Kevin Mawae is one of the 15 finalists for the Hall of Fame class of 2019, and while he doesn’t deserve to be elected this year, he definitely needs to be enshrined at some point in the future.
The 15 Finalists
That list of 15 players will be eventually narrowed to 10 and then five finalists, and those final five must receive at least 80% of the vote to be inducted. The class of 2019 will be officially announced during a two-hour primetime special that will be aired on February 2nd.
The 15 finalists are Steve Atwater, Champ Bailey, Tony Boselli, Isaac Bruce, Alan Faneca, Tony Gonzalez, Steve Hutchinson, Edgerrin James, Ty Law, John Lynch, Mawae, Ed Reed, Richard Seymour, and coaches Don Coryell and Tom Flores.
Mawae played center for the Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets, and Tennessee Titans, spending a total of 16 seasons in the NFL. Mawae has been a finalist for three consecutive seasons beginning in 2017, and he has been eligible for the Hall of Fame since 2015.
Mawae has officially been eligible for for the previous five seasons, which is tied for the fourth-longest amongst the 13 player finalists with Bruce, James, and Law. There is no set minimum of these 15 finalists that must be elected, but the maximum is five people.
The Credentials for Mawae
Mawae possessed a great combination of durability and dominance during his career, playing 16 seasons, making eight Pro Bowls, and being selected to three AP-All Pro First Teams. For 10 seasons, from 1995-2004, Mawae played in all 160 games. His consecutive games streak was snapped at 177 games in October 2005 when a triceps injury knocked him out for the rest of that season. In his 16 seasons, Mawae played in all 16 games 12 times and played in at least 14 games in all his seasons except that 2005 season that was cut short due to injury.
Mawae is one of the greatest centers to ever play in the league, although he spent the majority of his college career at LSU as a tackle. He started all his games at center during his senior season, though, and was drafted by the Seahawks in the second round of the 1994 NFL Draft. Mawae possessed a lot of versatility after playing at different positions on the line in college, and he started the final 11 games of the 1994 season for the Seahawks at right guard. He was named to the All-Rookie Team in 1994 and spent the next season playing right guard as well before moving to center for the 1996 season.
It was at that center position that he became one of the premier offensive linemen of his era, and anchored lines that helped generate explosive rushing attacks. Curtis Martin became a Hall of Fame running back partially through exploiting holes created by offensive lines that were led by Mawae. Martin ran for at least 1,000 yards in every season that Mawae played in more than six games for the Jets, and they are forever linked in the history of the game.
It’s not like Mawae just coasted off Martin’s talent, though. There were numerous running backs who had great seasons with Mawae blocking for them. In the 15 seasons in which he started at least 11 games, a running back ran for at least 1,000 yards in 13 of those seasons. Martin had the most of any of those running backs with seven. Chris Warren had two when Mawae was the right guard his first two seasons with the Seahawks. Three different running backs also put up 1,000-yard seasons when Mawae was with the Titans. Chris Johnson had two, while Travis Henry and LenDale White both had one. It illustrates a career in which even when the players around him changed, Mawae was talented enough to not only have continued individual success but also ensure that his running backs were also successful.
He played center for two seasons with the Seahawks before signing with the Jets as a free agent before the 1998 season. He made the Pro Bowl six consecutive seasons with the Jets from 1999-2004 and was selected to the AP All-Pro First Team in 1999 and 2001. Not only were those Jets offensive lines terrific run blocking units, but they were great in pass protection as well. The 2000 Jets offensive line tied the record for fewest sacks given up in a season when they only allowed 20 sacks. Mawae ended up missing the last 10 games of 2005 due to his triceps injury, and the Jets released him after that season.
He signed with the Titans that off-season, and spent the final four seasons of his 16-year career with them, making the AP All-Pro First Team in 2008 and the Pro Bowl in 2008 and 2009. The Titans set a franchise record in 2006 in yards per run. Henry had 1,211 rushing yards and Vince Young won AP Offensive Rookie of the Year behind a line led by Mawae. In the last season of his career, Mawae played a huge role in what was one of the best single-season efforts by a running back in league history. Johnson became the sixth player to rush for at least 2,000 yards, finishing with 2,006 yards. He also set the single-season record for the most yards from scrimmage with 2,509 yards.
Mawae retired after the 2009 season and became the 18th person inducted into the Jets Ring of Honor in 2017. He was also selected to the NFL 2000’s All-Decade First Team. Both tackles that made that team, Walter Jones and Jonathan Ogden, have already made the Hall of Fame. The guards on that team, Faneca and Hutchinson, haven’t yet made the Hall of Fame, demonstrating how guards and centers are often devalued compared to tackles.
If elected to the Hall of Fame, Mawae would represent all three franchises he played for, since significant portions of his career were spent with all of them. He would be the sixth player in the Hall of Fame to represent the Jets, the fifth or sixth player to represent the Seahawks, depending on if Hutchinson gets elected before him, and the 10th player to represent the Titans/Houston Oilers franchise.
Assessing Which Finalists Should Get in This Year
Given the credentials of other finalists Mawae is up against, Mawae doesn’t deserve to be elected to the Hall of Fame in this class. However, that doesn’t mean that he’s not worthy of eventual induction. He’s one of the greatest centers who has ever played the game.
The five guys among these finalists that most deserve to be elected this year are Gonzalez, Faneca, Bailey, Reed, and Hutchinson. AP All-Pro First Team selections are a fantastic signifier of a player’s dominance relative to other guys at his position. Faneca and Gonzalez lead these finalists with six AP All-Pro First Team selections, while Reed and Hutchinson have five AP All-Pro First Team selections. Bailey has three AP All-Pro First Team selections, but what sets him apart are his Pro Bowl appearances. Bailey made 12 Pro Bowls, which trails only Gonzalez among these finalists, and really demonstrates his stature in the league for so long in terms of both talent and popularity.
Mawae made three AP All-Pro First Teams and eight Pro Bowls. He made one more Pro Bowl than Hutchinson, but two fewer AP All-Pro First Teams. Mawae beats Hutchinson when it comes to longevity, but not when it comes to peak dominance as an offensive lineman.
Neither of the head coaches among these finalists deserves to be elected this year, mainly because other coaches more qualified for Hall of Fame inductions still aren’t in. Coryell’s bid is based largely on pioneering an aerial offense style prevalent in today’s NFL, where teams frequently unleash potent pass attacks to go over the top of the defense. However, Coryell never reached the Super Bowl, let alone won it, and it’s difficult for a coach to gain a lot of traction in these debates without at least one championship. Coryell has a lower regular season winning percentage than guys like Mike Holmgren, Marty Schottenheimer, Bill Cowher, and George Seifert, and none of those guys are in the Hall of Fame. Seifert has two championships, Holmgren and Cowher each have one, and while Schottenheimer doesn’t have any championships, he is one of only seven coaches in NFL history to win 200 regular season games. It’s not that Coryell isn’t worthy of induction, but there are numerous people who should get elected before him.
Flores is in a similar situation. His credentials certainly merit eventual enshrinement, but given other coaches who aren’t in yet, it doesn’t paint a compelling case as to why Flores needs to be elected this year before those other guys. Flores is one of just 13 coaches in NFL history to win at least two Super Bowls, but he has the lowest regular season winning percentage of any of those coaches. Mike Shanahan has two championships, more wins, and a higher regular season winning percentage than Flores, but he isn’t in the Hall of Fame.
Guys like Seifert, Holmgren, Cowher, and Shanahan need to be inducted before guys like Coryell and Flores, although all are deserving. With Coryell and Flores not being urgently needed to the Hall of Fame this year, that leaves the five possible spaces to be occupied by players.
Mawae Is One of the Best Centers in League History
Mawae compares extremely favorably to other centers who have made the Hall of Fame already, adding to his case that he belongs. He has more Pro Bowl selections than Dermontti Dawson, who was arguably the best center in football before Mawae took over that unofficial designation. He has as many AP All-Pro First Team selections as Hall of Fame center Frank Gatski, so there is certainly precedent for a center getting in with the accolades that Mawae collected over the course of his career.
Mawae should not get into the Hall of Fame in this year’s class, but he definitely should be elected at some point down the road. Given that center isn’t a very glamorous position, it might, unfortunately, take Mawae longer to get in than warranted.
There are 10 centers who have been elected to the Hall of Fame, and that includes a couple of players who played significant portions of their careers at other positions. Chuck Bednarik also played linebacker, and Bruce Matthews spent a lot of his career playing tackle and guard as well. Mawae is looking to join the group of Bednarik, Dawson, Gatski, Jim Langer, Matthews, Jim Otto, Jim Ringo, Dwight Stephenson, Mick Tingelhoff, and Mike Webster.
Predicting When Mawae Will Be Elected to Hall of Fame
The best predictor of how long it might take Mawae to be enshrined would be based on how long it took another center from Mawae’s era to be elected. The centers whose careers overlapped with Mawae’s were Dawson and Matthews, but Dawson might be the better comparison since Matthews spent most of his career at guard.
Dawson was named to the NFL 1990’s All-Decade First Team at center, and it’s an even more apt comparison given that Mawae was the next center to make an All-Decade First Team. Dawson was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2012 after retiring following the 2000 season, meaning he had to wait 12 years for enshrinement. Dawson was first eligible for election in 2006, so it took him seven chances to eventually get elected into the Hall of Fame. This is the fifth year that Mawae has been eligible, so he’ll likely need a couple more seasons to cross that final threshold.
There’s a strong case to be made that Mawae is near the top of the list among guys this year that don’t deserve election in the 2019 class. It really looks like he can get elected within the next few seasons, depending on which new players become eligible. Mawae doesn’t deserve to be elected this year, but he needs to get in eventually. Given that he’s among the top guys in this class outside that top five, he should get in sometime in the next few years. With his status as one of the greatest centers to ever play football, Mawae needs to be in the Hall of Fame.
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