HOUSTON (AP) — The quarterback served as ringmaster for “The Greatest Show on Turf.” The running backs were known simply by their initials: LT and TD. And the receiver also known by two letters — TO — was on the outside looking in again.
All unstoppable in their own way, LaDainian Tomlinson, Terrell Davis and Kurt Warner earned their spots in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. Terrell Owens, though, got turned away in a decision that went viral on social media and led the receiver to blame a “flawed process” in an after-the-fact tweet.
Also making it were sackmaster Jason Taylor — in on his first ballot, the same as Tomlinson — and Morten Andersen, the NFL’s all-time leading scorer, who joins Jan Stenerud as the second pure placekicker to make the hall.
Seahawks safety Kenny Easley made it as a senior nominee, while Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is in as a contributor. Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue did not get in, with his role in downplaying the severity of the league’s concussion problem a factor in the vote.
Tomlinson’s victory shed a glimmer of light on a dark year for San Diego fans. The city lost its team, but gained a Hall of Famer.
“Those fans there inspired me to run harder, to dig deeper in times when I was tired in the fourth quarter and didn’t think I had anything left,” Tomlinson said.
In nine years with the Chargers, then two with the Jets, the 5-foot-10 Tomlinson reset the template for what had been known as a scatback, proving someone of his size and speed could be a game changer, not merely a change of pace.
As dangerous catching the ball (4,772 career yards) as he was running it (13,684), in 2003, LT became the first player to rush for 1,000 yards and catch 100 passes. His 31 touchdowns scored in 2006 are still the single-season record. He finished his career with 145 TDs, not counting the seven he threw on halfback options.
In giving the thumbs-up to Davis and Warner, the 48 Hall of Fame voters answered ‘Yes’ to the question of whether a few truly dominating years are enough for someone to be enshrined.
Getting a big, fat ‘No’ for the second straight year was Owens, the league’s second-leading all-time receiver, but also one of its most divisive players over a career that spanned 1996-2010.
“Unfortunately I DID NOT MAKE IT again this year,” Owens tweeted. “Thanks to ALL my fans & supporters. #FlawedProcess.”
Warner on Owens: “When you just look at what he accomplished, everybody looks and says, ‘C’mon.’ The numbers are there, the impact is there.”
Warner’s heyday was 1999-2001 with the Rams, whose offense was known as “The Greatest Show on Turf.” Warner quit his job bagging groceries, first for a stint in the Arena League, then landing in the NFL after getting a tryout with St. Louis.
An injury to Trent Green thrust Warner into the lineup for 1999. Coach Dick Vermeil cried when he lost his supposed star quarterback. But he ended up with another. Warner went on to win two overall MVPs and one at the Super Bowl to close the 1999 season, when the Rams captured their only Lombardi Trophy. The 1999 and 2000 teams are still among the top 10 in most points scored in league history.
“You’ve got to remember, he was crying at the time, because he didn’t believe it either,” Warner said. “We all had dreams. We all believed big things. We all expected greatness from ourselves. But I never would have expected ’99.”
Davis was a sixth-round pick in 1995 who caught Broncos coach Mike Shanahan’s eye with a big hit on special teams in a preseason game. Davis became the starting tailback, and from 1996-98 he helped the Broncos to 45 victories and finally pushed John Elway over the top with two Super Bowl titles. In 1998, Davis became the fourth runner to surpass 2,000 yards, with 2008.
He suffered a career-changing knee injury in 1999 while making a tackle after an interception, and played only 17 more games before retiring in 2001. His 78 career games spanned seven seasons, meaning Davis lasted the same number of years as Hall of Fame runner Gale Sayers, who is often held up as Exhibit A when voters are debating short bursts of greatness versus longevity.
“I really thought that there’s no way they’re going to put two backs in the same class, especially a guy that was a first ballot Hall of Famer versus a special circumstance guy like me,” Davis said. “I thought that’s what they saw me as. When I got the knock, obviously I was shocked.”
On the other end of the spectrum was Andersen, the kicker who lasted 25 seasons, played in 382 games and scored 2,544 points for five teams. He was among the first to make the 50-plus-yard field goal routine. His 40 kicks of 50-yards plus were the most in NFL history at his retirement.
Taylor was Defensive Player of the Year in 2006 with 13 1/2 sacks and finished his 15-year career, most of them with the Dolphins, with 139 1/2 sacks, eight interceptions and 29 fumble recoveries.
Easley was the hard-hitting Seattle safety who also played only seven seasons, but made them all count. He was Defensive Player of the Year in 1984 and a four-time All-Pro selection. He finished with 32 interceptions.
Jones is still very much active in charting the league’s course in the 21st century. His $1.2 billion stadium, dubbed “Jerry World,” set the standard for stadiums to follow it in New Jersey, the Bay Area, Minneapolis, Atlanta and, eventually, Los Angeles. He brokered TV and marketing deals that have helped turn the league into a $13 billion-a-year business, all the while keeping a steady — and some might agree, entertaining — presence in front of the TV cameras.
“His impact on our organization, the National Football League is significant,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said. “He’s changed the league in so many ways.”