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 in his prime, reached the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his third year of eligibility Saturday.
“Going through this process the last [three] years, it’s a hard day,” said Hutchinson, the last of five to get the knock on the hotel door from Hall of Fame President David Baker. “I’ve never been so tired from not doing anything.
“The knock was 3:35 [p.m.] and I’m thinking, ‘I’m getting another late [rejection] call. As soon as the knock happens, it’s hard to explain. It’s like a weighted vest is taken immediately off your shoulders.”
The five-time first-team All-Pro and seven-time Pro Bowler was with his wife, Landyn, and kids, Lilly and Luke, when the knock came.
“That last 10 minutes, it seemed like it was seven hours,” he said. “It was crazy. I was getting all tight. Then you get the knock and ... you start floating. And it’s like, ‘Is this real?’ We all just kind of broke down at once. It’s great. It’s indescribable. I sound like an idiot right now.”
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 are 15 members of a Centennial Class chosen earlier by a special blue-ribbon committee.
Hutchinson was known for brute-forth strength, impeccable technique, intelligence and a nastiness that Brad Childress coveted when he left Philadelphia as offensive coordinator for the Vikings head coaching job in 2006.
“We were looking for someone to bring a toughness to that offensive line,” Childress said. “Something like what we had with 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 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 Hutch was named first team All-Pro three times, second-team twice and made five of his seven Pro Bowls.
How he got to Minnesota is a legendary tale in Vikings history. A poison-pill idea hatched by Vikings salary cap guru Rob Brzezinski was so sneaky and effective that the league ended up outlawing the practice.
“There were a lot of sleepless nights,” Hutchinson said of partaking in the poison-pill saga. “I’ve never been the type of person who like the spotlight on me. … I’m fortunate that I really got to split my career between two wonderful, first-class organizations.”
Hutchinson was coming off consecutive first-team All-Pro seasons and Seattle’s appearance in Super Bowl XL when it slapped the transition tag on him, meaning the Seahawks would have the right of first refusal. Hutchinson was not happy.
Brzezinski cheered him up. In a record-setting deal for a guard at the time, the seven-year, $49 million offer contained 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.
The Seahawks returned fire a year later, signing Vikings receiver Nate Burleson to a seven-year, $49 million contract with not one, but two poison pills. The contract would become fully guaranteed if Burleson played more than five games in Minnesota or his average salary was higher than the averages of all of the Vikings’ running backs, which, of course, it was.
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, each of 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 Alan Faneca.
The committee spent 35 minutes, 59 seconds discussing Boselli and the brevity of his great but injury-shortened career. Hutch’s discussion went 21 minutes, 31 seconds while Faneca, a six-time first-team All-Pro, was discussed for only 9 minutes, 35 seconds.
“Just lying in bed [Saturday night] and knowing there’s no pressure anymore, no anxiety,” Hutchinson said with an exhale as the night was ending. “Just wake up tomorrow and get fitted for my [bronze bust]. They’re going to measure everything on my big head for this bust. And really knowing I never have to go through what I just went through ever again.”
Now the journey begins for former Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, Hutch’s friend and former teammate. Allen, Peyton Manning and Calvin Johnson are among the players who become eligible in 2021.
Any advice to Jared, Hutch?
“You just got to roll with it,” Hutchinson said as he walked away, his football journey finally complete.