the only top-10 rusher eligible for the Hall of Fame not inducted.

“I am just grateful the writers found my career worthy of the Hall of Fame,” Bettis said. “It’s so incredible. I am so thankful to the Rooney family, the Steelers organization, the fans who have been incredible ever since the trade was made for me to come here. They have been incredible”

Bettis and Brown played at Notre Dame, where Brown won the Heisman Trophy.

The final 10 the committee voted on to narrow down a “Final Five” included former NFL defensive back and coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts Tony Dungy (second year eligible), former Steelers linebacker Kevin Greene (11th year eligible), former Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison (second), former Rams offensive tackle Orlando Pace (first) and former Rams and Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner (first).

Brown’s long wait ended Saturday night.

“I haven’t written any long speeches man,” Brown said. “I can guarantee you that I mean. I knew enough about the game to understand there is a waiting process. My man (CEO and Publisher of The Sports Xchange) Frank Cooney has been doing an incredible job trying to get me in. But you’re going up against Jerry Rice, Andre Reed and Cris Carter. It’s a fight. I knew my day was coming. I couldn’t tell you if it was going to be five years from now, but I knew it was coming.

“I just tried to stay patient and manage the expectations of the people around me, which is the most difficult thing of this process. But we’ll get to writing a speech, working on a speech real soon, I can guarantee you that.”

The 1988 first-round pick played until 2004 and was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection, playing both wide receiver and punt returner and amassing 19,683 yards from scrimmage, 1,094 receptions and 105 touchdowns.

Brown was caught in a logjam of wide receivers and was in his sixth consecutive year as a finalist, as was Haley. Brown played with the Oakland Raiders until 2003 and spent one season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Haley is the only NFL player with five Super Bowl victories — three with the San Francisco 49ers and two with the Dallas Cowboys. The two-time Defensive Player of the Year (1990, 1994) also has the Super Bowl career record with 4.5 sacks and finished his career with 100.5 sacks.

“Charles Haley was one of the biggest impact players on the 49ers defense,” Hall of Fame Quarterback Joe Montana said. “He was not only a big reason for the 49ers success on defense, but the team’s success also. Just ask the Cowboys what he meant to their defense when he arrived. Plus, he has five Super Bowl rings. Who else can say that?”

Added Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice: “I think what really made Charles Haley a great player is that he was one of those guys that could run over you, or he was so fast where he could run around you. I think that really made him unique. He just caused havoc on the football field. This guy could take over the ball game and there aren’t that many guys as a defensive player that could take over the game like that.”

Shields, regarded as one of the best offensive guards to play in the NFL, starred for the Chiefs, with 12 Pro Bowls in 14 seasons. He was a four-time finalist.

“Will’s achievements and contributions to our franchise and community over 14 seasons were extraordinary,” Chiefs Chairman and CEO Clark Hunt said. “Will was a true ‘iron man’ — never missing a game in 14 seasons — and his career and character place him among the greatest in Chiefs history. Will’s enshrinement further cements his place as one of the NFL’s all-time greats. He spent his entire career in a Chiefs uniform. He embraced the city and our fans and we are thrilled for Will, his wife Senia and the Shields family.”

The 46-person committee began its annual meeting at 7 a.m. Mountain time with 18 total finalists and discussed the contributor and senior candidates first.

The initial reduction is to 10, and then five. Those five finalists are voted on individually and need at least 80 percent positive votes.

Three finalists were chosen by special subcommittees and were discussed first. Their fate was determined by a simple yes or no vote. They included two contributors — Wolf and Polian — and Tingelhoff (Vikings). Selection to the Hall of Fame for these committee choices also required 80 percent “yes” votes.

Wolf broke into the NFL in 1963 with the Raiders and is best known for his run with the Packers from 1991 to 2001 as general manager.

“The turnaround Ron Wolf directed for the Green Bay Packers is probably as significant as any in the history of the NFL,” Packers Chairman Emeritus Bob Harlan said. In the 20 years before he joined the team, we had five winning seasons and two playoff appearances. We weren’t playing at a high level. Ron changed the culture for the Packers and turned it into a positive, winning environment. His hiring of Mike Holmgren, trading for Brett Favre and signing Reggie White were instrumental in our success. We were winning again, with character and dignity. It was an amazing turnaround and without Ron it would not have happened. I have no doubt about it.”

Added Holmgren: “As a first-time head coach in the National Football League, I was fortunate to be partnered with Ron Wolf, who was not only the best general manager in the business, but also very much a mentor to me in all things about the NFL. In all our years together, while we didn’t agree on everything, we never had a harsh moment. Anything that he decided, as my boss with my help, was in the best interest of the Green Bay Packers. It was a privilege to work with him and I consider him a good friend.”

Polian built several teams into consistent winners, including the Buffalo Bills (1984-92), Carolina Panthers (1995-97) and Indianapolis Colts (1998-2011). Two of his franchise cornerstones — Jim Kelly of the Bills and Peyton Manning of the Colts — were in town to witness the honor.

“I am thrilled with Bill Polian’s well-deserved induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” Colts Owner & CEO Jim Irsay said in a statement released by the team. “Bill’s career has been remarkable and he has had an incredible impact on our league. My relationship with Bill goes back to when we were both general managers and worked together and with others to create the League’s salary cap. Aside from being a great executive, Bill had the innate ability to evaluate and look at a player and identify greatness. To me, that was his greatest talent and what set him apart from everyone else. Bill’s dedication to the NFL and to the Colts will always be remembered. I am proud to call him a Colt, and congratulate him on this great achievement.”

Tingelhoff was first eligible for the Hall of Fame 32 years ago and was a first-time finalist. He played center for the Minnesota Vikings from 1962 to 1978, starting every game he played, including all four Vikings Super Bowl appearances.

“Mick was a catalyst for our team and one of the most respected players on those teams,” Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant said. “I have no doubt that had he not played center he would have been a Hall of Fame linebacker. He played center with the mentality and tenacity of a linebacker. Mick’s intangibles were the thing that made him so great. He was a captain the whole time I coached him and guys looked at him as an example of how to do things.”

Added Hall of Fame Quarterback Fran Tarkenton: “Mick Tingelhoff played 17 years at an All-Pro level, and in all of those years he never missed a game or a practice. He was smart, really quick, and a fierce competitor. No center in NFL history played at an All-Pro level for as long or as well as Mick Tingelhoff.”

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