Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Who were the 2024 NFL Hall of Fame inductees?

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In January, the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 50-person Selection Committee convened to conduct the annual vote on who will be elected as this year’s enshrinees. There is no set number for any class of inductees, but the current regulations stipulate that between four and nine new members will be selected each year. Every candidate is carefully scrutinized and must receive at least 80% approval of the Committee before being elected.

On this occasion, seven of the games greats have been selected to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2024 – all of them former players.

Dwight Freeney

The Indianapolis Colts used their first-round pick (11th overall) to select defensive end/outside linebacker and Syracuse graduate Dwight Freeney in 2002. It soon became evident that they had made the right choice. Freeney appeared in all 16 games – eight of them as a starter, and the Colts’ defense instantly improved, climbing from 29th in the league the previous year to eighth in 2002.

Freeney was pipped to the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award by Julius Peppers, finishing the season with a rookie-record 13 sacks – a figure he improved on in 2004 when he post 16. That year he earned the first of three All-Pro team selections as well as his second of seven Pro Bowl invitations. Over the course of his career, in 218 regular-season games over 16 NFL seasons, Freeney totaled 125.5 sacks, 148 quarterback hits and 128 tackles for loss, with 47 forced fumbles – the fourth best in NFL history alongside John Abraham. He won his first and only ring with the Colts at Super Bowl XLI and was on the losing side twice after leaving Indy in 2012.

Randy Gradishar

Linebacker Randy Gradishar is synonymous with the Denver Broncos’ acclaimed “Orange Crush” defense during the 1970s and 1980s. Gradishar was selected as the 14th overall pick in the 1974 NFL Draft and made an instant impact. Before his arrival, Denver had registered just one winning season in 13 years and had never made it to the postseason. With Gradishar that all changed. It has been a long wait for the 72-year-old to be formally recognized – he is one of only 10 linebackers with at least seven Pro Bowls, 20 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries not to have been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

“I believe it’s all in God’s timing,” Gradishar philosophically explained in 2022. “Whether I get in or not isn’t going to change my life. Those honors come as an honor. So, I just kind of keep waiting and depend on people to see what my statistics are for when I played. I’ve heard what I call a lot of excuses over the years. That’s my own personal feeling about that. When I look at my statistics compared to the statistics of guys that are already in there, mine are little bit better.”

2024 NFL Hall of Fame inductee presenters

Dwight Freeney: Jim Irsay, Indianapolis Colts owner, CEO

Randy Gradishar: Tom Jackson, former Denver Broncos teammate

Devin Hester: Juanita Brown, his mother

Andre Johnson: Gary Kubiak, former Houston Texans head coach

Steve McMichael: Jarrett Payton, longtime friend and sports anchor

Patrick Willis: Ernicka Willis, his sister

Julius Peppers: Carl Carey, agent 

Devin Hester

The Chicago Bears selected kick returner/punt returner/wide receiver Devin Hester with a second-round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. Hester would spend eight years in Chicago, two in Atlanta and a final season split between Baltimore and Seattle. As a rookie, he helped the Bears to reach Super Bowl XLI, which they lost to the Colts. Dester holds NFL records with 19 kick-return touchdowns, 14 punt-return TDs and 20 return touchdowns. Hester memorably opened Super Bowl XLI with 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. He was shortlisted for the Class of 2023, finally getting his due recognition this year.

Andre Johnson

Powerhouse wide receiver Andre Johnson was selected in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans. Wearing the No.80, he played a total of 14 NFL seasons, spending time on the books with Houston, Indianapolis Colts and the Tennessee Titans. In 2008, he topped the ranking in receptions (115) and receiving yards (1,575), posting a league-best of 1,569 receiving yards the following year. Johnson brought his career to an end with five 100+ reception seasons and is one of three players (with Clavin Johnson and Jerry Rice to lead the NFL in receiving yards in back-to-back years.

AJ80 set numerous records at Houston and was elected for seven Pro Bowls during his illustrious career. “I don’t think this was only just for me,” Johnson said on hearing about his induction. “I think this was for the whole city of Houston. It’s for the whole organization. Just hearing people talk about… grown men telling me that they were crying. Having people to tell you that God gave us a superhero here in Houston. Those are things that you don’t even realize how people look up to you or you playing that game can affect a city.”

Steve McMichael

The New England Patriots enlisted defensive tackle Steve McMichael was in the third round (73rd overall) of the 1980 NFL Draft but released him the following year. The Chicago Bears hired him, initially as cover for Alan Page in the final season of his contract. McMichael superseded all expectations, playing 191 consecutive games for the Bears – a franchise-record. Mongo played a pivotal role in guiding the Bears to six division championships and Super Bowl XX – ironically against the team who let him go, the Pats.

Unfortunately, McMichael, who diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2021, is too poorly to attend the ceremony in Canton, Ohio.

Julius Peppers

Defensive end/linebacker Julius Peppers joined the Carolina Panthers as the second overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft. He spent seven years in Charlotte before seeing his career out with brief spells in Chicago and Green Bay. The consistent Peppers registered 10-plus sacks in each of 10 seasons – the third best figures in NFL history when he called time on his career in 2018. He finished his career with 159.5 sacks, fourth on the all-time list behind only Bruce Smith, Reggie White, and Kevin Greene. Peppers was voted to nine Pro Bowls and was a six-time All-Pro choice.

He is the first players drafted by the Panthers to make it to the Hall of Fame and will be introduced for enshrinement by his longtime friend, mentor and agent, Carl Carey.

Patrick Willis

Finally, linebacker Patrick Willis, who was picked by the San Francisco 49ers as the team’s first-round selection in the 2007 NFL Draft. Willis had impressed at the University of Mississippi, winning the prestigious Butkus and Jack Lambert Awards before graduating. He started all 16 games in his rookie season, finishing with 174 tackles, four sacks and eight tackles for loss.

A seven-time Pro Bowl selection, Willis was the first 49ers player since safety Ronnie Lott to be selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his first four seasons. He also became the first player in franchise history to be selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his first seven seasons. During his eight years with the Niners, Willis started in all 112 games he played, registering 1,225 tackles, 20.5 sacks, eight interceptions (two returned for touchdowns), 16 forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and 53 passes defensed.

It’s the fifth time that he has been nominated and the third time he has featured as a finalist.

Since its inception in 1963, the Pro Football Hall of Fame has expanded significantly and gained widespread recognition as America’s top sports Hall of Fame. It’s hard to imagine that even the most hopeful supporters who worked to establish the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, could have foreseen the level of triumph it has achieved today.

The 2024 Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremony is scheduled to take place on Saturday 3 August 2024 at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Canton, Ohio.

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