The NFL Hall of Fame Game marks the end of a long summer with the first preseason matchup of the new year. Granted, there is still over a month to go until the games count, but the anticipation ramps up as the football world flocks to Canton, Ohio to celebrate the great performers of the past.
The Hall of Fame Game itself is really just another preseason game played in a smaller stadium (Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton seats 23,000, about a third of the NFL average) and typically takes place between two franchises with a significant retired player who is to be enshrined that same weekend. This year is no exception.
Two of the best linebackers of the 2000s will unveil a bust in their likeness this weekend. Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher, who personified the game’s toughness throughout their careers as well as unmatched versatility at the position, will both enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility. To kickoff the weekend, the Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears will matchup on Thursday night.
Lewis won two Super Bowl Titles with the Ravens, and earned MVP honors in Super Bowl XXXV. He is a thirteen time Pro Bowler, a seven time First-team All-Pro member, two time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and a member of the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team. He will go down as one of the greatest linebackers in the history of the game. He retired after the 2012 season, when he won Super Bowl XLVII.
Urlacher continued a long line of success at the linebacker position in Chicago, joining names like Mike Singletary and Dick Butkus. He was an instant hit for the Bears, who selected Urlacher ninth overall out of New Mexico. He would win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2000 and help lead Chicago to a 13-3 record in 2001, their best in fifteen years. In 2005, he was named NFL Defensive Player of the year. He was an eight time Pro Bowler, a four time First-team All-Pro selection and member of the 2000s All-Decade Team.
Despite all of the accomplishments, the Vince Lombardi Trophy eluded the linebacker throughout his career. During Urlacher’s twelve years, all in the same spot, the Bears were quite a rollercoaster ride. The offense could never match the might on the defensive side of the ball, which resulted in some unspectacular seasons in the Windy City. Still, the Bears had their moments. In 2006, Urlacher and Chicago won the NFC and qualified for their first trip to the Super Bowl in over twenty years. With a lack of production from the offense and failure to stop the run on defense, the Bears lost Super Bowl XLI 29-17 to the Indianapolis Colts despite a solid overall performance against Peyton Manning, who was questionably awarded the game’s MVP award instead of one of his running backs, or perhaps the defender who sealed the deal with an interception returned for a touchdown.
Regardless, Urlacher was the leader of multiple elite defenses in Chicago and was the face of the team’s rejuvenated ‘Monsters of the Midway’ title.
Speaking of not winning a Super Bowl, the NFL will also induct one of the greatest wide receivers ever. Randy Moss instantly became one of the most feared targets in the league during his rookie season with the Minnesota Vikings. Throughout his career, he accomplished some of the most ridiculous catches that still do not make total sense to me. Moss dominated as a Viking, but saw a significant loss of production during two seasons with the Oakland Raiders, who were one of the worst franchises in the league at the time.
His career got a second life when the New England Patriots traded for him before the 2007 season. Moss and New England quarterback Tom Brady led the most lethal offensive attack in NFL history, as Moss set the record for most touchdown receptions with 23. As a team, the Patriots became the first franchise to complete a perfect regular season with the 16-game schedule. It appeared as though the wide receiver would finally get his ring, but it was not to be. Despite a Moss touchdown in Super Bowl XLII, the New York Giants stunned the league with a thrilling 17-14 conquest of the unbeatable offensive powerhouse. It is considered one of the biggest upsets in sports history. Moss would return to the big game in his final season, but in a much lesser role. He was a member of the San Francisco 49ers, who fell to Lewis and the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII.
Solidifying the 2018 Classy long with those listed above, as one of the best in recent memory is another wide receiver, Terrell Owens. Owens, or “T.O.”, made enemies with his attitude, which has unjustly kept him out of the Hall until now. Anyone who would deny Owens was one of the best receivers of his time would be wrong.
Completing the rest of the class are Bobby Beathard, Robert Brazile, Brian Dawkins and Jerry Kramer. The enshrinement ceremony for the new inductees will take place on Saturday evening at 7 p.m.