Among this year’s modern-era class of Hall-of-Fame candidates, there are two surprise candidates -- neither of whom has been debated before. One is former Raiders’ quarterback and coach Tom Flores. The other is former defensive lineman Richard Seymour.
Flores is 81 and makes the list for the first time since retiring as a player 48 years ago and as a coach 24 years back. But Seymour? This is just his second year of eligibility, and, at 39, he wasn't as surprised as Flores … or anyone else, for that matter … when his name was included among the 15 finalists for the Class of 2019.
“I’m not sure that ‘surprised’ is the word,” he told the Talk of Fame Network. “I would definitely say ‘humbled’ and ‘honored’ would be the first words that I would choose.”
Though Seymour doesn’t have gaudy sack numbers that, say, other recent defensive linemen sent to Canton accumulated during their careers, he was a first-team choice on the 2000s’ all-decade club. And that’s significant, considering that three other defensive linemen from that unit (Michael Strahan, Jason Taylor and Warren Sapp) already are in the Hall of Fame.
But this is significant, too: He not only played on three Super Bowl winners; he played alongside another 2019 finalist … and all-decade choice … and that’s cornerback Ty Law. The former New England Patriots’ star has been a finalist the past three years and a Top-10 finalist the past two. So he’s at the doorstep of Canton.
One problem: He plays the same position as another finalist who’s in his first year of eligibility, and that’s Champ Bailey.
So why is that an issue? Because Bailey could leapfrog Law and make it in on his first try, reducing the chances for Law to take the final step on Feb. 2. That's why we asked Seymour – who played with Bailey at the University of Georgia and with Law in New England – which he’d choose to single-cover Marvin Harrison on a game-deciding drive.
“I played with Champ in college at the University of Georgia,” Seymour said, “and I’ll say this: Champ probably was the best athlete … all-around athlete … that I’ve been around. He’s one of them. He’s one of the best I’ve been around in terms of speed, ability, speed to close, the whole nine (yards). He had freakish ability."
"But I’ve seen Ty play in so many big games and come up with big plays. I think he thrived in those moments. Obviously, Champ wasn’t on those types of teams, and he wasn’t put under the spotlight like that. But Ty was. And Ty had the ability in big games and in big moments that you wanted (number) 24 behind you.
"He just gave you confidence back there. And he had an attitude when he played like, ‘I bet they won’t throw it my way.’ I definitely thinks he deserves to be in the Hall.”
That doesn’t mean Seymour thinks Bailey doesn’t. But Law’s been eligible for enshrinement the past five years, and this is Bailey’s first. Bailey is a certainty to make it sooner rather than later. But Law? That’s why the choice is so important.
Of course, they could both be elected to the same class. We had two wide receives and two linebackers in the Class of 2018 and two running backs the year before. But with Ed Reed and Tony Gonzalez slam-dunks this year, Bailey’s inclusion would limit the available modern-era spots to two – with Law fighting 12 others, including four offensive linemen who were also Top-10 choices a year ago.
“Champ had the ability to do so many things,” said Seymour. “He was so fast, he had ball skills. Nobody really wanted to throw his way. We put him on offense when we were at Georgia, too. He ran several touchdowns back and punt returns. And, also, he had a family lineage.
“It’s good to have great players in the conversation. I think that’s what it’s all about. That’s why I’m glad I don’t have that job."