Before the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2022 was unveiled at NFL Honors, I saw the members gather in a back room at YouTube Theater, and I have to say: That was pretty cool. To witness these guys and their families embrace each other, you truly understood how special this honor was.
(As for someone who didn't make it, I'm not going to go on about Devin Hester here. I'm sure you can all guess how I feel about that, anyway. I'll save it for my Bears podcast.)
Let's dig into my (non-Hester-related) takeaways on the five modern-era members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2022.
(For more about contributor Art McNally, senior inductee Cliff Branch and coach Dick Vermeil, click here.)
1) It's great to have Tony Boselli in the Hall of Fame
I have written about Boselli's Hall-worthiness many times, so it's cool to finally put this issue to bed for the six-time finalist: Boselli is a Hall of Famer. As he should be. I know he played in just seven seasons (1995-2001 with the Jaguars). But the offensive tackle went to five Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro three times. My own personal opinion is, the Hall should make room for those who are considered the best at their position for a chunk of time, who flashed the brightest, even if for a short while. Boselli fits that bill.
2) Where was Patrick Willis?
It's kind of weird that Willis, a five-time All-Pro whom I would have pegged as a first-ballot inductee back in 2020, is not in Canton. Class of 2022 member Bryant Young undoubtedly deserves to be there -- he's the 49ers' sacks leader since 1982 (89.5), thanks in no small part to the 52.5 sacks he racked up after suffering a serious knee injury in 1998 (which precipitated him winning Comeback Player of the Year in 1999, when he put up 11 sacks). But I just don't understand why Willis, who won Defensive Rookie of the Year as Young's San Francisco teammate in Young's final NFL season (2007), fell short as a finalist this year.
3) And where were the first-timers?
You can't help but notice, but there are no first-ballot Hall of Famers in the Class of 2022. Not a single one, for the first time since the Class of 2012. I really do believe the voters should be a bit more generous when it comes to determining who deserves first-ballot status. Setting Hester aside, fellow 2022 finalist DeMarcus Ware was also plenty worthy. Oh well; on to next year.
4) I'm stoked about Sam Mills' induction
This move needed to be made, truly reflecting the "pro" in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The stats that the late Mills put together in his time with the New Orleans Saints (1986-1994) and Carolina Panthers (1994-95) might not dazzle, but his USFL years (1983-85) need to be considered, too. A member of The Dome Patrol in New Orleans and a crucial figure in Carolina's franchise history, the linebacker was one of the best to ever do it.
5) LeRoy Butler was an excellent choice
I can't believe I said that as a Bears fan. I'm mildly surprised Butler made it over Ronde Barber, who I thought for sure would get a look the year after fellow former Buccaneer John Lynch made it. But the voters did the right thing with Butler, who was in his 16th year of eligibility. He had been growing on me in recent years. The Packers had some great teams in the 1990s. And it was hard to stand out in a group that included all-timers like Brett Favre, Reggie White and Sterling Sharpe. But Butler, who spent his entire NFL career (1990-2001) with the Packers, was able to do just that as the key to an excellent Green Bay secondary. He earned this.
6) Richard Seymour helps set the record straight
As I wrote in my prediction of who would be in this class, the early years of the Patriots' dynasty are still underrepresented in the Hall of Fame. Seymour's induction helps rectify that. That phase of the dynasty was built on defense, and there is no doubt Seymour, who played with the Pats from 2001 to '08, was one of the most influential members of that unit, which ranked in the top six or better in scoring in the seasons when New England won Super Bowls XXXVI, XXXVIII and XXXIX. Putting up four more solid seasons with the Raiders was icing on the cake.