NFC West: 2014 Hall of Fame

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Walterius Jones, the 14-year-old son of Walter Jones, said it all about his dad in seven words Seattle Seahawks fans have heard before:

"They said he could block the sun."

Jones, arguably the best offensive tackle in the history of the NFL, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday in Canton, Ohio.

"It’s the incredible journey," Walterius said. "He came from nothing. Football gave him a sense of hope that there is a way out of that environment."

Jones became the third Seahawk to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, joining wide receiver Steve Largent and defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy.

"I have an attitude of gratitude for so many people who helped me become who I am," Jones said. "I'd be lying if I said I hadn’t been thinking about this day ever since Cortez said during his enshrinement two years ago, 'Walter Jones, you’re next.'"

The first-ballot Hall of Famer made a point to praise his mother, Earline, who was sitting in the audience.

"I grew up in Aliceville, Alabama, the seventh of eight kids and the biggest son to a wonderful woman," Jones said. "Occasionally, the power would go out, and we might not have enough food in the morning, but we were never in the dark and never went to bed hungry.

"Thank you for all your hard work and perseverance. Momma, I remember many nights hearing you cry and pray. Now, as I stand here, I can say prayer does have the power of change. You always supported me. You are the real Hall of Famer."

Jones remembered how in ninth grade the Aliceville High School football coach, Pierce McIntosh, put him through his first football drills. Jones asked him what he thought.

"He said, 'I think you're a million dollars walking around broke,'" Jones said. "He saw something in me I didn’t see in myself. I hope I made you proud."

The nine-time Pro Bowler thanked all the quarterbacks who he blocked for with the Seahawks, but he had a special message for Matt Hasselbeck, who was in the audience.

"I'm sorry I slapped you at training camp," Jones said. "But because I protect the quarterback, I have the right to slap the quarterbacks."

Jones protected the quarterbacks like no other tackle in NFL history. He started all 180 games he played for the Seahawks and allowed only 23 sacks during his entire career on 5,703 pass plays, which is only one in every 248 pass plays. He was whistled for holding only nine times, once every 634 plays.

"Football has been a blessing and has changed my life and those around me," Jones said. "And to the 12s [12th man], what a wonderful group of fans. I truly loved playing for you all and cheered with you last season. I will cherish this journey the rest of my life. Thank you, go Seahawks and I love Seattle."
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Pastor Aeneas Williams stood in front of a congregation unlike any other he has spoken to before, inside a sanctuary that has defined his life, and he expounded about a religion whose followers are as devout as any other.

It wasn’t a Sunday morning in his St. Louis church. It was a Saturday night in Canton, Ohio.

In front of thousands of football fans -- his congregants -- who gathered in a small, Northeast Ohio town to pay tribute to a sport’s cathedral, Williams preached about football, faith and family during his Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement speech.

For 25 minutes, the devout Christian pontificated about the Church of Football.

It was everything you'd expect from Williams, who spent 10 of his 14 seasons with the Arizona Cardinals and the last four with the St. Louis Rams. He was thankful and humbled. He addressed hot-button issues, and he showed that the fire hasn't disappeared 10 years after he last played. And it was all done with a flair only those accustomed to speaking in front of the masses can provide. He promised he'd cry, but only sweat dripped down his cheeks. His impassioned speech had two themes, both of which he has tried to live in his life: "Begin with the end in mind and die empty." He tried to stay away from the morbid, but he pointed out that he was inductee No. 287 and his last name put him on the bottom of every list of this year’s inductees -- a symbol for his road to the Hall.

He started at the beginning of his football life, which began in a park in New Orleans, and went through his journey to the Hall of Fame, which didn't truly begin until a week before the season began at Southern University. It was then that Williams decided to walk on. Although, as he explained, nothing came easy to him -- speed, winning in Arizona, his acceptance into the Hall of Fame -- Williams was a natural talent whose dedication helped him become great. He thanked Gill Byrd, the former San Diego cornerback, whose help Williams solicited. But after spending time with Byrd and his wife, Williams didn’t become just a better cornerback. He credited Byrd for teaching him how to be a good husband and father while playing in the NFL.

As to be expected from a Williams speech, faith played a large part.

He talked about taking signs from God as early as his childhood, when Williams, as a running back in the 95-pound league, was crushed by a 110-pound player. It was then that Williams switched to defense. He also said his faith helped lead him to walk on at Southern.

Williams' competitive edge shined bright throughout his speech. It was obvious he still basks in having shut down Michael Irvin in the 1999 playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys, the same one the Cardinals won in an upset. Williams joked that he was covering Irvin so closely that if Irvin went to the bathroom, "I had to go flush it."

His speech began by supporting NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for having to make tough decisions so the game could continue. He joked about getting a middle finger salute from an entire section of New York Giants fans when he'd come out for warm-ups at old Giants Stadium. He noted that his former defensive backs coach, Rob Ryan, put him on Aeneas Island long before Revis Island was discovered. Williams said his work ethic was established in the aisles of the Superdome, where he sold popcorn, peanuts and soda as a kid.

By the time Williams finished, he still hadn't cried, but he was leading the stadium of fans in chants and cheers. Williams looked comfortable on a pulpit, behind a lectern, talking with his hands, preaching the gospel of football.

He looked at home in the Hall of Fame.
GLENDALE, Ariz. – Talk to anyone now about Aeneas Williams and the stories pile up.

Reporters, teammates, coaches -- they all have humorous anecdotes that have defined Williams’ career. But when Kwamie Lassiter joined the Arizona Cardinals in 1995, all he saw was a Hall of Famer in the making, a cornerback who treated practice receivers as if they were Jerry Rice or Michael Irvin. Williams was as serious about his football, watching endless tape hours after the film session as over, as he was his faith and his family.

Lassiter had no clue how funny Williams was.

“He’d tell more jokes than anyone,” Lassiter said.

Williams, a pastor in St. Louis, would always tell clean jokes, but they were always funny, Lassiter remembered. Even when his teammates told the same jokes, but the inappropriate version, Williams’ jokes still provided comic relief. And the jokes seemed to get even better when the mood was most tense, such as before a big play on the field.

“We’re in the midst of the game and he’d lighten up the mood and say something crazy,” Lassiter recalled. “He seems always serious that you think he’s not paying attention and this guy tells me a joke.”

Lassiter said Williams’ humor is most comparable to that of Peyton Manning -- subtle and dry and, at least when Manning first hit the comic scene, unexpected. Lassiter expects Williams’ Hall of Fame speech, which he’ll present this evening in Canton, Ohio, to display his humor.

“If there’s anybody deserving of the Hall of Fame, it’s that guy,” Lassiter said. “I can’t wait for the jokes.”
Like any proud father, Lawrence Williams liked talking about his son.

When the conversations turned to what Lawrence's son Aeneas did for a living, Lawrence would tell them Aeneas played cornerback in the NFL. It wouldn't take long for the natural follow-up question: "How good was he?"

Before this past February, Lawrence had plenty to boast about. Aeneas played for 14 years for the Arizona Cardinals and St. Louis Rams. He was an eight-time Pro Bowler and a three-time All-Pro who had 55 interceptions and started in a Super Bowl.

Lawrence's answer changed the day before the Super Bowl in New York when Aeneas was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"That kind of ends the discussion as it relates to a whole lot of debate as to how good your son is," Aeneas remembers his dad saying.

On Saturday, Aeneas will be enshrined in Canton, Ohio. Presenting him isn't just a man who shouldn't have to answer any more questions about his son but a man who built the foundation from which Aeneas grew. Lawrence was the first and only of nine siblings to attend and graduate from college. When Aeneas graduated from high school, his family applauded. Going to college was a given. Graduating from school was expected.

His upbringing kept Aeneas humble, and it carried him throughout his career. He'll first listen to his father, which befits Aeneas. He's never let his words do the talking. But after Lawrence boasts and brags as only a proud father can, it'll be Aeneas' turn.

Aeneas Williams' speech has been written for some time, but he's cried while rehearsing it. Although speaking in front of a crowd is old hat for the pastor of The Spirit Church in St. Louis, this is different. This is the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Still, this may be the easiest speech of Williams' life.

"It won't be hard because I won't be telling someone else's story," Williams said. "The great credible speech ... comes from the credibility of the one speaking, so it won't be hard. It won't be hard for me to share the truth as to how fearful I was."

Williams will tell stories. He will tell the one about how he proved his college coach wrong when going from a 4.6-second 40-yard dash to running a 4.28. And about how then-Cardinals defensive backs coach Rob Ryan hugged Williams and promised him he would lead the league in interceptions. And, of course, how he continued to work throughout his career to prove himself.

"It's pretty easy to tell those stories because I want people to not stand up there and think I was just like this guy that was predicted to do it," Williams said. "I wasn't, and I want to tell people why and what [and] how significant the mentors were, how significant it was."

The stories that might not be told are how Williams became a mentor himself.

Unlike Williams, Kwamie Lassiter wasn't drafted into the NFL, but the two shared a goal of being a professional defensive back. Williams worked with Lassiter during his early years with the Cardinals. He taught Lassiter how to watch film, how to study it, how to implement what he learned. He showed Lassiter how to play with a calm mind, which Lassiter credits as one of the Williams' most important lessons. Another was teaching Lassiter that the game is bigger than any individual.

"It was somewhat shocking," said Lassiter, who played with Williams in St. Louis. "But when I found out who he was as a man, and not a cornerback or athlete, I can understand why he went about this business the ways he did, why he says the thing he did.

"It was shocking."

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Road to the Hall of Fame: Aeneas Williams

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
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ESPN.com Arizona Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss talks about Aeneas Williams being the first Arizona Cardinal inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Road to the Hall of Fame: Walter Jones

August, 1, 2014
Aug 1
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ESPN.com Seattle Seahawks reporter Terry Blount talks about Walter Jones' impact on the team and his place in their history.


Aenes WilliamsAndy Lyons/Getty ImagesAeneas Williams spent 10 years in Arizona, but made an impression in four seasons with the Rams.

ST. LOUIS -- The prime of Aeneas Williams' career was spent with the Arizona Cardinals and that is the place where he is most remembered for his many accomplishments. But Williams spent the final four seasons of his career as a member of the St. Louis Rams.

Upon arrival in St. Louis, Williams moved to free safety and hardly missed a beat. Williams was first team All Pro in 2001 and went to the Pro Bowl in 2001 and 2003. Many will remember him as a Cardinal but for fans of the Rams and in St. Louis, Williams' legacy goes far beyond his short stint playing for the Rams.

Williams was one of the most beloved players on the roster during his four seasons in St. Louis and is still revered around the city. The statement from Rams COO Kevin Demoff sent out Saturday night succinctly summed up how Williams is viewed by the Rams and their fans.

“On behalf of the St. Louis Rams, I’d like to congratulate Aeneas on this well-deserved honor," Demoff said. "Aeneas’s four seasons in a Rams uniform capped off his Hall of Fame career, playing a key role in helping the club reach the franchise’s third Super Bowl. While his play alone earned him this honor, Aeneas is also a Hall of Fame person. He remains extremely active in the St. Louis community and the Rams are grateful for the way he continues to contribute to our city and our organization.”

There's little doubt that Williams' work on the field was Hall of Fame worthy. His 55 interceptions, 23 fumble recoveries and 12 defensive touchdowns speak for themselves. We could dig into all of the numbers here but there's no denying that the body of work is Hall of Fame worthy.

What isn't taken into account in Hall of Fame discussions is character and personality. In those terms, Williams seemed to be born a Hall of Famer. I was only able to cover Williams for one year, his final NFL season in 2004, but he remains one of the classiest players I've been around in my decade covering the team.

Much of that final season was injury-plagued and Williams appeared in 13 games in the only season of his 14-year career in which he didn't come up with at least one interception. While his career was winding down, Williams never seemed to let it effect his professional approach. Week after week, Williams would answer any and all questions.

Even with his skills declining, Williams never made excuses and was incredibly influential for young defensive backs such as Travis Fisher and Jerametrius Butler as the Rams made a run to the playoffs, the only one they've had in the past 10 years.

When the season was over, Williams quietly faded into the background, never so much as announcing his retirement. Every time I saw him after that, he looked like he could still play.

That's right, Williams is still easily seen around these parts. He and his wife founded the Spirit Church in town, where Williams serves as pastor. The family is involved in plenty of philanthropic endeavors around the area as well.

Williams also serves as a sort of unofficial mentor for the Rams, a way for him to stay around the game while also working to help young people. Williams has been a consistently positive influence for Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins, for example.

Unlike baseball, the Pro Football Hall of Fame does not have team affiliations on player busts nor require them to declare a team as the one with which he's most closely associated.

If it did, Williams would almost certainly go in as a Cardinal after spending 10 years in Arizona. But that doesn't mean the Rams and St. Louis have any reason to not count him as one of their own.

Williams is an adopted son of St. Louis and Rams fans. Now, the Pro Football Hall of Fame should be proud to do the same.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- The third time was the charm.

After two years of being a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, former Arizona Cardinals cornerback Aeneas Williams heard the words Saturday night that he’s been waiting patiently for: He’s officially a Hall of Famer.

And it’s well deserved. Williams wasn’t brash or boastful during his 14-year career, the first 10 of which were spent with the Arizona Cardinals. He was diligent and pragmatic in his pursuit to be the best. From the moment that desire settled on him, Williams used the great defensive backs that came ahead of him as mentors, picking their brains and filling his game with pieces of their careers, some of which were Hall of Fame worthy. He spent hours fine tuning the details of his game, from the fundamentals to the psychological.

The finished product yielded 55 interceptions, 677 tackles, eight forced fumbles and 12 total touchdowns. He was a Pro Bowler eight times, six as a Cardinal. And now he’ll have a bust in the Hall.

Williams’ induction into the Hall of Fame means every player with nine or more interceptions returned for touchdowns who are eligible for enshrinement are in.

And Williams also proved Hall of Famers aren’t just products of winning teams. The Cardinals won just 35 percent of their games while he played from 1991-2000. He became the first drafted Cardinal to be enshrined in Canton, Ohio.

“All of us at the Cardinals are ecstatic for Aeneas Williams, who is a true Hall of Famer in every sense of the word,” Cardinals president Michael Bidwill said. “His play on the field made him one of the NFL’s all-time great players but his integrity and character were just as exceptional. Aeneas, Tracy and their family have been an integral part of the Cardinals family and I can’t think of a better person to become the first from the team’s Arizona era to be enshrined in Canton.”

Even though Williams doesn’t have to enter the Hall with a designated team, if he did, like in baseball, it’d be the Cardinals.

“Arizona gave me the chance,” he said.

During my reporting for a story on Williams’ career, a common theme from the other great defensive backs I spoke with was that Williams let his game do the talking. Another common refrain was that the Hall of Fame will find good players, regardless of where they play. That’s what happened.

Williams was part of an era that spurned the talent of cornerbacks who are in the NFL today. He’s a peer of the likes of Rod Woodson and Deion Sanders, not just on the field but now also in Canton.

The pastor understood his Hall of Fame future was out of his control. He was one of the five modern-day finalists, and he respected the process.

On Saturday night, a few days after turning 46, the process respected him back.
For the second straight year, two key figures of the San Francisco 49ers' dynasty years did not make it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame after becoming finalists.

Former team owner Eddie DeBartolo and former pass-rusher Charles Haley were among the finalists not to get elected into the Canton, Ohio, museum Saturday. Haley made the cut from 15 finalists to 10. DeBartolo did not.

In December, DeBartolo said he was focused on Haley getting in more than his own candidacy. DeBartolo said Haley had asked the former 49ers owner to present him. Haley will likely get in before DeBartolo.

Haley, who played for the 49ers from 1986-91 and finished his career there in 1999, is the only player to win five Super Bowl rings. He won them with the 49ers and with Dallas. He finished with 100.5 sacks and he had 4.5 sacks in his five Super Bowls, which is a record.

Still, Haley has had a long wait for enshrinement. He has been eligible for 10 years. Some league observers point to the fact he made just five Pro Bowls appearances in 12 NFL seasons and that he was known for being a difficult personality as reasons he didn't make it.

DeBartolo's issue is that it is simply difficult for non-players to work their way through the process. DeBartolo, who owned the 49ers from 1977-2000, has a résumé worthy of enshrinement.

The 49ers made 16 playoff appearances, 10 NFC title game appearances and won five Super Bowls while DeBartolo was their owner. DeBartolo was beloved by his players, coaches and by 49ers fans. There are 13 owners in the Hall of Fame.
ST. LOUIS -- For five modern-era players, the Pro Football Hall of Fame will open its doors this summer. For Kevin Greene, the former Los Angeles Rams pass-rusher, the wait continues.

The Hall of Fame announced its next class of inductees Saturday night, a class that for the 10th consecutive year does not include Greene.

That Greene didn’t make the cut again doesn’t come as much of a surprise given the competition among the 15 finalists. In the company of other talented pass-rushers with more cache such as Michael Strahan and Charles Haley; it stood to reason that Greene would have to wait yet another year.

Although Greene still stands third in league history in sacks with 160, the fact that he bounced around to three other franchises after spending his first eight seasons with the Rams has left some to wonder about his legacy.

Likewise, Greene’s pass-rushing production is Hall of Fame caliber, but many wonder if he was a bit too one-dimensional.

It still seems likely that Green’s time will come, but it doesn’t figure to get any easier in the coming years.

For Rams fans just hoping to see one of their guys get in, the odds should increase dramatically next year when quarterback Kurt Warner, receiver Isaac Bruce and tackle Orlando Pace join Greene on the ballot.
NEW YORK -- Was there ever any doubt? Walter Jones is one of the best offensive tackles in the history of the NFL, and arguably the best in history.

So it should come as no surprise the former Seattle Seahawks lineman now is a first-ballot selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The official announcement came at Radio City Music Hall Saturday night at the NFL Honors ceremony.

Jones is only the sixth offensive tackle to earn election in his first year of eligibility. The others are Jim Parker of the Baltimore Colts in 1973, Forrest Gregg of the Green Bay Packers in 1977, Anthony Munoz of the Cincinnati Bengals in 1998, Jackie Slater of the Rams in 2001, and Jonathan Ogden of the Baltimore Ravens last year.

Jones is the 12th offensive lineman to earn first-ballot induction. He also becomes the third member of the Hall who played his entire career with the Seahawks, joining wide receiver Steve Largent and defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy. Largent also was a first-ballot inductee.

Former Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren has said many times that Jones was the best offensive lineman he ever coached.

“We didn’t even worry about that side of the offensive line when we were game planning,” Holmgren said. “It didn’t matter who was going against him. We knew Walter would get the job done.”

Jones’ stats make it easy to understand why he made it in the Hall on his first year of eligibility He is a nine-time Pro Bowler and a four-time All-Pro. Jones, who played from 1997 to 2008, was named to NFL's All-Decade Team of 2000s.

He started all 180 games he played for the Seahawks and was whistled for holding only nine times in 5,703 pass plays while he was on the field. That's once every 634 plays.

Jones allowed only 23 sacks during his entire career, which is only one in every 248 pass plays.

Seattle’s Russell Okung, who replaced Jones and made the Pro Bowl last season, said he has the utmost respect for Jones.

“Talk about some big shoes to fill,” Okung said this week. “You’re coming in expecting to be just like him, but he’ll go down as one of the best ever.”
Aeneas WilliamsVincent Laforet /Allsport Aeneas Williams' "interest in the game and his willingness to accept teaching" stood out.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Ken Houston didn't think Aeneas Williams was serious.

Houston met Williams, then a second-year cornerback for the Arizona Cardinals, at a banquet in 1992. The elder Hall of Famer and Williams were part of a small group talking about defense. Williams was listening intently to Houston, who spent 14 seasons as a safety for the Houston Oilers and Washington Redskins and was a 12-time Pro Bowl selection.

After they finished, Williams asked Houston, who worked as school counselor, if he could visit him at his home in Texas. Sure, Houston said. But Houston never thought it would actually happen.

When Williams began realizing he had the potential to be an NFL cornerback, he wanted to be the best to play the game. And if that meant paying his own way on trips across the United States to learn from some of the game's greatest defensive backs, then that's what it would take.

Sometime after Williams' second season with the Cardinals, Houston was in the middle of teaching a class in a gymnasium at an alternative high school in Houston, Texas, when Williams walked in. Houston was as surprised as he was excited. He sent the class of juniors to the bleachers and pulled Williams over to the side of the gym where they started dissecting the art of covering a receiver.

The two spent the rest of that day talking about first steps, first touches and body control.

“I would like to say I did something but he already had the work skills. We just went over the basic fundamentals,” Houston said.

“I thought his interest in the game and his willingness to accept teaching and to seek out people who could help him to be the best [stood out]. I've never had another player do that.”

Williams knew what it'd take to be the best and his years of hard work have paid off.

Williams, who will turn 46 on Wednesday, will find out if he'll be part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2014. It's his third straight year as a finalist, but to the pastor at The Spirit Church in St. Louis, Williams understands what's in his control and what's not.

“The awesome thing about this opportunity to be elected into the Hall of Fame is that all of the work I can do is already done,” Williams said.

“I am appreciative of the process. I know at the end of the day, no matter who was elected, there will be a contingent of people who think someone else should've been. I'm appreciative of those guys who make that decision and I trust that process.”

The process has brought a man who spent the first 10 years of his career mired in losing to the Hall's front stoop. Drafted by the Cardinals in the third round of the 1991 NFL draft, Williams remembers former Cardinals general manager Larry Wilson -- a Hall of Famer -- saying, "I think we drafted our cornerback for the next 10 years."

“Larry was like a prophet,” Williams said.

Williams played in 160 games for the Cardinals, winning just 56 of them. In 2001, he joined the St. Louis Rams and played in a Super Bowl that season, losing to the New England Patriots. In 14 seasons, Williams had 677 tackles and 55 interceptions. He is one of six players in history to return nine interceptions for touchdowns.

Of those six, the three besides Williams who are eligible for the Hall of Fame -- Rod Woodson, Deion Sanders and Houston -- are already in. Next up is Williams, who started all but four games in his career, was named to the Pro Bowl eight times and was a three-time first-team All-Pro.

What's more impressive to Houston is Williams stood out despite playing for teams that consistently lost. The Cardinals won four games four times in 10 years while he was in Arizona and three games in another. They were .500 or better just twice. And Williams played for four head coaches.

“For you to be an All-Pro and a [Pro Bowl] pick on those poor teams, guys have to really think you were doing the job,” Houston said. “And you have to play every Sunday when you're on a losing team. If you're an outstanding player on a losing team, then you're an outstanding player.

“He wasn't on a winner at the time, therefore you didn't get to see him much and when I did get a chance to see him, on those occasions, he was always steady. Never in the news. Never in the limelight. Just a good player. Never promoted himself. Someone was always promoting him. And to me, it's not self-promotion that makes you a great player, it's when other people promote you that make your name as a great player.”

[+] EnlargeAeneas Williams
Vincent Laforet /Allsport "The awesome thing about this opportunity to be elected into the Hall of Fame, is that all of the work I can do is already done," Aeneas Williams said.
To former All-Pro cornerback Gill Byrd, who Williams befriended after the Cardinals faced the Chargers late in his second season, it's more of a reflection of Williams as a man.

“The individual of Aeneas Williams had set his standards so high it didn't matter what was going on around him,” said Byrd, now the cornerbacks coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. “He didn't allow his purpose to be a slave to his circumstances.”

Williams reached out to Byrd after that game in 1992 at Sun Devil Stadium, greeting him as “Mr. Byrd” and asked if he could come out to San Diego and “go over football.” Like Houston, Byrd never expected the 24-year-old to follow through.

And like he did with Houston, Williams called Byrd -- who was as surprised as Houston -- and flew out to California for a few days. That trip established a friendship and an annual trip. Williams spent time with Byrd every summer for four years -- the last two years of Byrd's career as well as two after he retired -- working on technique, as well as the mental side of the game.

Byrd went beyond footwork and proper hand placement. He taught Williams where he should be looking coming out of a break and how his hips could dictate where he'd drive a receiver.

Then they focused on the psychological part of football. Byrd taught Williams a new mindset. Instead of covering a receiver, the receiver had to beat Williams. As soon as Williams grasped Byrd's concepts, Byrd saw a confidence emerge from the up-and-coming star.

“I would say as a young man first, I saw a singular focus to be the best and that's what impressed me about Aeneas,” Byrd said. “He never traded what he wanted most for what he wanted for the moment. He would make sacrifices, even if for the moment he wanted to relax or didn't want to work out.

“He always kept in the forefront of his mind what he wanted most.”

And while other young stars in the NFL were basking in the spoils of being rich and famous in their early 20s, Williams was laying a foundation for his career. One characteristic that helped distance himself from the pack was his ability to not only seek out others for questions but to listen to their answers.

“The one thing all young players have and as you have success it's revealed as pride,” Byrd said. “Pride will do you in in a lot of situations because you don't want to take instructions from others.

“Aeneaes always humbled himself.”

And not only did Williams rise above the Cardinals' losing, he did it among tough competition.

The 1990s were full of talented defensive backs, especially in the NFC, with the likes of Darren Woodson, Mark Carrier, LeRoy Butler, Darrell Green, Eric Davis, Merton Hanks and some guy named Deion.

He didn't just look at his peers as competition, which drove him to get better, but he learned from them. Take Sanders for an example. He revolutionized the cornerback position with his unconventional staggered stance, compared to the parallel-feet stance. Williams didn't feel comfortable having his feet parallel, so when Sanders lined up with his back foot behind his front foot, Williams copied him and flourished as a press-cover corner.

As he did with Houston and Byrd, Williams befriended the best defensive backs to come before him, traveling the country in search of their knowledge. Williams said Michael Haynes, Ronnie Lott and Rod Woodson all shared their wealth of defensive acumen with him.

It wasn't just defensive players who Williams would copy. When Williams learned that Jerry Rice sprinted to the end zone for a touchdown after every pass he caught for a touchdown, Williams began doing the same when he snagged an interception or scooped a fumble.

While a slew of his contemporaries helped mold Williams, it was a son of a coach who allowed him to blossom.

After Buddy Ryan replaced Joe Bugel as Arizona's head coach in 1994, Williams wasn't sure if he wanted to re-sign. He told his wife it was because he heard Ryan was hard on his players. In reality, though, it was because Ryan challenged his defensive backs.

“I was afraid to play in Buddy's system because I knew Buddy put his cornerbacks on an island,” Williams said.

Under defensive coordinator, Fritz Shurmur, the Cardinals ran a zone blitz, Williams said, which gave him help. Ryan's new scheme was intimidating. Shortly after Williams re-signed with the Cards, Rob Ryan, then Arizona's defensive backs coach, gave Williams a hug and told him he thought he could lead the league in interceptions. In 1994, Ryan's first season, Williams tied for the NFL lead with nine interceptions.

“He reminded me of what he believed I can do,” Williams said.

From then on, Williams was Arizona's top cover corner, drawing assignments such as Michael Irvin and Randy Moss for entire games, following them around the field instead of sticking to one side.

“That's when my belief, my confidence and abilities soared through the roof,” he said.

While Williams knows what it's like to lose, it didn't make the last two years any easier. When his football career began, he wrote down his goals. Among his many selfless ambitions, including helping his position coach become a defensive coordinator and his defensive coordinator become a head coach, was making the Hall of Fame.

He's knocked on the front door twice but hasn't been elected. Williams hasn't allowed it to consume him. He has a wife, four children and a congregation to do that.

“Kinda like you're up for an election and don't win,” Williams said. “You have that disappointment or that desire, but immediately your focus goes to, ‘Thank you, Lord, for allowing me to be a focus.'

“I am grateful. I express great gratitude to be there in that room and in that discussion, but I'm immediately able to keep that in perspective when it comes down to things like this.”

Williams learned as a player how to stay in the moment. He already understood the magnitude of being a professional football player, which accounts for less than one percent of all high school football players. But being a finalist, one of 15 players from across generations, to be at the final step for consideration to the Hall, he also understands the immensity of the honor.

If Williams should lose out on making the Hall again, he's prepared. He'll just reset, put it all in perspective and not think about it until 2015.

“We'll congratulate the guys that do [make it],” Williams said, “and we'll look forward to the process next year.”
ST. LOUIS -- Although his name may not ring out in conversations of the league's greatest pass-rushers, Kevin Greene sits third in NFL history with 160 career sacks.

Bruce Smith, Reggie White and Chris Doleman, the players ranked Nos. 1, 2 and 4 have already been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Greene is in his 10th year of waiting for the call and is a finalist for the third straight year.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee will convene Saturday afternoon and sift through the 15 modern era finalists. The competition, as it's been for the past nine years, will be tough. Despite his strong credentials, Greene is anything but a lock for election.

Looking closer at Greene's pure production, one would think he's already been enshrined in Canton (see right).

Perhaps it works against Greene that he spent plenty of years bouncing from team to team rather than establishing his legacy with one. Players like Smith and Lawrence Taylor made their names known for dominating in one place while keeping track of Greene was a bit more difficult. Even for the purposes of this piece, it was hard to peg what team would handle the case for Greene's induction.

Many will likely remember Greene's work with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1993-1995 since that was right in the prime of his career, but Greene actually served the most years with the Rams and had his best seasons with the Los Angeles edition of the team.

Greene was originally a fifth-round choice of the Rams out of Auburn in 1985. He played for the team from 1985 to 1992 and posted a career high 16.5 sacks in 1988 and 1989. He would go on to play in Pittsburgh, Carolina and San Francisco as well.

In looking at Greene's chances for induction, it can be difficult to see how he might breakthrough this year. Some of the game's greats such as linebacker Derrick Brooks, offensive tackle Walter Jones, running back Jerome Bettis and guard Will Shields are also up for induction. Beyond that, the competition amongst pass-rushers is tight in itself.

Giants defensive end Michael Strahan and Dallas defensive end Charles Haley are also on the ballot and it seems unlikely that more than one of that trio would land a spot. Although Greene has more sacks than both players, Strahan has the advantage of winning a Super Bowl and the season record for sacks in a season. Haley has fewer sacks than Greene and Strahan but is also one of the winningest players of all-time with five Super Bowl trophies to his name.

Beyond a lack of star power, Green is also viewed as a bit more one-dimensional than the likes of Haley and Strahan. He was never known as an elite run stopper and most of his claim to fame comes from his ability to get after the quarterback.

Ultimately, it seems unlikely Greene will get his call for Canton this year. It seems the popular Strahan is the most likely of the pass-rushers to get the nod. Greene may also have to wait behind Haley as well. Greene's impressive sack total is too good to keep him out forever but more patience may be required.

Walter Jones belongs in the Hall now

January, 29, 2014
Jan 29
12:00
PM ET
NEW YORK -- Statistically speaking, you can’t play left tackle in the NFL any better than Walter Jones played it for the Seattle Seahawks.

He has a chance to become a first-ballot Hall of Famer on Saturday when the results are announced for the class of 2014.

"Anytime you can say first-ballot Hall of Famer, it’s a great title," Jones said two weeks ago at the Seahawks' practice facility. "Will it be a letdown [if it doesn’t happen this year]? It probably will. But just saying Hall of Famer is a great title."

Sometimes it can be difficult to judge offensive linemen. They don’t have all of the measurable numbers of quarterbacks, running backs or receivers. And defensive players can be judged on tackles, sacks, interceptions and passes defensed.

But in Jones' case, there are plenty of numbers to support him. If the voters go by the stats, there's no valid argument to keep Jones off the list of new inductees.

Allow me to review a few of them for you:
  • Jones started all 180 games he played for the Seahawks over 12 seasons.
  • He was whistled for holding only nine times in 5,703 pass plays while he was on the field. That's once every 634 plays.
  • He allowed only 23 sacks during his entire career, which is only one in every 248 pass plays. Two of those came in the final game of his career in 2008 (both by Dallas defensive end DeMarcus Ware), when Jones was hobbled by a knee injury that required surgery.
  • Jones was selected to nine Pro Bowls, most in team history, and was a six-time All-Pro.
  • In 2005, The Sporting News listed Jones as the best player in the game at any position.
  • He was voted to the NFL All-Decade team for the 2000s.

How can any voter look at those arguments and not put Jones in the Hall now?

"It's going to be exciting whenever it happens," Jones said. "If it's this year or in two years, just to be on the list is amazing. And to be able to play on one team is amazing, having my whole career with the Seahawks."

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