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Warner, Bruce closing in on NFL Hall of Fame

Warner, Bruce closing in on NFL Hall of Fame

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Is this the year for quarterback Kurt Warner? The former Super Bowl champion and NFL most valuable player with the St. Louis Rams was among 15 modern-era finalists announced Tuesday for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

This is Warner’s third year as a finalist. New to the finalist list this year is another star of those Greatest Show on Turf teams, wide receiver Isaac Bruce. The list also includes the late Don Coryell, the offensive innovator who coached the “Cardiac Cards” St. Louis football Cardinals teams of the mid-1970s.

The rest of the modern-era finalist list consists of place-kicker Morten Andersen, offensive tackle Tony Boselli, running back Terrell Davis, safety Brian Dawkins, offensive guard Alan Faneca, offensive tackle Joe Jacoby, cornerback Ty Law, safety John Lynch, center/guard Kevin Mawae, wide receiver Terrell Owens, defensive end Jason Taylor and running back LaDainian Tomlinson.

Among the finalists, Dawkins, Taylor and Tomlinson are eligible for the first time.

Andersen, Coryell, and Lynch are finalists for the fourth time; Davis and Warner are three-time finalists; Faneca, Jacoby and Owens are finalists for the second time. All of the others are first-time finalists.

Also under consideration for the Class of 2017 are safety Kenny Easley as a senior finalist (for players who have been retired for 25 years or more), plus former league commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones as finalists in the contributor’s category.

The 48-member selection committee will meet Saturday, Feb. 4 in Houston — the day before the Super Bowl — to vote on the Class of 2017. A maximum of five modern-day candidates can be voted into the Hall of Fame out of the 15 finalists. So the maximum size of the class of 2017 is eight members, if five modern-day finalists are elected plus the senior finalist and both contributor finalists.

The voting can be unpredictable, but Tomlinson appears to be the only sure thing among the modern-era finalists, leaving the four other available spots wide open. Although there was strong support for Warner last year, his candidacy was hurt by the presence of Brett Favre, with Favre gaining induction.

There is no other quarterback among the finalists this year, so the third time could be the charm for Warner. He was an NFL MVP for the 1999 and 2001 seasons and was named Super Bowl XXXIV MVP after leading the Rams to a 23-16 victory over Tennessee.

He set a Super Bowl record against the Titans that still stands with 414 passing yards. He is the only quarterback in league history to throw for 300 yards-plus in three Super Bowls, with that third Super Bowl with the Arizona Cardinals in the 2008 season.

As for Bruce, he’s considered a long shot this year as a first-time finalist, but because he’s a finalist his case will be discussed at length by the selection committee for the first time, which should help him down the road if he doesn’t get in this year.

Bruce caught the game-winning touchdown pass in Super Bowl XXXIV and topped 1,000 yards receiving eight times. A fierce competitor and feisty blocker, he had a career full of clutch performances, including four TD catches on the day the Rams ended their 17-game losing streak against rival San Francisco in 1999.

At the time of his retirement, he ranked second in career receiving yards (15,208) and fifth in career receptions (1,024) all-time among NFL pass-catchers.

Noteworthy among the absences in the finalist group is Bruce’s running mate at wide receiver, Torry Holt, and safety Steve Atwater (Lutheran North HS). Holt is in his third year of eligibility, as is the case with Warner and Bruce.

But as each Ram goes in from those Greatest Show teams, that should only help Holt move up the pecking order. Running back Marshall Faulk was inducted in 2011. Left tackle Orlando Pace was inducted last year. If Warner gets in this year, it will help clear the decks for Bruce and Holt.

Atwater, who played his college ball at Arkansas and spent most of his NFL career with Denver, was a finalist last year. The eight-time Pro Bowler won two Super Bowls with the Broncos and was considered one of the game’s hardest hitters. The first-year eligibility of Dawkins, a nine-time Pro Bowler who spent most of his career with Philadelphia, may have bumped Atwater out of the top 15.

The enshrinement ceremonies for the Class of 2017 are set for Saturday Aug. 5 in Canton, Ohio. The year-long selection process came with the initial list of 94 nominees. That group was pared to 26 semifinalists announced in mid-November, a list that included both Holt and Atwater.

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