The Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2024 was revealed on Thursday night during NFL Honors, with seven individuals (five modern-era candidates and two senior finalists) receiving the Canton call.
- Dwight Freeney, DE: Carolina Panthers, 2002-09, 2017-18; Chicago Bears, 2010-13; Green Bay Packers, 2014-16.
- Randy Gradishar*, LB: Denver Broncos, 1974-1983.
- Devin Hester, PR/KR/WR: Chicago Bears, 2006-2013; Atlanta Falcons, 2014-15; Baltimore Ravens, 2016; Seattle Seahawks, 2016.
- Andre Johnson, WR: Houston Texans, 2003-2014; Indianapolis Colts, 2015 ; Tennessee Titans, 2016.
- Steve McMichael*, DT: New England Patriots, 1980; Chicago Bears, 1981-1993; Green Bay Packers, 1994.
- Julius Peppers, DE: Carolina Panthers, 2002-09, 2017-18; Chicago Bears, 2010-13; Green Bay Packers, 2014-16.
- Patrick Willis, LB: San Francisco 49ers, 2007-2014.
Here are my quick thoughts on the newest members of football's most revered club.
There was nothing like the anticipation you felt as Devin Hester prepared to return a kickoff or punt. And after a few years of waiting for the ultimate honor, Hester is finally -- rightfully -- a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Kickoffs are typically a time when people rush to the bathroom. But when Hester was returning kicks, it was the time to make sure you were watching. Hester even joked during this clip that he caused people to miss bathroom breaks, likely inducing some accidents here and there.
"I've been trying to make the case Devin Hester should be in Hall of Fame," Scott said. "He was the best kick returner of all time. And punt returner. What he did for the game, for the impact he had on kids -- it's unmatched."
Adams provided instructive perspective on his former teammate: "You would rather kick the ball out of bounds and let us get the ball on the 40 than kick it to Devin Hester."
Hester wasn't the only member of the Chicago Bears to gain entry into the Hall. After a long wait, Steve "Mongo" McMichael received the honor courtesy of the Seniors Committee. The defensive tackle was first-team All-Pro twice, receiving second-team honors two more times. One of the biggest personalities on a Chicago team chock full of them, Mongo managed to strive in a different form of entertainment in his post-NFL career, participating in one of the most legendary stables in wrestling history: The Four Horsemen, who are in the WWE Hall of Fame.
Julius Peppers is the third player with Bears service who will be enshrined in Canton this summer. I guess we should just go ahead and lock in Chicago for the Hall of Fame Game, eh? Peppers earned five Pro Bowl nods with the Panthers, three with the Bears and one with the Packers. Ranking fourth in NFL history with 159.5 sacks, this QB hunter was a mortal lock to get into the Hall. He rightfully does so on his first ballot.
I'm absolutely thrilled Patrick Willis finally made the cut. Honestly, I'm still shocked the linebacker wasn't a first-ballot guy. For years, I routinely asked for the case against Willis -- and nobody could come up with one. Finally, the voters made the correct decision. In eight pro seasons, Willis made seven Pro Bowls and was named first-team All-Pro five times (earning second-team honors once). He was also the Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2007. Long story short: The guy packed more than enough excellence into his NFL tenure to belong among the best of the best in Canton.
Dwight Freeney's inclusion in the Class of 2024 was a mild surprise to me, but the man stacked up some impressive figures, including 125.5 sacks (18th all time) and 148 quarterback hits, per Pro Football Reference. Going back to Willis for a second, some folks appeared to hold the lack of a Super Bowl title against him. Freeney did earn a ring, helping lead the Colts past Hester's Bears in Super Bowl XLI.
I figured the voters would start breaking up the logjam of wide receiver candidates in my Class of 2024 prediction earlier this week, and they did just that: Andre Johnson is going in! Some people were hung up on the fact that the longtime Texan never scored double-digit touchdowns in a single season. Not me! Johnson is one of just three players to lead the NFL in receiving yards in back-to-back years, along with Jerry Rice and Calvin Johnson. He belongs.
And one final shoutout to Randy Gradishar, who was a crucial piece of the Broncos' famed "Orange Crush" defense. The 1978 Defensive Player of the Year made the Pro Bowl in seven of his 10 seasons. Another good pick by the Seniors Committee.