I’ve always been a big fan of this weekend and many will consider this the “official kickoff” of football season even though it’s a preseason game. There are a few things you want to accomplish as a football player at the professional level and that’s of course to get drafted, lead your team to the Super Bowl, hoist that Lombardi trophy multiple times, be considered one of the best at your position and when it’s all said and done, get to Canton, Ohio and be enshrined as a legend with other legends. This class is definitely one to remember. Let’s take a look at the Class of 2016.
1. Brett Favre– Let’s go all the way back to the beginning. He was selected in the second round of the 1991 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons. A year later, he was traded to the Green Bay Packers for a draft pick in 1992 and that’s when we were introduced to the legend in the making. September 20th, 1992: Don Majkowski was injured and Brett was inserted in as quarterback. A week later, the longest streak of consecutive starts begins for a quarterback. He put Green Bay Packers football back on the map. Brett Favre is one of the toughest competitors I’ve ever seen play. Even when his name was listed on the injury report, you could always count on number four being under center for his team and even when circumstances were difficult, he left it all on the field. Look at the game after his father passed away. He’s one of the greatest quarterbacks ever. 508 touchdown passes in his career, three league MVP’s and he is an 11-time pro bowler. That’s pretty good for a guy who had his name mispronounced on draft day.
2. Tony Dungy– He was considered to be the classiest gentlemen in our game for many years and had the respect of opposing fan-bases, players around the league, fellow coaches and members of the media. So the question is what exactly was it that made Tony Dungy such a well-liked guy? His players absolutely loved him and he related to them because he played in the NFL and there’s nothing like having a guy that coaches you that also knows the ups and downs of being an NFL player. He got his very first opportunity as a head coach in 1996 when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired him. After the 2001 season, the Bucs fired Tony Dungy after posting a record of 54-42 in his tenure with the team. He would then be hired by the Indianapolis Colts in 2002. Being a defensive minded head coach, he installed his Tampa 2 scheme and continued to revamp this unit to his liking. During Dungy’s tenure, the Colts were one of the best teams in the league. They always dominated regular seasons and when the playoffs came, they were always eliminated. In 2006, Tony became the first head coach to lead his team to consecutive 9-0 starts. That same season, the Colts finally got over the rival with the Patriots and defeated the Bears in Super Bowl 41. With the victory in the big game, Tony Dungy became the first African-American coach to win the Super Bowl. He retired after the 2008 season with 85 wins, the most in Colts franchise history.
3. Marvin Harrison– When you think about a guy whose game spoke more than he did, most of the time Marvin Harrison’s name would come up. He was never the type of wide receiver to dance and showboat when he scored or made a play because that simply wasn’t him. He just went about his business each and every week. Marvin Harrison is one of the best and productive wide receivers I’ve ever seen play the game. He ran his routes consistently and along with Peyton Manning, they would become one of the best quarterback/wide receiver tandems in the early 2000s. He has the most receptions in a single-season with 143, most consecutive games with six receptions (16) and nine receptions (six) and the most receptions within a span of four seasons (469). He also spent his entire 13-year career with the Indianapolis Colts and will now be inducted into the hall with his former coach, Tony Dungy. A solid honor for a guy who always showed up on Sunday’s during his playing days.
4. Kevin Greene– He was more of a complete player than he was given credit for. Wherever you lined Kevin Greene up on the defense, he made a play. You couldn’t block him one on one because he’d win that battle in the trenches each time. He stopped the run, rushed the passer with ease and when he played with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the defense gave up only 3.4 yards per rush and he led the league with 139 sacks in the three seasons that Greene played with the team. He was a five-time pro bowler, a three-time first-team all pro selection and he’s the oldest player ever to lead the league in sacks. He was 34 years old when he recorded 14.5 sacks in 1996. Kevin Greene is finally going to Canton in his thirteenth year of eligibility.
5. Orlando Pace– When we speak about that Rams team that’s been labeled as the “greatest show on turf”, we often speak about Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Issac Bruce and Torry Holt. Let’s not forget to mention offensive tackle Orlando Pace. When I interviewed former defensive end Andre Carter last season, my first question to him was who was the toughest offensive linemen that he faced and the first guy he mentioned was Orlando Pace. He stated that it was a battle with him each time. Orlando Pace was the cornerstone of a Rams offensive line that blocked for an offense that compiled more gross yards than any other team in his 12-year tenure, (50,770 yards). The passing offense compiled over 3,000 yards in his twelve seasons and he blocked for seven 1,000 yard rushers. He started 154 straight games at one point during his career and blocked for two MVP’s in Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk. It’s safe to say that he was just as important of a piece as any of those other guys were.
6. Eddie DeBartolo Jr.- He’s an American Businessman to some, but he’s also known as the guy that owned the San Francisco 49ers for 23 years and was the brains behind putting together a team that became a dynasty and won five Super Bowls under George Seifert and the late Bill Walsh. This is also the same guy that drafted Joe Montana and Jerry Rice and both those guys are widely regarded as the best ever at their respected positions and are members of the hall of fame. Now, those two along with fellow hall of famer Steve Young will get to watch the man they’ve referred to as “Mr. D” get inducted into football immortality.
7. Ken Stabler– He should’ve been in YEARS ago but I guess it’s better to get in later than never. Because of many knee injuries, he established himself as a classic drop-back passer and became known for being an accurate passer and showed up when he needed to, meaning he was clutch. He finished his legendary career with 184 touchdown passes, a Super Bowl title, an MVP and he was a four-time pro bowler. Ken Stabler passed away last Summer after a stint with colon cancer.
8. Dick Stanfel– This is another guy that many say should’ve been inducted into the hall a while back. He was involved with the game of football for 50 seasons both as a player and a coach. He spent more than 35 years as an offensive line coach and was the offensive line coach for the Chicago Bears and Mike Ditka has often referred to him as one of the very best at what he did. Even when Ditka became the coach of the Saints in 1999, he lured Stanfel out of retirement and hired him as a coach for his staff.