With no quarterbacks and only one first ballot selection, the 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame class isn’t quite as glamorous as some others in recent years, but it is an important group of workhorse inductees who all enjoyed long and successful careers.
After a period from 1991-2005 when the HOF selection committee created a glut of worthy inductees by picking no more than five people in 12 of 14 years, they have spent the last decade filling the HOF with both glamorous and workmanlike candidates. The HOF has admitted at least six candidates every year since 2006.
The 2015 class of eight selections marks the largest class since 1967 and includes six former players as well as two executives. Bill Polian and Ron Wolf are the first football executives who were not owners to be selected for the HOF since Jim Finks in 1995.
While the marquee player from this class is certainly Junior Seau, all six players enjoyed long and distinguished careers. Several have been eligible for the HOF for several years, but had to wait for others to take their rightful place before it was time for them to receive their busts.
Moving forward, there are still some outstanding players “in the que” as well as several new candidates that will be eligible in the next few years, so it will be interesting to see if the HOF selection committee continues to push the number of new enshrines each year or if they pull back slightly in the coming years.
Regardless, the 2015 class is one for the ages and helps tell the story of football history over the past several decades. Below are brief capsules of each selection:
Jerome Bettis: Known as “The Bus”, Bettis ranks sixth in NFL history with 13,662 yards rushing. He was a six-time Pro Bowl selection and twice was a first team all-pro selection. An eight-time 1,000 yard rusher, Bettis spent his first three seasons with the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams before being traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He rushed for a career-high 1,665 yards in 1997 and was a mainstay for the Pittsburgh rushing game for a decade. His final game was Super Bowl XL as he helped the Steelers win the Lombardi Trophy.
Tim Brown: Based on statistics alone, Brown certainly belongs in the Hall of Fame. He ranks fifth in NFL history with 1,094 receptions, sixth with 14,934 receiving yards and seventh with 100 receiving touchdowns. Between 1993 and 2002 he caught at least 76 passes every year (NFL high 104 in 1997) and had nine 1,000 yard seasons. Brown was a nine time Pro Bowl selection, but never received All-Pro honors. While Brown was a great talent and had great statistics, it seems hard to justify him as a HOF member when other great receivers from previous eras who were key parts of championship teams, most especially Drew Pearson and Otis Taylor, have not yet been recognized in Canton.
Charles Haley: While the Pro Football Hall of Fame is a very exclusive and prestigious club, Haley is already a member of the most exclusive club in sports. He remains the only member of the 5 Super Bowl Ring Club having won two as a member of the San Francisco 49ers and three with the Dallas Cowboys. As a dominant pass rusher, Haley reached double digits in sacks six times, including a career-high 16 in 1990, and registered 100.5 for his career. A five-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time first team All-Pro, Haley had two sacks in Super Bowl XXIII and 2.5 in his three Super Bowls for the Cowboys.
Bill Polian: In 32 years as an NFL Executive, Polian helped three different franchises earn a total of eight championship game and five Super Bowl appearances. As general manager of the Buffalo Bills, Polian helped build the Buffalo franchise that went to four straight Super Bowls. He later helped lead the expansion Carolina Panthers to the NFC Championship Game in just their second year in the NFL. He became President/General Manager of the Indianapolis Colts in 1998 and helped them reach the postseason 11 times in 12 years and win Super Bowl XLI.
Junior Seau: Without question, Seau is highest profile member of the 2015 HOF class. There was little doubt that Seau would be selected in his first year of eligibility after playing in 12 Pro Bowls and earning first-team All-Po selection as a linebacker eight times. Of course, Seau’s selection also comes with tragedy as he committed suicide in 2012. He was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1992 and helped lead the San Diego Chargers to their only Super Bowl appearance in 1994. He also played in a Super Bowl late in his career with the New England Patriots.
Will Shields: Though only a third round selection in the 1993 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs, Shields became a starter due to injury as a rookie and started 223 during his 14-year career. He was a 12-time Pro Bowl selection and was a first-team All-Pro three times. He was also a member of the All-Decade team for the 2000s.
Mick Tingelhoff: Originally signed by the Minnesota Vikings as a rookie free agent, Tingelhoff moved from linebacker to center as a rookie and went on to start 240 consecutive games for the Vikings. He was the anchor of the offensive line for four Super Bowl teams. He was a six-time Pro Bowl selection and earned first team All-Pro honors in five straight seasons from 1964-1969. While Tingelhoff was an important player for the Vikings, he was never a finalist for the Hall of Fame until being selected this year. As has been the case for many of the offensive linemen selected for the HOF in recent years, it is perplexing that Tingelhoff is going into the Hall of Fame while former Green Bay Packer great Jerry Kramer, a nine-time Hall of Fame finalist and a member of the NFL’s 50-year anniversary team.
Ron Wolf: During nearly four decades as an NFL executive, Wolf helped turn the Oakland Raiders and Green Bay Packers into Super Bowl Champions. He joined the Raiders as a scout in 1963 and helped establish the Raiders as a league power. He helped start the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers before returning to the Raiders for most of the 1980s. In 1991 he became General Manager of the Green Bay Packers and eventually built a team that appeared in back-to-back Super Bowls while winning Super Bowl XXXI.