In Louisiana, football is not only king, it is who we are at our core. The seasons don’t really change weather-wise here all that much, and neither does the fact that it is football season all year round.
So when three Louisiana homegrown legends are elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame — Baton Rouge native and LSU star Johnny Robinson, Leesville and LSU’s Kevin Mawae and Ed Reed of Destrehan — it says something to us that makes us feel very good about ourselves as a people.
It says for all our problems and our issues, we are really good at something. We are really good at football. And three of our own now rank among the very best ever to play in the NFL.
For Robinson, this was an honor too long deferred. A star safety in the old AFL for its entire decade of existence in the 1960s and then for two more seasons after the league merged with the NFL, there is much opinion that Robinson would have long since been enshrined in Canton had he played more of his career in the more established league. Through the decades, players with similar stats to Robinson were elected to the Hall of Fame while he waited and waited, seemingly forgotten. But those like Hall of Famer Lance Alworth, a wide receiver star from those days, championed Robinson’s cause.
Now, at 80, he is finally getting his due.
For Reed, there was no such wait. The great safety with the Baltimore Ravens who finished his career in 2013 with the Houston Texans and New York Jets only had to wait the required five years after his playing career ended before getting the knock on his Atlanta hotel room door Saturday.
Reed checked all the boxes of a Hall of Famer. He was just the second player to lead the NFL in interceptions three times, an NFL defensive player of the year and a Super Bowl champion. He even owns the two longest interception returns in NFL history. Reed was as big a shoo-in this year as fellow classmates Tony Gonzalez and Champ Bailey.
For Mawae, it was much more difficult to make a splash as a center with the Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets and Tennessee Titans. Some even said Mawae’s longtime work as a leading figure in the NFL Players Association may have cost him votes.
Consistency and longevity had to be Mawae’s calling card. He played 241 games over 16 seasons, anchoring offensive lines that cleared the way for 13 1,000-yard rushers. A six-time Pro Bowler and a member of the NFL All-Decade team in the 2000s, Mawae lacked the Super Bowl appearance, much less championship, that helped crown Robinson and Reed’s careers.
But there were few players during his tenure who earned more respect on and off the field than Mawae. That respect finally translated into a gold jacket. And the chance to join the late Steve Van Buren, Y.A. Tittle and Jimmy Taylor (who died in October) as LSU's Pro Football Hall of Famers, the first to be inducted since Taylor in 1976.
"At one point in time Mr. Jimmy Taylor made the comment that I'm tired of being in there by myself," Mawae said. "He told me he didn't want to be in there alone anymore. God rest his soul. We have two more sitting next to him, so I'm happy about that."
There are always questions about those who are left out. One of those questions surrounds former LSU guard Alan Faneca, who played 13 seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jets and Arizona Cardinals.
Faneca, a guard, possesses the complete résumé for an offensive lineman. He had longevity and durability, playing 206 games and missing just one in 13 seasons. He was a six-time All Pro. And he made a key pulling block to spring Willie Parker's 75-yard touchdown run in the Steelers' Super Bowl 40 win over Seattle.
This was Faneca's fourth time as a finalist. Hopefully the fifth time will be a charm.
“I was a little disappointed that Alan didn’t get it in,” Mawae said. “I thought three Tigers going in would be something to score for LSU. But he'll get in, no doubt about that."
Maybe four guys in the hall with Louisiana ties in one year would be piling on.
Wouldn’t want someone to throw a flag. Not this time, anyway.
Advocate sportswriter Rod Walker contributed to this report.