Steve Hutchinson arrived at Michigan as a defensive lineman, and now after a distinguished college and 12-year NFL career, he’s among the 15 finalists for this year’s NFL Hall of Fame class.
Hutchinson and former Wolverine Ty Law are finalists hoping to be selected for one of five modern-era spots. The 48-person selection committee will meet Saturday in Minneapolis, site of Sunday’s Super Bowl, and will announce the Hall of Fame class later that night. Randy Moss, Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher also are first-time finalists.
At Michigan, Hutchinson was a four-year starter from 1996-2000 and in 1997, he and fellow redshirt freshman Jeff Backus anchored the left side of the offensive line on the Wolverines’ national championship team. He was All-Big Ten every season and was a consensus All-American in 2000.
He was a first-round selection by the Seahawks in 2001. During his 12-year pro career, he played for Seattle, Minnesota and Tennessee, where he currently works in the scouting department. He played in all 16 regular-season games in eight of 12 seasons. Hutchinson was a seven-time Pro Bowler and a six-time All Pro.
He and Law are on the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team.
“The truth is, he was a great offensive player, but he wanted to be recruited defensively,” Lloyd Carr, Michigan's head coach for 13 seasons, said of Hutchinson. “It came down to us and Notre Dame. Our plan was to redshirt him anyway. When I went down (to Florida to recruit him), I promised him an opportunity to play defense and I said, ’Here’s what we’ll do — you’ll play defense this fall and we’ll see how it goes.’
“I knew he was a great offensive player, I didn’t know defensively. After watching him for a fall (when he redshirted), I knew he was blessed with everything you want in an offensive lineman. When I really found that out, we went into bowl preparation, and we had a lot of work that week with our younger players. That first day he went over with Debo (Mike DeBord), and you could just see. It was one of those deals. One snapshot was all you needed. He had a great spring.”
DeBord was Michigan’s offensive coordinator who had coached offensive line. Like Carr, DeBord immediately saw Hutchinson’s strength as an offensive lineman.
Later, when DeBord coached in the NFL with Seattle and Chicago, he saw Hutchinson elevate his game on the professional level.
“It’s my opinion that — and I’m not the judge of NFL linemen — but after coaching in the NFL for five years and watching him during that time, if he wasn’t the best, he was one of the top guys, in my opinion, in the NFL,” said DeBord, who is now Indiana’s offensive coordinator. “He’s everything you want as an offensive lineman. He has great intelligence, he’s very powerful, has great balance, great feet. I think he was an unbelievable offensive lineman.”
Carr said Hutchinson checked every box when it came to the perfect offensive lineman.
“If you look at athletic ability, strength, size, mobility, his toughness, his intelligence, his competitiveness, his will to win and his leadership, I’d give him a 10 in all those,” Carr said. “He’s a phenom.”
Jon Jansen, a two-time captain at Michigan who made 50 straight starts at right tackle, played on the offensive line at Michigan with Hutchinson for two seasons.
Jansen said if you wanted to build the perfect guard, Hutchinson would be the prototype.
“Steve was probably the most natural offensive lineman I’ve played with,” Jansen said. “When you look at an offensive guard and you tried to design one, you’d pretty much build Steve Hutchinson. He was thick, he was wide, he was the right height. He was never too high. He was always in good position. He had good flexibility and strong as a bear.”
Several NFL analysts believe that because there are five offensive linemen among the finalists, it might be hard for Hutchinson, a first-time eligible NFL Hall of Fame nominee, to make the cut for the 2018 class.
“If it’s not this year,” Jansen said, “it will be next year.”
2018 HALL OF FAME FINALISTS
Modern-era semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2018. Number of times the individual has been named a finalist in parentheses:
■ Tony Boselli, OT — 1995-2001 Jacksonville, 2002 Houston (2)
■ Isaac Bruce, WR — 1994-2007 LA/St. Louis Rams, 2008-09 San Francisco (2)
■ Brian Dawkins, S — 1996-2008 Philadelphia, 2009-2011 Denver (2)
■ Alan Faneca, G — 1998-2007 Pittsburgh, 2008-09 NY Jets, 2010 Arizona (3)
■ Steve Hutchinson, G — 2001-05 Seattle, 2006-2011 Minnesota, 2012 Tennessee (1)
■ Joe Jacoby, OT — 1981-1993 Washington (3)
■ Edgerrin James, RB — 1999-2005 Indianapolis, 2006-08 Arizona, 2009 Seattle (2)
■ Ty Law, CB — 1995-2004 New England, 2005, 2008 NY Jets, 2006-07 Kansas City, 2009 Denver (2)
■ Ray Lewis, LB — 1996-2012 Baltimore (1)
■ John Lynch, FS — 1993-2003 Tampa Bay, 2004-07 Denver (5)
■ Kevin Mawae, C/G — 1994-97 Seattle, 1998-2005 NY Jets, 2006-09 Tennessee (2)
■ Randy Moss, WR — 1998-2004, 2010 Minnesota, 2005-06 Oakland, 2007-2010 New England, 2010 Tennessee, 2012 San Francisco (1)
■ Terrell Owens, WR — 1996-2003 San Francisco, 2004-05 Philadelphia, 2006-08 Dallas, 2009 Buffalo, 2010 Cincinnati (3)
■ Brian Urlacher, LB — 2000-2012 Chicago (1)
■ Everson Walls, CB — 1981-89 Dallas, 1990-92 NY Giants, 1992-93 Cleveland (1)
■ Bobby Beathard, general manager/personnel administrator
■ Robert Brazile, LB — 1975-1984 Houston Oilers
■ Jerry Kramer, G — 1958-1968 Green Bay Packers