Jets fans have always known Kevin Mawae was a great player. But we'll all have to wait at least another year before we can say Mawae is one Hall of a center.
Mawae, the 16-season NFL pivotman who spent the most productive eight seasons of his career with the New York Jets from 1998-2005, for the second February was one of 15 finalists to go before the 47-member Selection Committee but was not included among the five Modern Era finalists and eight members overall who were introduced tonight as the new inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Mawae was well aware of the possibility that, in his fourth year of eligibility, he might not be entering pro football's shrine in Canton, Ohio, this August.
"If I don't make it, I'll still be happy I'm one of the 15," Mawae said this week. "If you're one of the 15, like I am now, you're one of the best 400 guys who ever put on an NFL football helmet."
Mawae will go through the process of trying to reach and surpass this same point in Atlanta next year to join the now 311-member Hall of Fame that includes running back Curtis Martin, his Jets teammate who entered the Canton shrine himself as a member of the Class of 2012, and Bill Parcells, his first Jets head coach, who gained Hall entry in 2013.
As Martin has said, "Kevin is the one teammate who is most responsible for me being in the Hall of Fame. He knew the game so well that he was like a second quarterback on the field. I've never seen an offensive lineman with more agility than Kevin. In fact, he was more agile than many of the fullbacks in the NFL. His leadership and ability always gave us an advantage."
The results of today's voting notwithstanding, Mawae remains one of the top centers in NFL history and arguably the best of the best centers in Green & White annals, a status that was underscored when he was named the 18th member of the Jets Ring of Honor last October.
Mawae's road to the Jets and to greatness began when he was selected by Seattle in the second round (No. 36 overall) of the 1994 NFL Draft. He played his first two Seahawks seasons at right guard, then his next two at center.
Parcells, who began his second season as the Jets' head coach in 1998 looking for an offensive line anchor, signed Mawae as an unrestricted free agent, and from there No. 68's career took off. In '98 he helped lead the way for Martin and the Jets to reach the AFC Championship Game at Denver. From 1999-2004, he was named to six consecutive Pro Bowls, starting in all six, and was named NFL All-Pro after the '99 and '01 seasons.
Mawae had compiled impressive ironman streaks of 118 consecutive regular-season games and starts as a Jet and 179 straight games and 177 straight starts as a pro before suffering a torn triceps midway through the 2005 season. The Jets released him the following March. He then finished his NFL career with four seasons as the Titans' starting C, in the final two reaching the Pro Bowl twice and being named All-Pro for the third time.
After today's eight-hour, 18-minute selection meeting, five Modern Era finalists, two Seniors finalists and one Contributor finalist were voted in as members of the Hall of Fame's Class of 2018:
■ S Brian Dawkins
■ LB Ray Lewis
■ WR Randy Moss
■ WR Terrell Owens
■ LB Brian Urlacher
■ LB Robert Brazile (Seniors)
■ G Jerry Kramer (Seniors)
■ Executive Bobby Beathard (Contributor)