Seven Inductees, Seven Paths to Greatness
The NFL is a star-driven league.
Yes, obscure players and career journeymen can leap to prominence at any time, like Chase Blackburn in SB XLVI. Blackburn, a seven-year NFL journeyman, was about to begin a second career as a math teacher in Ohio in 2011 before the Giants called mid-season to bring him back due to injuries to linebackers Michael Boley and Mark Herzlich.
Two months later, he intercepted Tom Brady 50 yards downfield in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl in a (the?) pivotal play in the Giants’ 21-17 upset win.
But Blackburn’s case is the exception, not the rule. Even the most successful NFL teams are made up mostly of mediocre players – journeymen, developmental young players, backups whose primary contributions come on special teams, and players who general managers and coaches intend to replace as soon as a better option exists.
What makes the most successful teams stand above the others is 1) having a “franchise” quarterback and 2) having elite players – real difference-makers – at as many other positions as possible.
The ultimate measure of “elite” is induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This past weekend, seven new members joined the Hall, swelling its population to 287. Each of these players took a different path to NFL immortality, but each provides a lesson on how a successful NFL General Manager can find cornerstone players to put a top team on the field.
Heart of a Lion
LB Derrick Brooks – R1/28, 1995 NFL Draft. Brooks, though only 6’0”, never missed a game in 14 NFL seasons, and started every game in his career after the first three. He was a tackling machine and an 11-time Pro Bowler. The Bucs’ defense during his heyday had stars at all three levels of the defense, with Warren Sapp at DT, Brooks at MLB, and Jonathan Lynch at safety.