ATLANTA (AP) — For towering tight end Tony Gonzalez, this was a slam dunk.
The 6-foot-5 Gonzalez, who turned the celebratory post-TD dunk over the crossbar into an art form, was voted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday.
Joining him will be two more first-time nominees, Champ Bailey and Ed Reed, along with another defensive back, Ty Law, and center Kevin Mawae; Law and Mawae were both in their third year as finalists.
The contributor nominees, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and Cowboys and NFL executive Gil Brandt , each made it, as did senior Johnny Robinson, the defensive back who helped the Chiefs win Super Bowl 4.
Gonzalez started in Kansas City and finished in Atlanta, where voters met on the eve of the Super Bowl to select the Class of 2019; they didn’t need much time to debate his worthiness.
In short, Gonzalez had more than his fair share of chances to jam. (Maybe not by accident, the NFL banned the practice in 2014, the year after he retired.)
The most prolific pass catcher at his position over a 17-year career, Gonzalez caught 1,325 passes (second in NFL history) for 15,127 yards (sixth) and 111 touchdowns. He was a six-time All-Pro, made 14 Pro Bowls, and his 916 catches with the Chiefs set one of 22 franchise records he held upon his retirement.
“I knew I had a good chance, I’m not going to lie about that,” he said. “Still, when you hear the knock, your heart drops.”
As it turns out, Gonzalez isn’t the only one who can get good air.
“Threw my phone across the room,” Mawae said, of his reaction upon learning he was in. “I had a higher vertical than at the combine.”
He’ll be donning the yellow jacket this summer alongside Gonzalez, and three players who spent part of their careers trying to stop the groundbreaking tight end.
This marks the first time more than two defensive backs have made it in the same class.
Bailey played 15 years — five with Washington, then 10 more with Denver after the Redskins swapped him for Clinton Portis. Like so many great cornerbacks, Bailey did not rewrite the record book, in part because he was, for a huge chunk of his career, considered the best cover guy in the league. So most quarterbacks simply avoided him.
Still, he made three All-Pro teams, 12 Pro Bowls and a none-too-shabby 52 interceptions. His best-remembered pick was a 103-yard return against Tom Brady in the 2006 playoffs that did not go for a touchdown. Denver did score shortly afterward, though, on the way to the win. Eight years later, Bailey made his only Super Bowl.
“This is home and timing was just right for it,” said Bailey, who grew up in Folkston and played college ball at Georgia. “Having Pat Bowlen go in, I never expected it to be like this.”
Reed won his only title in the 2012 season, his last with the Ravens. Running the defense from his safety position, he was a standout playmaker on a roster full of them — including Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Peter Boulware. Reed finished his career with 64 interceptions, and led the league in picks three times.
“Smartest player I ever coached,” said Reed’s former coach, Brian Billick.
Law was a lot like Bailey — a rock at the corner who quarterbacks avoided. He finished with 53 interceptions and three Super Bowl rings, all with the Patriots. When New England beat the Rams for its first title in 2002, Law returned a pick 47 yards for a score that gave the Patriots the lead in the second quarter; they didn’t trail after that.
Law was one of the many high-profile players Bill Belichick was willing to cycle out, and his final five years were spent with Kansas City, Denver and two stints with the Jets, including 2005, when he made a career-high 10 interceptions.
“It’s surreal to get this honor while my former team is playing,” said Law, who will be on hand when the Patriots play the Rams for the title Sunday.
Mawae, a second-round draft pick in 1994, played 16 seasons for the Seahawks, Jets and Titans. He made three All-Pro teams and joins Mike Webster, Dwight Stevenson and Jim Otto among the few true centers in Canton.
He earned a spot some thought might go instead to Jaguars left tackle Tony Boselli. But for Boselli, Edgerrin James, John Lynch, Richard Seymour and six others, it’s wait ‘til next year.
Bowlen goes in after what some believe was a longer-than-necessary wait. He is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, which has put the future of the Broncos’ franchise on uncertain ground.
His youngest daughter, Annabel, said they face-timed their dad when the family received the news.
“A lot of tears in the room,” she said.
Bowlen was key in securing the NFL’s future via a number of multibillion-dollar TV contracts. The Broncos have largely prospered during his tenure, winning more than 60 percent of their games. That included the 1998 Super Bowl, when the owner famously shouted “This one’s for John” — a tribute to John Elway winning his first title.
Brandt spent 29 years with the Cowboys, where his keen eye for talent helped turn Dallas into “America’s Team.” He chose eight future Hall of Famers, including Troy Aikman, Roger Staubach, Bob Lilly and Bob Hayes. He employed computers for evaluating talent and came up with psychological tests for draft prospects, two tools no NFL team could do without in the modern game.
Brandt also was elected for his role as the NFL’s resident draft guru.
Robinson was chosen by the Dallas Texans in the first AFL draft. The Texans became the Chiefs, and the Chiefs became Super Bowl champions. A teammate of his, Hall of Fame linebacker Willie Lanier, said Robinson was the key to a defense that helped Kansas City to two AFL titles, each of which landed the Chiefs in the Super Bowl.
Hall of Fame-Capsules
By The Associated Press
A capsule look at those elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame:
1999-2003 Washington Redskins, 2004-2013 Denver Broncos ... 15 seasons, 215 games ... Washington’s first round draft pick (seventh overall) in 1999 NFL Draft ... Helped Redskins to 10-6 record and division title as rookie ... Recorded five interceptions in rookie season including three in one game (vs. Cardinals, Oct. 17, 1999) ... Traded to Broncos in 2004 ... Key member of secondary that led Denver to five postseason appearances and four division titles including three straight to cap his career ... Returned interception 100 yards in Broncos victory over Patriots in 2005 AFC Divisional Playoff Game ... Tied for NFL lead with career-high 10 interceptions returned for 162 yards and 1 TD, 2006 ... Had 18 interceptions over a two-season span (2005-06) which was most in NFL in more than two decades ... Exceptional in pass coverage, rarely flagged for pass interference ... Led Redskins in interceptions once, punt returns once ... Broncos leading interceptor five seasons ... Amassed 52 career interceptions returned for 464 yards and 4 TDs ... Chosen First-Team All-Pro four times, Second-Team All-Pro four times ... Named All-NFC twice, All-AFC three times ... Voted to 12 Pro Bowls ... Selected to NFL All-Decade Team of the 2000s.
1984-Present Denver Broncos ... Shaped the Broncos into one of the most storied franchises in NFL history during his 35 years as owner ... Engrained winning culture into organization with immediate results ... Broncos posted 13-3 record to win AFC West in Bowlen’s first season, 1984 ... Sustained and unprecedented success over past three decades has resulted in more than 350 victories, seven Super Bowl appearances and regular-season winning percentage of .603 (1984-2017) ... With Bowlen at helm, Broncos have advanced to playoffs 18 times, won 13 division crowns, seven AFC conference championships and three Super Bowl titles ... Under his leadership, the Broncos are only NFL team to post 90 or more victories in each of the past three decades ... Broncos victory total since Bowlen took over as owner is second most in NFL ... Led effort for state-of-the-art Broncos Stadium at Mile High that opened in 2001 . Member of numerous NFL committees over career including co-chair of NFL Management Council Executive Committee ... Key figure to securing NFL’s labor and TV contracts ... As Chair of NFL Broadcast Committee was responsible for negotiations of $18 billion TV contract, the most lucrative in single-sport history.
1960-1988 Dallas Cowboys, 1995-present National Football League ... Historic half-century career in pro football ... As vice president of personnel for the Cowboys, helped build one of most dominant franchises in all of sports ... Integral talent scout for Cowboys and member of team’s brain trust along with Hall of Famers Tex Schramm and Tom Landry since inception in 1960 through 1988 ... Developed innovative scouting and management of personnel systems ... Many innovations are standard process for NFL teams today ... Early user of computer analysis to evaluate players ... Discovered number of free agents such as wide receiver Drew Pearson and defensive backs Cliff Harris and Everson Walls ... Responsible for building rosters that led Cowboys to winning records in 20 consecutive seasons (1966-1985) ... Cowboys registered 10 or more wins in a season 16 times during period ... Helped Dallas to 13 division titles, six conference championships and two Super Bowl victories ... Joined NFL.com at its inception in 1995 and has been key contributor ever since ... Regarded as top draft expert ... Serves as resident historian for NFL.com.
1997-2008 Kansas City Chiefs, 2009-2013 Atlanta Falcons ... 17 seasons, 270 games ... First-round pick (13th player overall) by Chiefs in 1997 ... Named Chiefs’ rookie of the year after recording 33 catches for 368 yards and 2 TDs, 1997 ... Recorded more than 50 receptions in a season in each of his last 16 years (second most all-time) including 14 seasons with 70 or more catches ... Led NFL in receiving with career-best 102 receptions, 2004 ... Led Chiefs in receiving eight times ... Traded to Atlanta in 2009 ... Led Falcons in receiving, 2012 ... Set Chiefs record with 26 games with 100 or more receiving yards; added five more 100-yard efforts with Falcons ... Ranks behind only Jerry Rice in career receptions ... Career statistics: 1,325 receptions for 15,127 yards, 111 TDs ... Streak of 211 straight games with a catch, 2000-2013 (longest ever by tight end, second longest in NFL history at time of retirement) ... Team leader that helped Chiefs and Falcons to two division titles each ... Named First-Team All-Pro seven times (1999-2003, 2008, 2012) ... Voted to 14 Pro Bowls ... Named Team MVP by Chiefs (2008) and Falcons (2009) ... Selected to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of 2000s.
1995-2004 New England Patriots; 2005, 2008 New York Jets; 2006-07 Kansas City Chiefs; 2009 Denver Broncos. ... 15 seasons, 203 games.
Selected by Patriots in first round (23rd player overall) of 1995 draft. ... Voted All-Pro in 1998 and 2003. ... Voted to five Pro Bowls (1999, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2006). ... Starting left cornerback in four AFC championship games. ... Started at left cornerback in three Super Bowls, including Patriots victories in Super Bowls in 2002 and 2004. ... Had seven tackles, one assisted tackle, two passes defended and scored on 47-yard interception return for touchdown in New England’s 20-17 win over Rams in the 2002 Super Bowl. ... Intercepted three or more passes in a season nine times. ... Led NFL in interceptions twice (9 in 1998 with Patriots and career-high 10 in 2005 with Jets). ... Team’s leading interceptor six times (Patriots 4, Chiefs 1, Jets 1). ... Made 53 career interceptions for 828 yards and seven pick-6s. ... Career-long 74-yard interception return for touchdown against New England (Dec. 26, 2005). ... Had 37-yard interception return in final game of career. ... Selected to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 2000s.
1994-97 Seattle Seahawks; 1998-2005 New York Jets; 2006-09 Tennessee Titans. ... 16 seasons, 241 games.
Selected by Seahawks in second round (36th player overall) in 1994 draft. ... Spent majority of college career as tackle before moving to center during senior year. ... Played in 14 games, and started 11 during rookie season with Seahawks. ... Selected to NFL’s All-Rookie Team. ... Played at right guard first two pro seasons, moved permanently to center in 1996. ... Noted for leadership and steady play. ... Helped Jets to division title and championship game appearance in first season (1998) in New York. ... Anchored steady Jets offensive line that led way for 44 100-yard games and seven 1,000-yard seasons by Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin. ... Blocked for 1,000-yard rusher in 13 of his 16 seasons, with five different running backs (Chris Warren, 2; Martin, 7; Travis Henry, 1; LenDale White, 1; and Chris Johnson, 2). ... Capped career with Pro Bowl season by paving way for 2,000-yard performance by Johnson. ... Voted All-Pro six times (1999-2002, 2004, and 2008). ... Chosen for eight Pro Bowls, including his final two seasons. ... Former president of NFL Players Association, was instrumental in ending 2011 lockout. ... Selected to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 2000s.
2002-2012 Baltimore Ravens, 2013 Houston Texans, 2013 New York Jets ... 12 seasons, 174 games ... Selected by Ravens in first round (24th overall) in 2002 NFL Draft ... Made instant impact on Baltimore’s dominant defense with 5 interceptions as rookie ... NFL’s top interceptor in 2004, 2008, 2010 to become just second player in NFL history to lead NFL in interceptions three times ... Led AFC in interceptions four times ... Ravens leading interceptor seven seasons ... NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year, 2004 after picking off league-high 9 passes returned for then-NFL record 358 yards, 1 TD ... Career statistics: 64 interceptions returned for NFL record 1,590 yards and 7 touchdowns ... Owns two longest interception returns in NFL history (107 yards vs. Eagles on Nov. 23, 2008; and 106 yards vs. Browns on Nov. 7, 2004) ... Also returned 30 punts for 205 yards ... Three touchdowns scored on fumble recoveries ... Leader on Ravens team that advanced to playoffs seven times, won four division titles, and Super Bowl title ... Started at free safety in three AFC championship games ... Selected All-Pro six times ... Voted to nine Pro Bowls ... Member of the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 2000s.
Senior nominee ... 1960-1971 Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs ... 12 seasons, 164 games ... Selected in first round of 1960 AFL Draft by Texans and third overall in the 1960 NFL Draft by Detroit Lions ... Utilized by Texans as running back first two seasons ... Moved to defense in third season, responded with 4 interceptions ... Recorded multiple interceptions each season after moving to safety ... Single-season best 10 interceptions in 1966 (led AFL) and 1970 (led NFL) ... Helped team to four division titles ... Played in three AFL championship game victories ... Started in two Super Bowls ... Named All-AFL five straight seasons (1965-69), All-Pro, 1969 and All-NFL, 1970 ... Voted to AFL All-Star Game six times, Pro Bowl once ... Named to AFL’s All-Time Team ... Intercepted 57 career interceptions, returned for 741 yards and 1 TD ... Also gained 658 rushing yards with 6 TDs; 77 catches for 1,228 yards and 9 TDs; 21 punt returns for 272 yards and a TD; and 3 kickoff returns for 54 yards.
Source: Pro Football Hall of Fame.