The pro football season began this past weekend with the 50th Pro Football Hall of Fame class of seven enshrined in Canton, Ohio. This raises the total in the Hall to 280. The seven new enshrinees are offensive lineman Larry Allen, wide receiver Cris Carter, defensive tackle Curley Culp, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, Coach Bill Parcells, linebacker Dave Robinson, and defensive tackle Warren Sapp.
Larry Allen played 14 years in the league and to the uninitiated, was underestimated at nearly every turn. Drafted 46th overall in 1994 out of Sonoma State, most thought the defending champion Cowboys were taking a flyer on Allen thinking he would amount to little more than a project. What a project! Allen played each position but center and excelled at every one ultimately gaining the regard as one of the best tackles ever to play the game.
Cris Carter is an example that talent is not enough. You must have your head on straight, as well. Carter, an all-American at Ohio State, lost his eligibility before his senior season for a relationship with an agent. After three seasons he was cut from the Philadelphia Eagles, against the best advice of the wife of Eagles Coach Buddy Ryan. Ryan is attributed to have famously said of him, “All he does is catch touchdowns.” Carter caught 130 of them; his 1000th catch was a touchdown.
Curley Culp was drafted by the Broncos in 1968 but they wanted to switch him to offense, something Curley was not comfortable with. Instead, Culp was traded to the Chiefs where he was an anchor on a stifling defense that upset the Vikings in Super Bowl IV. After six seasons in Kansas City, Culp was traded to the Oilers in a blockbuster trade of the day, where he played for six more seasons.
Jonathan Ogden was the first draft pick in the history of the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens went on to take Ray Lewis with their second first-round pick cementing the foundation the Ravens used to win two world championships. An immediate starter, Ogden missed the Pro Bowl his rookie year of 1996. He would not miss another in his 12-year career. Many consider Ogden the finest offensive tackle ever over an entire career.
Bill Parcells won 183 games as a head coach, but his coaching tree extends even further with the success of protégés such as Bill Belichick and Sean Payton. The one-time Vanderbilt assistant quickly gained the reputation as an architect, building winners everywhere he went. The winner of Super Bowls XXI and XXV with the Giants, the two-time Coach of the Year was the first to lead four different franchises to the playoffs.
Dave Robinson represents yet another member of Vince Lombardi’s 1960s champion Packers to find his way to Canton. Robinson is quite the story of perseverance being way ahead of his time. After starting Super Bowls I and II, he suffered an Achilles injury in 1970. He not only came back but he prospered. Robinson totaled 27 interceptions in his career mainly at outside linebacker, a trendsetter for his day.
Warren Sapp is the fifth defensive tackle elected in his first year of eligibility. Considered likely the fiercest interior pass rusher ever, Sapp amassed 96½ sacks in a career where he was known as the ‘QB Killa.’ He was a main force of Tampa Bay’s great defense en route to winning Super Bowl XXXVII. Sapp ironically finished his career for the Raiders, the team Tampa vanquished in that Super Bowl.