ATLANTA – One of the strongest guards in NFL history, Steve Hutchinson probably wishes he could just do what he used to do and shove aside the logjam of linemen he’s battling in his second straight year as a Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist.
But the former Viking’s fate once again rests in the hands of a committee of 48 selectors, including yours truly, that will meet here on Saturday to decide the Class of 2019. He’s competing against 14 other modern-era finalists for the maximum number of five spots for enshrinement.
Tight end Tony Gonzalez and safety Ed Reed are believed to be easy votes in their first year of eligibility. If that becomes the case, Hutch will be one of 13 finalists battling for just three spots.
Muddying the field even further are three other offensive linemen who are likely to split votes, as they did a year ago when the committee chose as its modern-era class receivers Randy Moss and Terrell Owens, linebackers Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher and safety Brian Dawkins.
Here is a closer look at linemen Hutchinson, guard Alan Faneca, center Kevin Mawae and tackle Tony Boselli:
First-team Associated Press All-Pro: Faneca 6, Hutchinson 5, Mawae and Boselli 3.
Pro Bowls: Faneca 9, Mawae 8, Hutchinson 7, Boselli 5.
Years/games played: Mawae 16/241, Faneca 13/206, Hutchinson 12/169, Boselli 7/91.
From a numbers standpoint, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which more than one offensive lineman joins Gonzalez and Reed. Not when the other nine finalists include cornerbacks Champ Bailey and Ty Law; safeties Steve Atwater and John Lynch; coaches Tom Flores and Don Coryell; defensive lineman Richard Seymour; receiver Isaac Bruce; and running back Edgerrin James.
Bailey, who’s in his first year of eligibility, was a three-time All-Pro with 52 interceptions and four touchdowns. Law had 53 interceptions and seven touchdowns.
Seymour also was a three-time All-Pro. Bruce had 15,208 yards and 91 touchdowns receiving. Flores won two Super Bowls. James topped 1,500 yards rushing four times en route to 12,246 in his career.
And one could go on.
Each year, selectors are targeted by organized campaigns launched by supporters of the candidates. None has been more persistent than the one backing Flores, who turns 82 on March 21 and would be the oldest modern-era finalist ever to be selected.
Teams that a finalist played or coached for often submit material that is distributed by the Hall of Fame to its selectors ahead of the meeting. Hutchinson played his first five seasons in Seattle and his next six with the Vikings, so he had two teams contribute in that regard.
The Vikings contributed an impressive quote of support from that old gunslinger that Hutchinson had to fly to Hattiesburg to talk out of retirement back in 2010.
“Toughest and smartest lineman hands down,” Brett Favre was quoted as saying. “Technique was flawless and just downright good.”
Other quotes included former Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren saying, “Just as Walter Jones was the best tackle I ever saw, Steve Hutchinson was the best guard.”
Former NFL defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth remembered Hutch’s sheer strength.
“Alan Faneca was strong,” he said, “but Hutch was almost crazy strong, unbelievable.”
Another former NFL defensive tackle, La’Roi Glover, compared the strength of Hutchinson’s hands to those of Vikings Hall of Fame guard Randall McDaniel.
“The only guy who had stronger grippers was Randall McDaniel,” Glover said. “If Randall McDaniel got his hands on you, just stop and go back to the huddle. Hutch had that ability as well.”
Hutch was on the field for 72 individual 100-yard rushing games. He blocked for Shaun Alexander when he won MVP in 2005 and Adrian Peterson when he ran for an NFL-record 296 yards while winning Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2007.
He’s one of four guards on the NFL’s Team of the 2000s. Two of them — Will Shields and Larry Allen — are in the Hall of Fame.
The other two — Hutch and Faneca — are still stuck in traffic on their way to Canton.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org