ATLANTA — For towering tight end Tony Gonzalez, this was a slam dunk.
The 6-foot-5 Gonzalez, who turned the celebratory post-TD dunk over the crossbar into an art form, was voted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday.
Joining the former Cal football and basketball player will be two more first-time nominees, cornerback Champ Bailey and safety Ed Reed, along with another defensive back, Ty Law, and center Kevin Mawae; Law and Mawae were both in their third year as finalists.
The contributor nominees, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and Cowboys and NFL executive Gil Brandt, each made it, as did senior Johnny Robinson, the defensive back who helped the Chiefs win Super Bowl IV.
Among the finalists who didn’t earn enshrinement were former Raiders coach Tom Flores; wide receiver Isaac Bruce, whose final two seasons were with the 49ers; defensive lineman Richard Seymour whose final four seasons were with the Raiders; and 49ers general manager John Lynch, who was a nine-time Pro Bowl safety.
Gonzalez started in Kansas City and finished in Atlanta, where voters met on the eve of the Super Bowl to select the Class of 2019; they didn’t need much time to debate his worthiness.
Photo: Ed Zurga / Associated Press 2007
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In short, Gonzalez had more than his fair share of chances to jam. (Maybe not by accident, the NFL banned the practice in 2014, the year after he retired.)
The most prolific pass catcher at his position over a 17-year career, Gonzalez caught 1,325 passes (second in NFL history) for 15,127 yards (sixth) and 111 touchdowns. He was a six-time All-Pro, made 14 Pro Bowls, and his 916 catches with the Chiefs set one of 22 franchise records he held upon his retirement.
He’ll be donning the yellow jacket this summer alongside three players who spent part of their careers trying to stop him.
This marks the first time more than two defensive backs have made it in the same class.
Bailey played 15 years — five with Washington, then 10 with Denver after Washington swapped him for running back Clinton Portis. Like so many great cornerbacks, Bailey did not rewrite the record book, in part because he was, for a huge chunk of his career, considered the best cover guy in the league. So most quarterbacks simply avoided him.
Still, he made three All-Pro teams, 12 Pro Bowls and had 52 interceptions. His best-remembered pick was a 103-yard return against New England’s Tom Brady in the 2006 playoffs that did not go for a touchdown. Denver did score shortly afterward, though, on the way to the win. Eight years later, Bailey made his only Super Bowl.
Reed won his only title in the 2012 season, his last with the Ravens. Running the defense from his safety position, he was a standout playmaker on a roster full of them — including Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Peter Boulware. Reed finished his career with 64 interceptions, and led the league in picks three times.
Law was a lot like Bailey, a rock at the corner who quarterbacks avoided. He finished with 53 interceptions and three Super Bowl rings, all with the Patriots. When New England beat the Rams for its first title in February 2002, Law returned a pick 47 yards for a score that gave the Patriots the lead for good.
Law was one of the many high-profile players Bill Belichick was willing to cycle out, and his final five years were spent with Kansas City, Denver and two stints with the Jets, including 2005, when he made a career-high 10 interceptions.
Mawae, a second-round draft pick in 1994, played 16 seasons for the Seahawks, Jets and Titans. He made three All-Pro teams and joins Mike Webster, Dwight Stevenson and Jim Otto among the few true centers in Canton.
Mawae said he was stunned to get the phone call telling him he was in.
Bowlen goes in after what some believe was a longer-than-necessary wait. He is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, which has put the future of the Broncos’ franchise on uncertain ground. He was key in securing the NFL’s future via a number of multibillion-dollar TV contracts. The Broncos have prospered during his tenure, winning more than 60 percent of their games. That included the 1998 Super Bowl, when the owner shouted “This one’s for John” — a tribute to John Elway winning his first title.
Brandt spent 29 years with the Cowboys, where his eye for talent helped turn Dallas into “America’s Team.” He chose eight future Hall of Famers, including Troy Aikman, Roger Staubach, Bob Lilly and Bob Hayes. He employed computers for evaluating talent and came up with psychological tests for draft prospects, tools all NFL teams now utilize.
Brandt also was elected for his role as the NFL’s resident draft guru.
Robinson was chosen by the Dallas Texans in the first AFL draft. The Texans became the Chiefs, and the Chiefs became Super Bowl champions. A teammate of his, Hall of Fame linebacker Willie Lanier, said Robinson was the key to a defense that twice helped Kansas City reach the Super Bowl.
Eddie Pells is an Associated Press writer.
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