CANTON, Ohio — Tony Gonzalez believes youngsters should play multiple sports.
The most accomplished tight end in NFL history, who was voted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, was an outstanding college basketball player. He says lessons he learned on the court helped him on the field.
“I have four kids,” he notes. “The best thing they can do is play. I was a skateboarder and learned a lot of my balance from it. Surfing, volleyball on the beach. All different sports backgrounds makes you a better athlete. Collectively, they all feed off each other.”
Gonzalez was one of eight to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. He was part of a modern contingent that included offensive lineman Kevin Mawae and defensive backs Champ Bailey, Ed Reed and Ty Law. Safety Johnny Robinson, late Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and former executive Gil Brandt were also honored.
Gonzalez doesn’t wonder how he would have fared in the NBA, and why should he given his stellar career in football? But being so involved in sports built a foundation for his success in the NFL.
“You can’t beat it,” he says. “The ups and downs have an effect the rest of your life.”
Entering the hall with three exceptional DBs was striking for Gonzalez, whose ability to outrun linebackers and outmuscle or even outjump safeties and cornerbacks made him a dominant performer for 17 seasons.
“I loved it because he was the best,” Bailey said of his matchups with Gonzalez while both were in the AFC West, the tight end with Kansas City, the cornerback with Denver.
Rarely did defensive coordinators ask cornerbacks to take on Gonzalez, but Bailey had the smarts, skill and temperament to do so.
Bailey was drafted by the Washington Redskins in 1999, and played for them until being traded to Denver, where he played the rest of his career.
He was first-team All-Pro four times in his 15-year career and was a member of the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team.
Bailey totaled 52 interceptions in his career, including his career high of 10 in 2006 with the Broncos, which led the NFL.
No less an authority than Ray Lewis once called Reed a “gift” to his career. Now Reed has joined Lewis in Canton.
Reed, a five-time All-Pro safety and member of the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team, was a steady and often spectacular playmaker behind linebacker Lewis in Baltimore. Together, they won the 2012 league title, and one year after Lewis entered the hall, his sidekick joined him.
“There’s no place like Baltimore,” Reed shouted to loud applause from Marylanders on hand.
Reed was the 2004 Defensive Player of the Year and made nine Pro Bowls. He had 64 career interceptions, seventh overall; led the NFL in picks three times; and his 1,590 yards on interception returns is a league mark. His 13 non-offense TDs rank fifth all time.
Reed was the glue of an outstanding secondary, a sure tackler and, like his “brother” Lewis, an unquestioned leader of a high-quality defense. That earned him first-ballot entry into the hall.
“I loved it all,” he said.
Law, who played with Gonzalez in Kansas City for a spell, has become the first Pro Football Hall of Famer from New England’s standout defense that won three Super Bowls in the early 2000s.
“Hopefully, that’ll open up the door, finally letting one of us in, and hopefully that opens up the flood gates for a lot of other deserving guys to one day be Hall of Famers, as well,” Law said.
Law was selected for five Pro Bowl teams and was a two-time All-Pro. Perhaps Law’s most noteworthy game came in the 2002 Super Bowl, when his hard-hitting style upset Rams receivers and threw off the “Greatest Show on Turf.
Mawae was an outstanding center for three NFL teams, and a key union force during the 2011 lockout of players. His leadership, along with his talent and determination, have gotten Mawae into the hall.
A three-time All-Pro and eight-time Pro Bowler with the Seahawks, Jets and Titans, the center on the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 2000s, Mawae was inducted in his third year as a finalist.
Mawae is the first player of Hawaiian descent and the second Polynesian member of the hall, following the late Junior Seau.
“I knock on this door and I tell all of you,” he concluded, “I am home.”
Robinson’s induction into makes for a half-dozen members of the great Kansas City Chiefs’ defense of the 1960s who have been enshrined.
Robinson joins Willie Lanier (Maggie Walker High School), Bobby Bell, Buck Buchanan, Emmitt Thomas and Curley Culp. Robinson was passed over six times during the 1980s, but got in as a seniors committee nominee.
One of 20 players to play all 10 seasons of the AFL, he made 57 interceptions, went to seven Pro Bowls, received all-league recognition five times and was chosen to the AFL’s all-time team.
Bowlen, one of the most successful owners in NFL history, died in June.
Under Bowlen’s leadership, Denver went 354-240-1 from 1984 through last season. He was the first owner in NFL history to oversee a team that won 300 games — including playoffs — in a span of three decades.
For six decades, Brandt has been involved in the sport at a high level, from personnel director with the Cowboys to league consultant to draft guru to broadcaster. Brandt entered the hall in the contributor category.