Miami — Steve Hutchinson, a guard so historically fierce and fundamentally sound that the Vikings created a “poison pill” scheme to pilfer him from the Seahawks, reached the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his third year of eligibility on Saturday.
The four other modern-era players chosen by the 48-member selection committee are Broncos safety Steve Atwater, Rams receiver Isaac Bruce, Colts and Cardinals running back Edgerrin James and Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, elected in his first year of eligibility. Joining them will be 15 members of a Centennial Class chosen earlier by a special blue-ribbon committee that included late Lions defensive lineman Alex Karras and Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
Hutchinson, who was a consensus All-American offensive lineman in 2000 at Michigan, spent his first five seasons in Seattle as the 17th overall draft pick in 2001. He finished his career with the Titans in 2012. In between was a six-year Vikings career in which Hutchinson won three of his five first-team All-Pros, one of his two second-team All-Pros and five of his seven Pro Bowls.
"I’m fortunate that I really got to split my career between two wonderful, first-class organizations,” Hutchinson said about the Seahawks and Vikings.
How Hutchinson got to Minnesota is a legendary tale in Vikings’ history. A poison-pill idea hatched by Vikings salary cap guru Rob Brzezinski that was so sneaky and effective that the league ended up outlawing the practice after the Seahawks returned fire and stole receiver Nate Burleson away.
Yes, Hutchinson was a left guard. And, yes, he was worth going to that much hassle and historic expense to acquire.
“When we got to Minnesota, we were looking for someone to bring a toughness to that offensive line,” said former Vikings coach Brad Childress said. “Something like what we had with (tackle) Jon Runyan in Philadelphia. Hutch was the perfect guy to bring that toughness and strength and attitude. So we decided we’d make a run at him.”
Hutchinson had reached the end of his rookie contract and was in line to set a new market for guards. He was coming off his second first-team All-Pro and Seattle’s appearance in Super Bowl XL.
Seattle slapped the transition tag on Hutchinson, meaning the Seahawks would have the right of first refusal. Normally, that deters other teams from even making an offer. Hutchinson was not happy and his agent let people know that Hutchinson was steamed.
Brzezinski cheered him up with his plan. In the Vikings’ record-setting seven-year, $49 million offer, Brzezinski tucked in a “poison pill” that would make the contract fully guaranteed if Hutchinson wasn’t the highest-paid offensive lineman on his team.
Seattle was in a pickle. They had just signed left tackle Walter Jones, who would go on to become a first-ballot Hall of Famer, to a richer deal than the one Hutchinson signed.
Seattle returned fire a year later. They signed receiver Nate Burleson to a seven-year, $49 million contract with not one, but two poison pills. If Burleson played more than five games in the state of Minnesota or his average salary ($7 million) was higher than the averages of all of the Vikings’ running backs, the contract would be fully guaranteed.
Burleson left and the league had seen enough. It stepped in and outlawed poison pills in all future contracts.
The Hall’s selection committee, which includes this reporter, met for 6 hours and 50 minutes at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel. After all 15 finalists were discussed, the field was trimmed to 10 when Packers safety LeRoy Butler, Rams receiver Torry Holt, Saints and Panthers linebacker Sam Mills, Colts receiver Reggie Wayne and 49ers defensive tackle Bryant Young were eliminated.
The committee then trimmed the field to five. Normally, the final five then needs 80% of the vote to get in. But the Hall waived that rule this year to guarantee a “20 for ‘20” class.
Eliminated in the cut to five were Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas, Patriots defensive tackle Richard Seymour, Buccaneers and Broncos safety John Lynch, Jaguars offensive tackle Tony Boselli and Steelers guard John Faneca.