A select few of NFL greats spent the day before Super Bowl LIV sequestered in their hotel rooms.
There, they waited to see if they would get “the knock” from Pro Football Hall of Fame president David Baker.
On Saturday, that knock came for five men, as Troy Polamalu, Edgerrin James, Isaac Bruce, Steve Atwater, and former Seahawks legend Steve Hutchinson found out they had been elected.
Their names were announced Saturday during the taping of NFL Honors, a two-hour prime-time awards special held at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami.
Hutchinson was one of 15 finalists each of the past two years before making it in this year, according to the Seahawks’ website.
Hutchinson, a guard, played for the Seahawks, the Minnesota Vikings and the Tennessee Titans. He aided in protecting running backs like the Seahawks’ Shaun Alexander and Adrian Peterson of the Vikings. Hutchinson was part of the Seahawks team that helped Seattle reach its first Super Bowl in 2005.
Hutchinson was named first-team All-Pro five times and was voted to seven consecutive Pro Bowls.
He described the feeling of getting what he called the “heavy-handed knock” from Baker.
“As soon as the knock happens, it’s hard to explain,” Hutchinson said. “It’s like a weighted vest is taken immediately off your shoulders. It’s pretty special.”
Along with James, Hutchinson is part of the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 2000s.
He was a first-round pick in the 2001 draft, earning All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors three times during his five seasons as the Seahawks’ left guard.
“Along with Hall of Fame left tackle Walter Jones, Hutchinson helped form one of the NFL’s most formidable lines in the 2000s,” Seahawks.com reporter John Boyle wries, “and in 2005 was part of the best offensive line and one of the best offenses in franchise history, a unit that helped pave the way for a 13-3 season that saw running back Shaun Alexander earn MVP honors while running behind Jones, Hutchinson, center Robbie Tobeck, right guard Chris Gray and right tackle Sean Locklear.”
Polamalu, a first-time finalist in his first year of eligibility, was one of the dominant safeties of his era. He played his entire career — 2003-2014 — for the Pittsburgh Steelers, reaching the Super Bowl three times and winning twice.
Voted to eight Pro Bowls, Polamalu was a first-team All-Pro selection four times and was the Associated Press defensive player of the year in 2010.
“The Pittsburgh Steelers defense of the ’70s laid the foundation for the great defenses that I’ve been a part of,” Polamalu said.
He’s not just remembered for his play; Polamalu is known for his long hair. He still does commercials, including a recent one with Mahomes for Head & Shoulders.
James, in his sixth year of eligibility, was elected after being a finalist four times.
The NFL’s offensive rookie of the year in 1999, James won the league’s rushing title in his first two seasons, when he was with the Indianapolis Colts. He reached Super Bowl XLIII with the Arizona Cardinals, was voted to the Pro Bowl four times and was an All-Pro three times.
On Instagram, James, the Colts’ all-time leading rusher, wrote, “Started With Gold Teeth, Ended With a Gold Jacket.”
“My thing was always to be patient,” James said of waiting for this day to come. “The work is done, and it’s just a matter of time.”
Also in his sixth year of eligibility and a four-time finalist was Bruce, who was part of the St. Louis Rams “Greatest Show on Turf,” winning Super Bowl XXXIV in 2000. Voted to four Pro Bowls, the wide receiver retired as the Rams’ all-time leader in catches, receiving yards, and most yards from scrimmage.
“For me, my knock experience was I wanted Mr. Baker just to wait a little while; I wanted two rounds of knocks — just to let him feel what I’ve been feeling the last couple of years,” Bruce said to laughter from reporters in a press conference.
Of the five, it was Atwater, a safety in his 16th year of eligibility, who waited the longest for the knock.
Atwater played for the Denver Broncos from 1989-1998 and the New York Jets in 1999, winning back-to-back Super Bowls with Denver. Part of the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 1990s, Atwater was elected to eight Pro Bowls and was a two-time All-Pro. This was his third time as a finalist.
“When I heard the knock of the door, I knew it was time,” Atwater said.
An expanded group of 20 for the Class of 2020
As has been custom, the modern-era players were elected on the eve of the Super Bowl. To be elected, a vote is needed of 80% from the committee. There were 15 modern-era finalists.
But this year, in celebration of the NFL’s 100th season, the Hall of Fame procedure was markedly different.
In previous years, the Hall’s bylaws had been that between four and eight new members were to be chosen each year. But the Hall of Fame Board passed a resolution suspending the bylaws to create a larger class for 2020.
In addition to the five elected on Saturday, there are 15 others who will be enshrined in Canton, Ohio. A separate panel met at the Hall of Fame in January and elected 10 seniors (players who last played more than 25 years ago), three contributors (an individual other than a player or coach) and two coaches.
“We’re special, man,” said Harold Carmichael, one of the seniors elected. “This is a special group.”
Here are those 15 other members that will be inducted into the Hall of Fame (* denotes that person is deceased):
Bill Cowher — 1992-2006 Pittsburgh Steelers
Jimmy Johnson — 1989-1993 Dallas Cowboys, 1996-99 Miami Dolphins
*Steve Sabol, administrator/president — 1964-2012 NFL Films
Paul Tagliabue, commissioner — 1989-2006 National Football League
*George Young, contributor/general manager — 1968-1974 Baltimore Colts, 1975-78 Miami Dolphins, 1979-1997 New York Giants, 1998-2001 National Football League
Harold Carmichael, wide receiver — 1971-1983 Philadelphia Eagles, 1984 Dallas Cowboys
Jim Covert, offensive tackle — 1983-1990 Chicago Bears
*Bobby Dillon, safety — 1952-59 Green Bay Packers
Cliff Harris, safety — 1970-79 Dallas Cowboys
*Winston Hill, offensive tackle — 1963-1976 New York Jets, 1977 Los Angeles Rams
*Alex Karras, defensive tackle — 1958-1962, 1964-1970 Detroit Lions
Donnie Shell, safety — 1974-1987 Pittsburgh Steelers
*Duke Slater, offensive tackle — 1922 Milwaukee Badgers, 1922-25 Rock Island Independents, 1926-1931 Chicago Cardinals
*Mac Speedie, end — 1946-1952 Cleveland Browns (AAFC/NFL)
*Ed Sprinkle, defensive end/linebacker — 1944-1955 Chicago Bears