Seven first-time finalists among Hall's modern-era choices for Class of 2020
(Pictured above: Former Green Bay safety LeRoy Butler)
Talk about upsets.
Among the 15 modern-era finalists announced Thursday for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020 are seven players – or nearly half the class – who are finalists for the first time.
Two of those candidates – safety Troy Polamalu and wide receiver Reggie Wayne – are no surprises. Not only were both expected to make the cut but Polamalu is a favorite to be elected as a first-ballot choice. But the five others? Ah, that’s where it gets interesting.
They’ve waited years to hear their names called, so let the roll call begin:
-- Safety LeRoy Butler.
-- Wide receiver Torry Holt.
-- Linebackers Sam Mills and Zach Thomas.
-- Defensive lineman Bryant Young.
Of the group, Mills waited the longest. The former Carolina and New Orleans star, who died in 2005, is in his 18th year of eligibility as a modern-era candidate. That means he has three years left before exiting the modern-era category and joining the senior pool.
Butler is in his 14th year of eligibility, and his failure to become a finalist until now was the most puzzling. The reason: He was one of only two first-team members of the 1990s’ all-decade team not enshrined in Canton (not including special teams).
The other is safety Steve Atwater, a finalist for the second consecutive year and a Top-10 finisher in 2019.
Holt waited over 10 years for Thursday’s announcement, and that’s puzzling, too. He’s the only wide receiver from the all-decade team of the 2000s not already enshrined. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been close. He’s been a semifinalist the past six years.
But now he’s taken a giant step forward.
The same goes for Young, an all-decade pick from the 1990s. The difference here is that, unlike the others, in this – his eighth year of eligibility – he was a semifinalist for the first time.
And then there’s Thomas, a tackling machine for the Miami Dolphins who, like Young, was an all-decade pick. He was named to the 2000s’ team. But like Butler, Mills and Young, he had trouble just becoming a semifinalist – named to the final 25 only twice (2019-20).
Mills was a semifinalist three times (2016, 2019-20). So was Butler (2018-20).
All have plenty of competition, with eight others who’ve been in front of the Hall’s board of selectors – including three offensive linemen (Tony Boselli, Steve Hutchinson and Alan Faneca), one running back (Edgerrin James) and one safety (Atwater) who were Top-10 finishers in 2019.
The 15 finalists for the modern-era Class of 2020 will be considered for election on Feb. 1, the Saturday prior to Super Bowl LIV in Miami. That's when the board of selectors chooses five players who must receive a minimum of 80 percent of the votes.
One more thing: The finalists were chosen from a preliminary list of 122 candidates and are not part of the Hall’s Centennial Class, which will be named in early January. Ten seniors, three contributors and two coaches will comprise a class that celebrates the 100th anniversary of the NFL.
THE 15 FINALISTS FOR THE HALL’S MODERN-ERA CLASS OF 2020
Steve Atwater, safety – 1989-98 Denver Broncos; 1999 N.Y. Jets
Tony Boselli, tackle – 1995-2001 Jacksonville Jaguars
Isaac Bruce, wide receiver – 1994-2007 St. Louis/L.A. Rams; 2008-09 San Francisco 49ers
LeRoy Butler, safety – 1990-2001 Green Bay Packers
Alan Faneca, guard – 1998-2007 Pittsburgh Steelers; 2008-09 N.Y. Jets; 2010 Arizona Cardinals
Torry Holt, wide receiver – 1999-2008 St. Louis Rams; 2009 Jacksonville Jaguars
Steve Hutchinson, guard – 2001-05 Seattle Seahawks; 2006-10 Minnesota Vikings; 2012 Tennessee Titans.
Edgerrin James, running back – 1999-2005 Indianapolis Colts; 2006-08 Arizona Cardinals; 2009 Seattle Seahawks.
John Lynch, safety – 1993-2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers; 2004-07 Denver Broncos.
Sam Mills, linebacker – 1986-94 New Orleans Saints; 1995-97 Carolina Panthers.
Troy Polamalu, safety – 2003-14 Pittsburgh Steelers.
Richard Seymour, defensive lineman – 2001-08 New England Patriots; 2009-12 Oakland Raiders.
Zach Thomas, linebacker – 1996-2007 Miami Dolphins; 2008 Dallas Cowboys.
Reggie Wayne, wide receiver – 2001-14 Indianapolis Colts.
Bryant Young, defensive lineman – 1994-2007 San Francisco 49ers.
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