ATLANTA — Longtime NFL center Kevin Mawae, who helped the Jets go from a 1-15 team to a perennial playoff contender during his eight seasons with the team, achieved the ultimate honor Saturday by being selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
An eight-time Pro Bowl center and three-time first-team Associated Press All-Pro honoree, he made it to Canton on his third time on the Hall of Fame ballot.
Mawae was joined on this year’s modern era Hall of Fame list by former Ravens safety Ed Reed, former Chiefs and Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, former Broncos and Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey and former Patriots and Jets cornerback Ty Law. Former Chiefs defensive back Johnny Robinson was voted in as a seniors finalist. Former Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and former Cowboys personnel director Gil Brandt were selected in the contributor category.
Mawae was thrilled at being selected. “I think I had a higher vertical today than I did at the draft,” he said.
Mawae said his time with the Jets was the most meaningful part of his career. “There’s no secret that with eight years in New York, I’m a New York Jet,’’ he said. “I bleed green and white.”
Mawae was signed in 1998 by then-Jets coach Bill Parcells, and he immediately solidified the offensive line with his unique combination of athleticism and brute strength. He helped the Jets get to the AFC Championship Game in his first season with the Jets and played seven more years with them before signing with the Titans. He played four seasons with Tennessee and retired after an illustrious 16-year career.
“I’m just elated,” Parcells said by phone from his home in Florida. “Listen, this guy was a great player. I’ve seen only one or two guys that compare with him at that position in my time in the league. He was versatile. He’s 300 pounds, he could run, he could pull from the center position, and that’s not a common trait. It’s great to have a player like him.”
Mawae was a second-round pick of the Seahawks in 1994 and played his first four seasons with Seattle before signing with the Jets as a free agent.
Reed had 64 interceptions with the Ravens, Texans and Jets, helping Baltimore to a Super Bowl win after the 2012 season and leading the NFL in interceptions in three seasons. One of the best ball-hawking defensive backs in NFL history, he not only drew praise from his own coaches but was regularly lauded by Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
Gonzalez is the NFL’s all-time leader at tight end with 1,325 catches, 15,127 yards and 111 touchdowns. He starred for the Chiefs from 1997-2008 and for the Falcons from 2009-13. He eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in a season four times and had three seasons with double-digit touchdown receptions. The one disappointment in his career: He never won a Super Bowl. That said, there was no one better at catching passes than the Chiefs’ 1997 first-round pick out of UC Berkeley.
Bailey, a first-round pick of the Redskins in 1999, played five seasons with Washington before joining the Broncos, for whom he played through the 2013 season. He was named to 12 Pro Bowls and was a three-time first-team All-Pro cornerback. Bailey finished with 52 interceptions.
Law was one of the NFL’s fiercest competitors and helped New England to its first three Super Bowl championships under Belichick. A terrific cover cornerback who used his physicality to get the better of almost every receiver he faced, Law finished with 53 career interceptions. After 10 seasons with the Patriots, he played the 2005 season with the Jets and produced a career-high 10 interceptions. He played two seasons with the Chiefs, then re-signed with the Jets for one season in 2008 and finished his career the following year in Denver.
Robinson, the nominee from the seniors committee, was a converted running back who starred for the Chiefs from 1963-71. He finished with 57 interceptions, including 10 each in the 1966 and 1970 seasons. He played for the Chiefs’ Super Bowl IV championship team under Hank Stram.
Bowlen purchased the Broncos in 1984 and immediately became one of the league’s most respected owners, presiding over a team that won three Super Bowl championships and helping to grow the NFL by expanding its reach overseas. Bowlen also was instrumental in negotiating huge network television contracts. He no longer runs the team because of advanced Alzheimer’s disease.
Brandt was the longtime personnel director of the Cowboys, selecting many of the players who created “America’s Team” in the 1960s and 1970s. Brandt also modernized NFL scouting through the use of computers and wasn’t afraid to go after players who excelled in other sports. Bob Hayes, for instance, was a former sprinter who became a Hall of Fame receiver.
THE CLASS OF 2019
Champ Bailey, CB
Tony Gonzalez, TE
Ty Law, CB
Kevin Mawae, C
Ed Reed S
Johnny Robinson, DB
Pat Bowlen, owner
Gil Brandt, contributor