HOF Class of 2018: Youth served as Owens, Moss, Lewis elected

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- Yes, as a matter of fact, the latest is the greatest.

That's the message the Pro Football Hall of Fame sent Saturday as it elected five modern-era candidates with a combined ... combined ... eight years of eligibility, with Terrell Owens -- yes, T.O. -- the senior member at three.

Owens, who failed to make the Top 10 in his first two years, was elected with first-year finalist Randy Moss, second-year finalist Brian Dawkins, first-year finalist Ray Lewis and first-year finalist Brian Urlacher.

In addition, Jerry Kramer and Robert Brazile were elected as senior candidates, and former GM Bobby Beathard was the contributor enshrinee. Beathard becomes the fifth contributor to be elected in the four years of that category.

But back to the modern-era choices. An extraordinary class? You bet. Not only was it the youngest in recent memory, but it included two positions with two players each at those positions. I know, that happened a year ago with running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Terrell Davis, but it hadn't occurred before at one position -- other than quarterback -- since 1983.

Anything else? Plenty. So let's get started.

THE LOCK

LB RAY LEWIS. Like LaDainian Tomlinson last year, Brett Favre the year before and Junior Seau in 2015, he was the obvious choice. So there was little debate, with Lewis the shortest of all modern-era discussions at 6:04.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

WR TERRELL OWENS. He had no momentum his first two years, but he gained plenty Saturday -- with several voters who spoke out against him in 2016-17 endorsing him as a Hall-of-Famer. Reason: Where Owens' divisive behavior kept him out the first two years, his productivity dominated Saturday's conversation. Owens had blasted the process when he wasn't elected, saying he didn't give a damn about the Hall, and lobbed a grenade this week in the direction of the 49ers -- insinuating he didn't care about them, either. Ironically, it was the comments of several of those 49ers that seemed to sway some of the room. Just a guess: Owens gives a damn about the Hall now.

Bingo.

MILD SURPRISE

LB BRIAN URLACHER. That he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer is no surprise. That he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer in the same year as Ray Lewis is. Lewis was the one sure thing in this class. Urlacher might have been a sure thing in any other year, but, with five offensive linemen -- or one-third of the class -- up this time around, the thought was that voters might make him wait a year and look to clear the queues elsewhere. Didn't happen. The presentation for Urlacher was strong and so was the support. So he and Lewis continue to be joined at the hip as first-team all-decade choices, former Defensive Players of the Year, multiple Pro Bowl and All-Pro choices and now ... Hall of Famers.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

T JOE JACOBY and CB EVERSON WALLS. Both were in their last years of modern-era eligibility, with Jacoby a three-time finalist and Walls in his first ... and last ... run as one (he's in his 20th year). Jacoby was an all-decade choice. Walls was not. Jacoby was a three-time Super Bowl champion. Walls won one. Both were difference makers, with Jacoby such a key part of the Redskins' "counter trey" that former GM Charley Casserly said, given the choice, he'd take him over Russ Grimm. Grimm is the Redskins' Hall-of-Fame guard who, along with Jacoby, keyed the counter trey from the left side of the line. Walls was the only cornerback to lead the league three times in interceptions and ranked fifth for pure cornerbacks in career picks (57). But that didn't resonate with voters in a class that failed to recognize anyone with over three years of eligibility. Now, both candidacies are moved to the senior category, where too many qualified players are either forgotten or ignored ... or both.

BIGGEST DISAPOINTMENT, PART DEUX

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN. There were five in this year's class, which meant that voters had convictions about all five. So why is that a problem? Because all five could cancel each other out ... and they did. I know, four of the five graduated to the Top 10, but so what? They cannibalized each other ... and this was after voters expressed an interest in trying to break up the logjam. The biggest winners were guards Steve Hutchinson and Alan Faneca. Both made it to the Top 10 for the first time, though it's Hutchinson's first year of eligibility. But it's Faneca's third, and he hadn't made it past the first cut the previous two years. With tackle Tony Boselli and center Kevin Mawae in the Top 10 for the second straight year, you have to believe one ... or both ... is a favorite for 2019. Only one problem: Look at the Class of 2019 (see below).

MOST POPULAR CHOICE

G JERRY KRAMER. That's based on the volume of emails, texts and tweets we received over the past few years. The only member of the NFL's 50th anniversary team excluded from Canton, Kramer made it in his 11th try as a finalist -- and his second as a senior candidate. That makes him the 13th member (including coach Vince Lombardi) of the 1960s' Packers to reach Canton, and it's about time. This was Kramer's 45th year of eligibility.

MOST POPULAR CHOICE II

WR RANDY MOSS. He made a name for himself in Minnesota, so what better place to become the first first-ballot wide receiver since Jerry Rice? Moss could have been a controversial candidate -- especially with his "I-play-when-I-want-to-play" comment --but, as with Owens, productivity carried the room,. There was also a feeling that if one wideout would make it, it would be Moss ... mostly because he was a first-team all-decade choice and Owens was not. But one wideout didn't make it. Two did.

THE HISTORY MAKER

S BRIAN DAWKINS. Prior to his election, the last modern-era pure safety to play ... and be elected to the Hall ... was Kenny Houston. He retired after the 1980 season. I know, Paul Krause was elected in 1998, but he retired before Houston (1979). And Kenny Easley was elected last year ... as a senior candidate. So, congratulations, Brian Dawkins. You just broke a drought of nearly 40 years. And you did it with your former team (and the organization you now work for) in the Super Bowl. Could be a big weekend.

FIVE SHORTEST DEBATES

LB ROBERT BRAZILE -- 5:47

LB RAY LEWIS -- 6:04

G ALAN FANECA -- 8:45

RB EDGERRIN JAMES -- 11:56

G STEVE HUTCHINSON -- 12:02

FIVE LONGEST DEBATES

WR TERRELL OWENS -- 45:15

WR RANDY MOSS -- 34:45

C KEVIN MAWAE -- 32:05

S BRIAN DAWKINS -- 23:22

G JERRY KRAMER -- 23:18

CUTTING TO FIVE

(OUT: Tony Boselli, Kevin Mawae, Alan Faneca, Steve Hutchinson, Ty Law)

T TONY BOSELLI. As a returning top-10 finalist he had momentum. But he got caught in a traffic jam of offensive linemen, with each canceling the other out.

C KEVIN MAWAE. See Tony Boselli.

G ALAN FANECA. Good news, he made it past the first cut for the first time in three years. Bad news: He's still on the outside looking in ... as a first-time all-decade choice, nine-time Pro Bowler, eight-time All-Pro and a guy who missed only two games in his NFL career. Just a hunch, but Hutchinson cost him votes.

G STEVE HUTCHINSON. He makes it as a Top-10 guy in his first year of eligibility, which is good. But he's competing with Faneca for a spot at a position voters haven't really embraced. The evidence: It took them 45 years to induct Kramer, and he was the only member of the NFL's 50th anniversary team not in Canton -- a team, by the way, voted on by Hall-of-Fame voters. We don't make 'em up.

CB TY LAW. This was supposed to be the year he was elected, with Law a Top-10 finalist a year ago. But he got sidetracked by the linebackers and wide receivers. Truth be told: He probably was sidetracked by his position, too. Only seven pure cornerbacks have been finalists the past 20 years. By contrast, there have been 13 wide receivers during that time.

CUTTING TO TEN

(OUT: Isaac Bruce, Joe Jacoby, Edgerrin James, John Lynch, Everson Walls)

WR ISAAC BRUCE. He's a victim of the Randy Moss-Terrell Owens traffic. Until or unless they're out of his way he's going to have trouble moving forward. This is the second straight year he failed to make the cut to 10.

T JOE JACOBY. This was his last chance as a modern-era candidate, and his chances were slim -- mostly because his candidacy lost momentum last year when he moved from the Top 10 in 2016 to failing to make the cut to 10 in 2017.

RB EDGERRIN JAMES. He was a finalist in 2016 but didn't make the first cut to 10. Then he failed to become a finalist in 2o17. So when he returned in 2018, the expectations weren't high.

S JOHN LYNCH. This was a surprise. He was a top-10 finalist the past two years and has been a finalist the past five. But his candidacy moved backward, which isn't good. But this is worse: Safety Ed Reed is in next year's class.

CB EVERSON WALLS. The odds of him making it were long. After all, this was his first year as a finalist in his last -- or 20th -- year of eligibility.

LOOKING TO 2019

Safety Ed Reed is in next year's class, and you can pencil him in as the dead-bolt cinch. But he's not alone. Tight end Tony Gonzalez and cornerback Champ Bailey are in the Class of 2019, too, and, yeah, there have been too few corners to make it lately and tight ends historically have to wait. But Saturday proved that might not matter. They're might be three first-ballot Hall of Famers a year from now.

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