Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue joined a group of 12 who earned induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s centennial 2020 class on Wednesday.
Harold Carmichael, Jim Covert and Winston Hill were the first in the group announced to the Hall on Wednesday morning. They were followed by the induction of: NFL Films’ Steve Sabol, pioneer Duke Slater, the Detroit Lions’ Alex Karras, the Green Bay Packers’ Bobby Dillon, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Donnie Shell, the Chicago Bears’ Ed Sprinkle, the New York Giants’ George Young, the Dallas Cowboys’ Cliff Harris and the Cleveland Browns’ Mac Speedie.
Carmichael played 13 of his 14 NFL seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles (1971-1983), where as a receiver he helped lead the team to its first Super Bowl appearance. Carmichael was one of the NFL's first great big receivers, as the 6-foot-8, 225-pounder caught at least one pass in a then-record 127 straight games, made first- or second-team All-Pro four times and was on the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 1970s.
Chicago’s Covert was a premier left tackle in the 1980s, a two-time first-team All-Pro and All-Decade player for the 1980s who was a stalwart on one of the greatest teams of all time, the 1985 Bears.
Hill was a premier offensive tackle for the New York Jets (1963-1976), a tremendous pass protector at left and right tackle. He was elected to eight AFL All-Star Games/Pro Bowls. He blocked for Joe Namath, pro football's first 4,000-yard passer.
Sabol joins his father, Ed, in the Hall of Fame as the driving forces behind NFL Films, which won over 100 Emmys under his leadership and brought millions of new viewers to the game.
Karras, one of the most disruptive defensive tackles of all time, started 153 consecutive games. He missed the 1963 season while serving a suspension for gambling on football. Karras was named to the 1960s All-Decade Team, selected first-team All-Pro four times and second-team All-Pro eight times. He achieved pop culture fame as an actor, with notable appearances in the comedy classic “Blazing Saddles” and for playing the dad in the sitcom “Webster.”
Slater, an African-American pioneer in the early years of the NFL, starred as a two-way lineman for 10 seasons in the 1920s. He blocked for several Hall of Famers (including Fritz Pollard and Jim Thorpe), was named All-NFL four times and went on to become the second African-American judge in Chicago history.
Sprinkle, one of the hardest hitters of his era, was an elite pass rusher at a time when sacks were not recorded. He was named to four Pro Bowls and named to the All-Decade Team of the 1940s.
Shell, a hard hitter and takeaway artist for the vaunted "Steel Curtain" defense, recorded five or more interceptions in six straight seasons and was first- or second-team All-Pro six times.
Green Bay’s Dillon was a premier takeaway artist in his era, registering at least seven interceptions in five seasons and earning either first- or second-team All-NFL honors in nine seasons.
The Cowboys’ Harris, arguably the best free safety of his era, was a renowned hitter. He was named first-team All-Pro for four straight seasons during a Cowboys dynasty that won seven division titles and reached five Super Bowls.
Young was the general manager who rebuilt the Giants into a force in the 1980s, notably hiring coach Bill Parcells and drafting Lawrence Taylor and Phil Simms.
Cleveland’s Speedie established every receiving record in the history of the All-American Football Conference in the 1940s, was named All-Pro in the NFL three times and was a member of the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 1940s.
Of the newest Hall of Famers, Tagliabue will likely raise some eyebrows. The former commissioner was brought forth before the typical 48-member selection committee in 2017 in the “contributor” category and was rejected.
His rejection — making him the first contributor candidate to be rejected since the category was established in 2015 — was highly unusual, and can likely be attributed to voters’ feelings over his handling of concussions over the past decade. However, the 25-person blue-ribbon committee, which included head coach Bill Belichick and former general manager Ozzie Newsome, felt differently as it included Tagliabue among its special 15-man centennial class, a group that was not subject to the approval of the normal selection committee.
The group announced Wednesday joins Super Bowl-winning head coaches Jimmy Johnson and Bill Cowher, who each earned induction this past weekend. They each were notified via surprise on-air announcements on the respective networks they work for as analysts.
“This was the most thorough vetting of candidates in the Hall’s history and it needed to be,” said longtime Hall of Fame selector Rick Gosselin, who is also a member of the 48-person selection committee. “Our charge was to scour 100 years of professional football and find the most deserving candidates who have slipped through the cracks. All 38 finalists for the centennial slate were Hall of Fame-worthy, but we could only choose 15."
Five more men will be inducted into the Class of 2020 through the normal annual process, as the 48-person selection committee will meet a day before the Super Bowl to select five inductees from a list of 15 finalists that includes Troy Polamalu and Reggie Wayne.
All 20 of the newest Hall of Famers will be enshrined in Canton in early August.
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