The NFL is announcing the 2021 class of entrants into the Pro Football Hall of Fame at its annual NFL Honors program. The new class is headlined by three-first ballot selections in Peyton Manning, Charles Woodson, and Calvin Johnson. Additionally, the class includes safety John Lynch, guard Alan Faneca, wide receiver Drew Pearson, former head coach Tom Flores and Bill Nunn as a contributor.
Manning had an illustrious NFL career, which spanned 17 seasons. The former first overall pick of the 1998 NFL Draft spent the first 14 years of his career with the Indianapolis Colts. Manning led the Colts to multiple playoff appearances, including a Super Bowl berth in 2006, where they defeated the Chicago Bears. The veteran quarterback led the Colts to the Super Bowl again three years, where they lost to Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.
After leading the Colts to the promised land and making them one of the best franchises in the league, Manning took his talents to the Denver Broncos in 2012 as a free agent. Unlike his younger years under center, Manning’s game took a step back. But he still found a way to be under center when the Broncos won the Super Bowl in 2015 at 39 years old.
Manning left the sport with an accomplished resume, which includes five MVPs, seven All-Pro teams, 14-time Pro Bowler, Walter Peyton NFL Man of the Year Award, and a Comeback Player of the Year award. He currently ranks third all-time in passing yards and passing touchdowns.
Woodson was a part of the same draft class as Manning, instead was selected with the fourth overall pick in 1998. The game-changing defensive back was a playmaker no matter where you lined him at on the football field. Woodson began his career at cornerback and played 11 seasons with the Oakland Raiders. In those 11 seasons, Woodson recorded 27 interceptions, was a four-time Pro Bowler, and named to the All-Pro team three times.
The 6-foot-1 defensive back eventually moved on from the Raiders to the Green Bay Packers for the seven years of his career. With the Packers, he had 38 interceptions and helped win a Super Bowl in 2009. Woodson ended his career the Raiders for one last rodeo from 2013-15. He is fifth in the NFL history with 65 interceptions, tying him with Ken Riley, who isn’t in the Hall of Fame.
Megatron, the nickname says it all. At 6’5”, 236 lbs., Calvin Johnson was impossible to defend. During his 9-year career in Detroit, Johnson put up 11,619 yards and 83 touchdowns. He made the Pro Bowl six times and was named first-team All Pro three times. His 1,964 yards receiving in 2012 set the record for receiving yards in a single season and this all came with an organization that usually couldn’t get out of its own way.
Johnson and the Lions had a falling out which culminated when Johnson retired earlier than many expected. His shorter than usual career put his first ballot HOF chances in doubt, but his sheer dominance and record for yards in a season likely was too much to keep him out. In 2015, his final season, he had 88 receptions for 1,214 yards and nine touchdowns and likely could have played for years to come.
This was Faneca’s sixth time as a finalist and he finally broke through. The guard spent 13 seasons in the NFL, the first ten of which were with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He also played two season with the New York Jets and one with the Arizona Cardinals. He earned first-team All Pro honors six times and two more second-team honors. He was a nine-time Pro Bowler, part of the NFL’s All-2000s team, and a member of the Steelers All-Time team.
Faneca entered the NFL as a first round pick in the 1998 NFL Draft. The Steelers picked him 26th overall, making him the second guard taken off the board after Mo Collins. Faneca finished with a career AV of 107, which was fourth in the class behind Peyton Manning, Randy Moss, and Charles Woodson. Moss was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018, and Manning, Woodson, and Faneca were all elected this year.
John Lynch is currently onto the second half of his NFL career as the general manager of the San Francisco 49ers, who he just helped reach Super Bowl 54. But his accomplishments started much earlier as a safety with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then Denver Broncos. He was known as one of the hardest hitting safeties in the league and kept his excellent play going late into his career.
He’s had a long road to the Hall-of-Fame, as this is his eighth nomination, but his longevity and consistent play won out in the end. A four-time All-Pro and nine-time Pro Bowl selection, Lynch never slowed down. He played in 224 games (191 starts) and registered 1,054 tackles, 13.0 sacks, 26 interceptions, 16 forced fumbles, eight fumble recoveries and 100 passes defended.
Flores first entered professional football as a quarterback for the Oakland Raiders when they were still in the AFL. He spent time with the Raiders, Bills, and Chiefs over ten seasons before moving into coaching. He spent time as an assistant with the Bills and Raiders before replacing a retiring John Madden as head coach of the Raiders. He was the first minority head coach in professional football history.
Flores served as Raiders head coach for nine seasons, going 83-53 and winning two Super Bowl titles. In 1980, his team went 11-5 and won Super Bowl XV as a Wild Card team — the first WC team to win a Super Bowl. In 1983, the then Los Angeles Raiders went 12-4 and won Super Bowl XVIII as AFC West champs.
Flores’ 83 wins with the Raiders are second most in franchise history. Prior to this year, Flores and George Seifert were the only eligible coaches with two Super Bowl victories who had not been selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Flores was a coaching finalist, separate from the traditional voting procedure.
Dallas Cowboy’s wide receiver Drew Pearson makes it in to the Hall of Fame after an 11-year career that ended with 489 catches for 7,822 yards and 48 touchdowns. He set a team record with 22 straight playoff games with a reception and was also named to the 1970’s All-Decade team.
Pearson helped the Cowboys to three Super Bowl appearances and a victory in Super Bowl XII in 1978. He will be remembered by Cowboys fans as “Mr. Clutch” and the recipient of the Hail Mary reception from Roger Staubach that beat the Minnesota Vikings in their 1975 playoff game.
Nunn, a Pittsburgh Steelers scout who helped pave the way for recruiting from Historically Black Colleges and Universities has posthumously been selected to the Hall-of-Fame as a contributor. His impact on the NFL was much bigger than his impact on the Steelers, but, Hall-of-Famers John Stallworth, Donnie Shell, Mel Blount and L.C. Greenwood, among others, were all brought in by Nunn.
Nunn started his career as a journalist, as he was a sportswriter, editor, and then managing editor of The Pittsburgh Courier among other positions. He put together the paper’s annual Black College All-American Team and when he became a scout, he used those connections to open doors for players who couldn’t get attention playing at under-scouted black colleges.