Meet the Pro Football Hall of Fame Centennial Class

ByJeff Legwold ESPN logo
Monday, January 20, 2020

Fifteen men, some who have waited decades to hear their names called, were elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Wednesday as part of its Centennial Class. The group was selected to honor the NFL's 100th anniversary.

The members, who will be enshrined in August and September, include 10 seniors, two coaches and three contributors. Hall of Fame president David Baker said Wednesday part of the Centennial Class will be enshrined with the modern-era Class of 2020 on Aug. 8, while part of the Centennial Class will be enshrined at the centennial celebration in September.

Here's a closer look at the class:


Wide receiver Harold Carmichael (Philadelphia Eagles, 1971-1983; Dallas Cowboys, 1984)

A four-time Pro Bowl selection, the 6-foot-8 Carmichael was the league's Man of the Year in 1980 for his work in his community. In an era when Drew Pearson once led the league in receiving yards with 877 in 1977, Carmichael was consistent in his impact, averaging over 15 yards per catch in six seasons.

Why he was elected: Carmichael was said to be one of the most difficult players to defend. Those who played against him said his numbers would be far better if he played now, when pass interference and defensive holding are called more often. He led the league in catches and receiving yards in 1973 and finished with three 1,000-yard seasons in his career. He was also among the league's top 10 in touchdowns in eight seasons.

Tackle Jim Covert (Chicago Bears,1983-1990)

A starter from his rookie season in 1983 to when he retired after the 1990 season. A two-time first-team All-Pro, Covert helped power a Bears offense that led the league in rushing in each of his first four seasons and finished among the top three in rushing in seven of his eight seasons. Covert played his best against the best pass-rushers of his time.

Why he was elected: A back injury ended his career in 1991. He spent that seasons on injured reserve and never returned to the field. Covert held Lawrence Taylor without a sack in his three meetings against the Hall of Famer. Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon once said Covert and Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz were the best tackles he faced.

Safety Bobby Dillon (Green Bay Packers, 1952-59)

Dillon did his best work before they became Vince Lombardi's Packers. Green Bay had losing seasons in seven of Dillon's eight years with the team. Dillon, like many of his era, retired before his 30th birthday and before the Packers could have enjoyed his talents on a consistent winner. Dillon also played with a glass eye because of childhood accident.

Why he was elected: Dillon retired with a staggering 52 interceptions in 94 games. In a decidedly run-first era, Dillon is tied for 26th with Hall of Famers Champ Bailey, Jack Butler, Mel Renfro and Larry Wilson on the league's all-time list for interceptions. Dillon had three seasons with nine interceptions and five seasons with at least seven picks.

Safety Cliff Harris (Dallas Cowboys, 1970-79)

Harris made the Cowboys' roster as an undrafted rookie in 1970, having arrived as a former college sprinter and cornerback. The Cowboys saw a future safety, and he started five games as a rookie. Harris became one of the league's first box safeties with enough athleticism to return punts and kickoffs. Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton once said the two best safeties he faced were Harris and Hall of Famer Jake Scott.

Why he was elected: A player nicknamed "Captain Crash,'' Harris was selected to six Pro Bowls. He led the Cowboys in tackles in 1976 and interceptions in 1977. He played on two Super Bowl winners, and the Cowboys were in the postseason in nine of his 10 years. Dallas won 72.9 percent of its games in the 1970s.

Tackle Winston Hill (New York Jets, 1963-76; Los Angeles Rams, 1977)

Hill is part of a group vastly underrepresented in the Hall of Fame: players who excelled in the AFL. An eight-time Pro Bowl selection, he played seven seasons with AFL's Jets and eight more after the AFL-NFL merger. Many longtime league observers have said he so dominated in Super Bowl III he should have been the MVP.

Why he was elected: Hillwas a player with remarkable footwork -- he played tennis in his youth -- who played with power, technique and quickness. He missed one game in his 14 seasons with the Jets -- as a rookie. His career was overshadowed by the fact the Jets had three winning seasons in his 14 years, but Hall of Fame coach Weeb Ewbank said Hill should have been enshrined decades ago.

Defensive tackle Alex Karras (Detroit Lions 1958-1962, 1964-1970)

Karras was an NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion at Iowa and finished second in Heisman Trophy voting in 1957 as a defensive lineman. He still holds the Lions' career record for sacks with 97.5. He was a dominant player during his era, but for a team that did not win a championship. Karras played in one postseason game in 1970. Karras was also suspended for gambling, along with Hall of Famer Paul Hornung, for the 1963 season.

Why he was elected: Three defensive tackles were named to the All-Decade team of the 1960s -- Karras, Bob Lilly and Merlin Olsen. Lilly and Olsen were enshrined as first-ballot selections while Karras was never a finalist in his 25 years of eligibility. He was a four-time All-Pro selection. Karras' only playoff appearance was in the last game of his career; the Lions held the Cowboys without a touchdown but still lost 5-0.

Safety Donnie Shell (Pittsburgh Steelers, 1974-87)

Shell was physical enough to play the run like a linebacker with the athleticism and savvy to have 51 career interceptions. He covered tight ends like Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome in man-to-man situations and was also a feared hitter along the line of scrimmage. Shell played on four Super Bowl winners and was voted the team MVP of the 1980 Steelers, a team that included nine Hall of Famers (Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Mike Webster, Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Jack Ham and Mel Blount).

Why he was elected: He was a five-time Pro Bowl and three-time first-team All-Pro selection. Couple Shell's 51 career interceptions with 19 career fumble recoveries and those 70 career takeaways are Canton-worthy. He had a six-year stretch -- 1979-1984 -- with at least five interceptions in a season, including seven in 1980 and 1984.

Tackle Duke Slater (Milwaukee Badgers, 1922; Rock Island Independents, 1922-25; Chicago Cardinals, 1926-31)

Slater is considered the first African-American player in professional football in the first half of the 20th century. At a time when most players played for one or two seasons before injuries or the need for more income pushed them out of the league, Slater was good enough to play for a decade. A two-way player, Slater had a four-year stretch in Rock Island when he played every minute of each game. He continued to play both ways through the final years of his career with the Cardinals.

Why he was elected: Slater started 96 of 99 career games and, when he retired, his 10 seasons were the third-most of any professional player. He was a six-time All-Pro, and Slater did all of it while battling racism. The only game Slater missed in his career was in 1924 due to an agreement that prevented African-American players from playing in Missouri. His teammates wanted to forfeit the game, but Slater said he would fake an injury because his teammates would not be paid if they didn't play.

Wide receiver Mac Speedie (Cleveland Browns, 1944-52)

Speedie played seven seasons for the Browns, who went to league championship games in each of those years with five victories. Some believe he did not make the Hall of Fame after his retirement, despite being an All-Decade selection for the 1940s and leading the league in receptions four times, because he left Paul Brown's team for more money to play in Saskatchewan. Speedie's departure angered the influential Brown, who sued Speedie for breach of contract but lost. In fact, Speedie wasn't even added to the Browns' Hall of Fame until 1999.

Why he was elected: His 1,146 receiving yards in 1947 not only led his league -- the AAFC -- but were 202 yards more than any player in the NFL that year. His 1,028 yards in 1949 also led the AAFC and would have led the NFL that year as well. He averaged 800 yards receiving per year in his career, a figure another player with as many seasons of experience wouldn't reach for two decades after his retirement. In 10 seasons over three leagues -- the AAFC, NFL and what is now the CFL -- he was an all-league pick eight times.

Defensive end/linebacker/end Ed Sprinkle (Chicago Bears, 1944-55)

This is the player George Halas, who was a part of the NFL from the 1920s as a player to the 1980s as a team owner, called "the greatest pass-rusher I've ever seen.'' Sprinkle once graced a magazine cover that dubbed him "the meanest man in pro football.'' In a title game against the Giants, Sprinkle knocked two New York running backs out of the game -- George Franck with a separated shoulder and Frank Reagan with a broken nose -- and also fractured the nose of Giants quarterback Frank Filchock.

Why he was elected: Sprinkle was an elite player long before sacks and forced fumbles were official statistics. He was voted by his peers, many who disliked playing against him, to four of the first five Pro Bowls (the Pro Bowl didn't exist until 1950) and was selected to All-Decade team of the 1940s.


Bill Cowher (Pittsburgh Steelers, 1992-2006)

Cowher followed legend Chuck Noll as head coach of the Steelers. Pittsburgh has had just three head coaches since 1969 -- Noll, Cowher and Mike Tomlin. The fiery Cowher won with both a power-first offense and a wide-open, pass-first attack. The Steelers' defenses were also consistently among the league's best.

Why he was elected: He had nine 10-win seasons in 15 years with the Steelers, won eight division titles and Super Bowl XL. Cowher is 20th on the league's all-time wins list among coaches, and his team's defenses finished among the league's top five in scoring defense seven times. His .623 winning percentage is 14th all-time among coaches who have been in the league for at least 10 years. Nine of those other coaches are already in the Hall of Fame.

Jimmy Johnson (Dallas Cowboys, 1989-1993; Miami Dolphins, 1996-99)

Like the 49ers' Bill Walsh, Johnson's tenure wasn't as long as many already enshrined, but he made the most of those nine seasons with two Super Bowl wins as the Dallas Cowboys went from 1-15 in his first season in 1989 to 36-12 in his last three years in Dallas with the back-to-back Super Bowl victories.

Why he was elected:Johnson is credited with the extensive use of the draft chart to make trades, while his Herschel Walker and Steve Walsh trades netted him four first-round picks, four second-round picks and two third-round picks. He turned those picks into a team that won three Super Bowls -- two for him and one for Barry Switzer. With the Cowboys, Johnson drafted 18 players who would start in Super Bowls, including three Super Bowl MVPs, and 15 players who would be selected to a Pro Bowl. In Miami, he drafted four players who would go to a combined 19 Pro Bowls (Zach Thomas, Jason Taylor, Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain) and none of them were first-round picks.


Administrator/president Steve Sabol (NFL Films 1964-2012)

There are few, if any, in the league that question the impact of Steve Sabol, and his father Ed, given their work with NFL Films. Steve Sabol took over NFL Films from his father in 1976, and in 2003, the Sabols were awarded a Lifetime Achievement Emmy award. Before cable television, NFL Films' signature vignettes were how many fans came to see the game, with the slow-motion, music and narration each week.

Why he was elected: When Steve Sabol died of cancer in 2012, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said "Steve's legacy will be part of the NFL forever. ... A man who changed the way we look at football and sports.'' Steve Sabol won 35 Emmys in his time at NFL Films. His father, Ed, was enshrined in 2011, and they are now the third father-son combination in the Hall of Fame, joining Tim and Wellington Mara and Art and Dan Rooney.

Commissioner Paul Tagliabue (1989-2006)

He has been a polarizing candidate for some of his early comments on concussions as well as stadium troubles in California during his tenure, having been turned away four times by the Hall's Board of Selectors over the past 14 years. But his supporters cite his role in the growth of the NFL into a global, multibillion dollar business, his part in the creation of the Rooney Rule, to promote diversity in hiring, and a long period of labor peace between the league and the players' union.

Why he was elected: It took 11 votes, in multiple cities over multiple meetings, by the NFL owners to select Tagliabue in 1989 to replace Pete Rozelle as the league's commissioner. Before Tagliabue's tenure, the commissioner largely ran the league's day-to-day operations but held little power. Tagliabue flipped it to make the commissioner the central figure in the NFL's operations. Record television revenues and extended labor peace followed. His most ardent supporters, including Hall of Famer and late Steelers owner Dan Rooney, said Tagliabue should have been in the Hall of Fame long ago.

Executive/general manager George Young (Baltimore Colts, 1968-1974; Miami Dolphins, 1975-78; New York Giants, 1979-1997; National Football League)

The Giants were a mess when Young was hired in 1979, with two winning seasons between 1964 and Young's first day on the job. Young was given total control of the team's football operations. He drafted a future Hall of Famer in Lawrence Taylor and hired future Hall of Famer Bill Parcells as coach, and two Super Bowl victories followed.

Why he was elected: Young was a five-time winner of the league's Executive of the Year award, which now bears his name. The only other former general manager to win the award five times is Hall of Famer Bill Polian. Young restored stability to the Giants. He worked with two Hall of Fame coaches in Parcells and Don Shula. Young went on to fill a newly created position with the NFL as the league's director of football operations.

Editor's note: ESPN Denver Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold is a Hall of Fame voter and a member of the panel that selected the NFL Centennial Class.

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