For the eighth consecutive year, a first-time-eligible player is among the newest enshrinees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
This time, it’s former Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, who was selected Saturday to be among the Hall’s Class of 2020. The other modern-era finalists who will be enshrined are: safety Steve Atwater, wide receiver Isaac Bruce, guard Steve Hutchinson and running back Edgerrin James.
The last time the Hall of Fame’s selection committee picked a class that did not have a first-time-eligible player was in 2012. Champ Bailey, Ed Reed and Tony Gonzalez were all picked in their first year of eligibility last year.
This year’s class was chosen by the selection committee at a meeting Saturday in Miami Beach, Florida. This year’s seniors, contributors and coaching enshrinees were selected as part of the Centennial Class on Jan. 8 for the NFL’s 100th anniversary.
The five players selected Saturday will be enshrined Aug. 8 in Canton, Ohio.
Here’s a closer look at the Class of 2020:
STEVE ATWATER | SAFETY
Atwater was one of the league’s fiercest tacklers and won two Super Bowls with the Broncos. He closed out his career as an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time first-team All-Pro. Atwater had six 100-tackle seasons, and at 6-foot-3 and 218 pounds, he was one of the biggest, most mobile safeties of his era.
Why he was elected: As one of only two modern-era finalists who appeared in a game before 1990, Atwater’s selection was a nod to the more physical side of the game. He was smart, athletic and a respected teammate and opponent. As former teammate Rod Smith said, “He could knock you out and then politely ask you if you were OK.”
Signature moment: Still a YouTube classic, his hit on Kansas City Chiefs running back Christian Okoye in a Monday Night Football game in 1990 remains a regular drive-time topic on sports radio in the Rocky Mountain region.
He said it: “I woke up every day and thanked the Lord I only had to face him in practice. Because back then, you weren’t going to run over the middle like guys do now, not worried about anything. No, then [Atwater] would have made you pay for every catch.” — Broncos Ring of Fame wide receiver Rod Smith
ISAAC BRUCE | WIDE RECEIVER
Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams, 1994-2007; San Francisco 49ers, 2008-09
Bruce’s first career catch was a 34-yard touchdown, and from there he went on to four Pro Bowls. When he retired he was second all-time with 15,208 receiving yards; he and Jerry Rice were the only receivers to have topped 15,000 yards at that time. He was key part of the Rams’ Greatest Show of Turf in which they won a Super Bowl and powered quarterback Kurt Warner to two MVP awards.
Why he was elected: He was the first player in NFL history with three consecutive games of at least 170 yards receiving, and he had three career 200-yard receiving games. He finished his career with eight 1,000-yard seasons and was one of the most respected players in the league for both his performance and approach to the game.
Signature moment: He had many, led by his winning touchdown catch in Super Bowl XXXIV when he adjusted his route to snare an underthrown pass before he completed a 73-yard catch-and-run with 1 minute, 54 seconds left. The play gave him 162 yards receiving in that game.
He said it: “The best route runner that probably ever played football as a wide receiver.” — former NFL coach Jim Haslett
STEVE HUTCHINSON | GUARD
He was selected to the league’s all-rookie team in 2001, seven Pro Bowls and the All-Decade team of the 2000s. With the Seahawks, he played alongside Hall of Fame tackle Walter Jones, forming one of the best guard-tackle tandems of the past three decades.
Why he was elected: He is one of 12 offensive linemen in the modern era to have been named first-team All-Pro five times and once went 44 consecutive games without having a penalty called on him that was accepted. He helped power two different offenses with two different teams that featured the NFL’s rushing leader — Seattle’s Shaun Alexander in 2005 and Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson in 2008.
Signature moment: Hutchinson set the market for an entire position — not just for one season, but for the long haul. He signed a seven-year, $49 million deal with the Vikings in 2006 and only three tackles had a higher per-year average, let alone guards like Hutchinson. The contract also featured a “poison pill” the Seahawks couldn’t really match — if Hutchinson wasn’t his team’s highest-paid lineman at any point in the contract, the entire contract would be fully guaranteed. The Seahawks had already signed Jones, a left tackle, to a bigger deal, and Hutchinson went to the Vikings. Similar provisions were later banned in negotiations.
He said it: “Just as Walter Jones was the best tackle I ever saw, Steve Hutchinson was the best guard.” — former NFL coach Mike Holmgren
EDGERRIN JAMES | RUNNING BACK
He was the league’s offensive rookie of the year in 1999 and won the league’s rushing title his first two seasons — with 1,553 yards in 1999 and 1,709 in 2000. James had four 1,500-yard rushing seasons, five 50-reception seasons and finished with more than 15,000 yards from scrimmage.
Why he was elected: James was a versatile, do-it-all player whom former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said was a big part of Indianapolis’ run as one of the league’s most dominant offenses. James ran with quickness, power and vision and was also a matchup problem for defenses in the passing game. And he consistently did the roll-up-your-sleeves things, such as blitz pickups, without complaint.
Signature moment: He had many for a team that was consistently in the playoff conversation, but a moment several of his teammates (Manning included) have pointed out came in 2004 when the Colts faced Brett Favre’s Packers in what was expected to be an offensive showcase. The Colts, because the Packers were intent on blitzing Manning, elected to throw on the first 22 plays, and James was used as a blocker. Manning went 17-of-22 for 247 yards and three touchdowns in those 22 plays, and James didn’t get a carry until the second quarter. But it showed the unselfishness and work ethic of a gifted player who performed well in all facets of the game.
He said it: “I’ve said [James] is probably the best teammate I ever had. Because of his talent, the most talented running back and one of the most talented players I’ve ever spent any time with, and he was so unselfish. He just did everything that needed to be done.” — Hall of Fame QB Peyton Manning
TROY POLAMALU | SAFETY
Pittsburgh Steelers, 2003-14
In short, a highly decorated player who powered a championship defense as the Steelers won two Super Bowls during his time in the league. The Steelers gave him plenty of freedom in the defense to be a playmaker, and he consistently delivered. He forced 14 fumbles, recovered seven and had 32 interceptions.
Why he was elected: The only reason he was a second-team All-Decade pick at safety is because Ed Reed — Hall of Fame Class of 2019 — was the first-team selection at Polamalu’s spot. Polamalu was selected to eight Pro Bowls and was a four-time first-team All-Pro despite playing in the same era as Reed. Polamalu was the league’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2010 — the most recent defensive back to win the award. Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore is in the running this season.
Signature moment: Folks will always remember his Superman-like leaps over the offensive line to make a tackle, but his 40-yard interception return for a touchdown with just over four minutes to play sealed the Steelers’ 23-14 win in the AFC Championship Game in 2009 against the Baltimore Ravens. It propelled the Steelers into Super Bowl XLIII, where they defeated the Arizona Cardinals.
He said it: “His actions as a human being were just as impressive as any of the many inhuman plays he made on the football field.” — Steelers vice president/general manager Kevin Colbert