Kevin Mawae is heading down this year's home stretch toward the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Should the doors swing open to allow the longtime Jets and NFL center entrance? The man who brought him to the Jets and coached him for his first two seasons in green and white leaves no doubt where he stands.
"Kevin's the best center I ever had, by far," said Bill Parcells, "and he's one of the best I've seen as well."
That's no surprise — Parcells, the Jets head coach from 1997-99 and a Hall of Famer himself in 2013, signed Mawae as an unrestricted free agent from Seattle for the Jets in 1998, and No. 68 went on to earn his first six Pro Bowl berths and his first two All-Pro first-team nods from 1999-2004.
But Parcells expanded on his appreciation of Mawae's package of pro skills during a recent Sirius/XM NFL Radio interview with Gil Brandt and Alex Marvez.
"I thought Kevin was a tremendous player," Parcells said. "The only guy in his era that I think compared with him is Dermontti Dawson, and Dermontti Dawson is in the Hall of Fame. I thought those two guys were head and shoulders the best two.
"And if you look at Kevin, the teams he's played on, everywhere he went they had a 1000-yard rusher, so that should tell you something." That wasn't a hyperbolic statement — Mawae in fact blocked for 13 rushers who reached 1,000 yards in a season in his 16 NFL seasons.
"It's a vital position on the offensive line," the coach continued. "There are no plays off there. You're right in the middle of it all the time. Kevin was terrific. He could pull, he could cut guys off. I just think he's a tremendous player."
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It's fair to say that most of the Hall of Fame's 48-member selection committee have similar feelings about Mawae. But they will have to vote on a lot of other players with competing qualifications when they convene for their annual selection meeting in Atlanta on Saturday to choose the Class of 2019 at the end of their meeting, which typically lasts more than eight hours.
Mawae, in his fifth year of eligibility and his third year as a Modern-Era Finalist, is still in prime position to gain entry into the Canton shrine. But there are no guarantees, with the competition for the maximum of five spots allotted each year for Modern-Era players always fierce.
This year the feeling among NFL watchers is that TE Tony Gonzalez and S Ed Reed are favorites. Other big names among the 15 finalists are WR Isaac Bruce, RB Edgerrin James and CBs Champ Bailey and Ty Law. Mawae could be competing, in the voters' estimations, for one or two offensive line openings with T Tony Boselli, G Alan Faneca and G Steve Hutchinson.
Gary Myers, a contributor to The Athletic and the former Daily News football columnist who is the Jets' presenter before the selection committee, says Mawae has "impressive credentials" and will be stating the center's case Saturday.
And Myers is joined by many others in singing Mawae's praises, including not only Parcells but Curtis Martin, the Hall of Fame RB who from 1998-2005 ran behind Kevin's deft blocks for all 45 of his 100-yard games and all seven of his 1,000-yard seasons as a Jet.
"I wouldn't be in the Hall of Fame if it wasn't for Kevin," Martin has said. "It would make my day to see him get in there. Kevin was more like a fullback playing center, and the feet that he had were unbelievable. He was just as quick as tight ends, the way he played. So we were able to have a much larger running package because of what he was able to do."
The Hall of Fame's Class of '19 will be announced during "NFL Honors," the two-hour primetime awards special that will air nationally on CBS on Saturday at 9 p.m. ET and PT. The program will be taped earlier that evening at The Fox Theatre in Atlanta from 5-7 p.m., where the class will be introduced for the first time. The class will be formally enshrined in Canton on Saturday, Aug. 3.