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Football Is Back: Hall of Fame Preview

You can all relax, you’re about to get your first fix in a long time. One hundred and eighty days removed from the New England Patriots’ latest Super Bowl victory, the Atlanta Falcons play host to the Denver Broncos in the annual Hall of Fame Game. Two days later you can watch some of football’s all-time greats be granted the sport’s higher honor: enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Hall of Fame Game: Broncos v. Falcons

This is the third year of the latest Broncos rebuild as they’ve won just 11 games over the past two seasons, but help should be on the way. This spring they drafted Iowa tight end Noah Fant, filling a huge hole in their offense, offensive lineman Dalton Risner, and quarterback Drew Lock. Lock will have time to learn under the tutelage of newly minted starter Joe Flacco, who came over in a trade from the Ravens. The Broncos are still a couple of years away, but they’re working on it.

The Falcons’ window of opportunity with Matt Ryan is slowly closing, as the 33-year-old QB is still playing at a high level, but is clearly on the downside after peaking in 2016. Protecting him was the team’s first priority in the draft this year, as they spent both of their first-round picks on OL, Chris Lindstrom from Boston College, and Kaleb McGary out of Washington. They still have all-world receiver Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman is back after a season lost to a litany of injuries. If he can return to form, Atlanta should find itself back in the playoff hunt.

2019 Hall of Fame Class

This year’s Hal of Fame class may have the greatest collection ever of secondary talent with four guys who combined for more than 30 Pro Bowl appearances, five Super Bowl titles, and more than 200 interceptions. Oh, and there’s also arguably the best tight end of all time.

Champ Bailey was the seventh overall pick in the 1999 draft, played 205 games for the Redskins and Broncos, ranks first in passes defended with 203, made 12 Pro Bowls, and was selected to the NFL All-Decade Team of the 2000s. He’s one of the game’s greatest defensive backs of all time.

Tony Gonzalez was such a gifted athlete that he was a member of the Cal basketball team that went to the Sweet Sixteen during his junior year, before turning his attention full-time to football. He made the right decision as he is the NFL’s all-time leader among tight ends in games (270), receptions (1,325 — which is actually second all-time behind only Jerry Rice) and yards (15,127), earning Pro Bowl honors 14 times and being named All-Pro six times. 

Ty Law overcame the indignity of being one of the beaten defenders in the Miracle at Michigan to become a first-round pick and later a stalwart for the great Bill Belichick defenses of the ongoing Patriots’ dynasty, winning three Super Bowl titles. Law’s place in Patriots lore was cemented when he scored a pick-six off Kurt Warner and the Rams en route to a 20-17 victory in Super Bowl XXXVI. 

Kevin Mawae was the anchor of the offensive line for the Seahawks, Jets and Titans over a 16-year career during which he earned Pro Bowl honors eight times and three All-Pro honors. 

Ed Reed was a one-man wrecking crew at safety, blowing up opposing receivers with a combination of speed and power rarely seen. He was a nine-time Pro Bowler, five-time All-Pro, the 2004 Defensive Player of the Year and a Super Bowl champ with the 2012 Ravens. He’s seventh all-time with 64 interceptions, 11th all-time with seven pick-sixes, and first with 1,590 interception return yards, thanks in part to the two longest interception returns in the NFL history.

Johnny Robinson probably shoulda be enshrined ages ago. Seven Pro Bowls and six All-Pro selections in just 12 years, he helped the Chiefs win Super Bowl IV over the Vikings with an interception and a fumble recovery. His career ended on Christmas Day 1971 when he sustained an injury in what remains the longest game in NFL history, an 82-minute and 40-second Chiefs loss at the hands of the Dolphins in the first round of the playoffs.

Gil Brandt was the Cowboys head of personnel for 28 years before falling victim to the Jerry Jones Purge of 1988. In his illustrious career, Brandt helped revolutionize the art of finding NFL talent with computers and psychological profiles, and looking in other sports and countries. During his tenure, the Cowboys enjoyed 20 consecutive winning seasons, won 13 division titles, five conference championships and two Super Bowls.

Pat Bowlen bought the Denver Broncos in 1985 and since then the team has averaged 10 wins a year, and won seven AFC titles and three Super Bowls. He must have been doing something right. The Hall of Fame will be the perfect way to honor his memory as the best owner in Broncos history and one of the best the NFL has ever seen.

Watch the Denver Broncos play the Atlanta Falcons Thursday, August 1, at 8pm ET on NBC, and then catch the NFL Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony Saturday, August 3, 2019 at 7pm ET on ESPN.

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