My editor made a remark after the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2023 was revealed that this is probably the first modern-era group whose careers he's seen in their entirety. Like, in most years, there's an older player who is mostly familiar from highlights, but this class is made up of relatively young players who were probably even frequently used in Madden.
In the case of Joe Thomas (OT, Cleveland Browns, 2007-2017), I was working the NFL.com news desk in 2007 on the day he was drafted. In fact, if you don't remember the story, I remember writing a blog post (ask your parents what a blog was, kids; it was all the rage at the time) about how Thomas skipped the draft at Radio City Music Hall and went fishing with his dad instead.
Now, with the Raiders taking JaMarcus Russell No. 1 overall, Thomas was either going second overall to a three-win Lions team (they went with Calvin Johnson) or third overall to a Browns team with one winning season in the previous eight campaigns. I would have gone fishing, too. (And I'm so sorry for Raiders fans who watched Megatron, Thomas, Adrian Peterson, Patrick Willis, Marshawn Lynch and, well, the next player in this article go after Russell. That's six players who are either in the Hall or were good enough to be considered.)
At any rate, yes, I was working for the NFL when Joe was drafted. I watched his entire career (during which he played almost every possible snap) and then became friends and colleagues with him. Now he's going to be immortalized in Canton. I know this is a big day for Joe, but think about what this means to me. Kidding! I couldn't be happier for him. This is a well-deserved honor for the best of his generation. It's no longer something that can be debated. He was phenomenal, and this is pretty damn exciting.
Seeing Darrelle Revis (CB, New York Jets, 2007-2012, 2015-16; Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2013; New England Patriots, 2014; Kansas City Chiefs, 2017) get in is also pretty cool. As some kid on Twitter put it, Revis getting into the Hall was a lock, just like how he locked down opposing wide receivers. And I'm talking about big-time receivers, too. I remember one of our fantasy editors sparring on Twitter with receiver Chad Johnson because the editor had marked Johnson as a player to "sit" during a week when Johnson's itinerary included a trip to Revis Island. Johnson thought he was still going to feast. He didn't. (Hey, sometimes us fantasy dorks get it right!) As with Joe Thomas, this one felt like an automatic selection. Though sometimes you never know with these Hall of Fame voters.
Just ask four-time finalist Zach Thomas (LB, Miami Dolphins, 1996-2007; Dallas Cowboys, 2008). I did write the other day that I felt like the logjam at linebacker needed to be broken up. Thomas was a five-time All-Pro, so it just felt like it was time for him to get inducted. I think he felt a lot of competition because he played during the time that guys like Junior Seau and Ray Lewis played. I could understand some hesitation, but the voters got this one correct.
They also did well to select DeMarcus Ware (OLB, Dallas Cowboys, 2005-2013; Denver Broncos, 2014-16). I liked him. He's good. As I have observed before, it seems like the voters can get weird about who is allowed to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Like, we know Ware -- who ranks ninth all-time in career sacks (138.5) -- belongs in the Hall, but the voters just didn't see him as a first-ballot guy for some reason that remains mysterious to me. The fact that this was Ware's second year was part of why I felt he had a better chance than finalist Dwight Freeney, who missed out as a potential first-ballot guy this year but will likely get in next year. (In terms of other notable candidates in their first year of eligibility, I'm both surprised and not surprised that James Harrison didn't make it past the semifinalist stage.)
Rounding out the modern-era group is Ronde Barber (CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1997-2012), a third-time finalist in his sixth year of eligibility. It felt like Barber had been stuck in a no-man's land of defensive backs from his era, good enough to earn three first-team All-Pro nods and lead the NFL in picks in 2001 but potentially overshadowed by contemporaries like Deion Sanders, Rod Woodson, Darrell Green, Aeneas Williams, Champ Bailey and Charles Woodson. I wasn't sure if it was ever going to happen for Ronde. Now he joins John Lynch, Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp from that star-studded Bucs defense that won Super Bowl XXXVII. Three-time Super Bowl winner Darren Woodson will have to wait another year.
I'm a bit shocked there wasn't an attempt to break the logjam at wide receiver. Steve Smith Sr. (who did not make it to the finalist stage), Torry Holt, Andre Johnson and Reggie Wayne were all left waiting. Next year, Doug Baldwin and Brandon Marshall will be eligible for the first time, but I'm not sure if either guy jumps the line. I also wonder if Antonio Gates, who feels like a pretty automatic first-ballot member of the Class of 2024, might hurt the chances of some receivers. Obviously, Gates was a tight end, but the last modern-era tight end to get in, Tony Gonzalez, was also the only pass-catcher in the Class of 2019.