CANTON, Ohio — Kevin Mawae recalled a moment during his first season with the Jets in 1998 that stuck with him for the rest of his career and helped make this special night possible.
This was after the Jets had defeated the Chiefs, 20-17, at Arrowhead Stadium to improve to 5-3.
“Everybody boarded the plane, laughing and joking around,” Mawae said during his acceptance speech Saturday night upon his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame at Tom Benson Stadium. “[Parcells] looks at me and he says, ‘Mawae, what the [expletive] are you smiling at? I didn’t bring you here to beat the Chiefs. You better start thinking about how you’re going to block Ted Washington next week.”
Mawae heeded the advice and got the best of the Bills’ massive nose tackle the following week, too. The Jets beat the Bills, 34-12, on the way to one of the best seasons in franchise history. The Jets got to within a game of the Super Bowl, the closest Mawae would ever get.
While he didn’t fulfill his quest for a championship, Mawae nevertheless produced one of the greatest individual careers for an offensive lineman in NFL history. Mawae played 16 seasons for the Seahawks, Jets and Titans, and blocked for a 1,000-yard running back in 13 of those seasons. That includes seven by Jets Hall of Fame tailback Curtis Martin, as well as a 2,000-yard season by Chris Johnson of the Titans. An eight-time Pro Bowler and a member of the All-Decade Team of the 2000s, Mawae was a three-time, first-team Associated Press All Pro, including his final NFL season in 2009.
“Many people thought Bill Parcells was crazy for paying a center what he did when I became a free agent in ’98,” Mawae said. “I think this moment right now proves that Bill was right all along . . . Bill, I thank you for what you did for my career, I’ll never forget the lessons I learned from you and I appreciate you.”
Mawae was part of a Hall of Fame class that also included former Chiefs and Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, former Ravens safety Ed Reed, former Patriots, Jets, Chiefs and Broncos cornerback Ty Law, and former Broncos and Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey. Senior committee nominee Johnny Robinson, a star safety with the Chiefs and Dallas Texans, joined former Broncos owner, Pat Bowlen, and former Cowboys scout and personnel director Gil Brandt, as contributors selected for induction.
In addition to Parcells, Mawae thanked former Jets coach Herman Edwards, who coached the Jets from 2001-06. Mawae is now an assistant coach for Edwards, the head coach at Arizona State University.
“You taught me it’s OK to be you, to play with a passion that’s individually paired to your own personality, but not to the detriment of the team or to disrespect the game,” Mawae said to Edwards, who was at Saturday night’s ceremony.
A deeply religious man, Mawae said his life changed one night 23 years ago.
“On May 5, 1996, my brother [John] was tragically killed in an alcohol-related [car] accident,” he said. “Shortly after that, I found out my wife was pregnant with our son, Kirkland. Those two moments changed my life and the direction and purpose of my life forever. In that extreme sorrow, followed by great joy, my focus turned to faith.”
Mawae also thanked his teammates, many of whom traveled to Canton to attend the enshrinement ceremony. At one point, he asked them to stand as he addressed them.
“You were my teammates, you are friends, you are my brothers, and I thank each and every one of you for being a part of my journey,” he said.
Mawae closed his speech by calling football “the greatest game in the world. There are few environments, where a group of people of different upbringings, different backgrounds, different races, religions and regions can come together with the common goal of putting a team together to win games.”
In one final emotional flourish before leaving the podium, Mawae said, “Today, that journey finally ends. Today, I stand at the doorstep of football immortality. I knock on this door, and I tell all of you that I am home.”