It may be a city in Ohio located around 60 miles from Cleveland, and the county seat for Stark County, but that simple name means so much more to many.
It means immortality.
Home to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Canton is where legends live forever. Enshrinement in the Hall of Fame means becoming a member of one of football’s most exclusive clubs, where your legacy will live on for generations to come.
Tonight, the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced the Class of 2024. Here are the next legends headed to Canton.
Modern Era selections
Dwight Freeney, Defensive End/Outside Linebacker
Over the course of his 16-year NFL career, Dwight Freeney developed a reputation as the game’s most dangerous pass rusher. His lightning-quick spin move caused havoc for many offenses, and he was part of an Indianapolis Colts team that won Super Bowl XLI. During his career, Freeney recorded 125.5 sacks, with the bulk of those coming during his time in Indianapolis. He led the NFL with 16 sacks during the 2004 season, and was a three-time First-Team All-Pro selection.
Freeney was a finalist for the second time.
Devin Hester, Kick Returner/Wide Receiver
Remember Super Bowl XLI?
That game began with rookie Devin Hester of the Chicago Bears settling under the opening kickoff, and then returning it for a touchdown on the game’s first play. To this day Hester is the only player to return the opening kickoff of the Super Bowl for a touchdown.
Over the course of his 11-year career, Hester carved out a bigger role as a receiver for the Chicago Bears. During the 2009 season, he set career-high marks in receptions (57) and receiving yards (757), and the following season he caught a career-high four touchdown passes. But he was most known for what he did as a returner. Over his NFL career, Hester returned five kickoffs for touchdowns, along with 14 punt return touchdowns.
This was Hester’s third time as a finalist.
Andre Johnson, Wide Receiver
Andre Johnson spent the bulk of his 14-year career with the Houston Texans, and is still the franchise leader in a number of statistical categories. Johnson was twice named a First-Team All-Pro selection, including during the 2008 season when he led the NFL in receptions (115) and receiving yards (1,575).
At the end of his career, Johnson had caught 1,062 passes for 14,185 yards and 70 touchdowns. He ranks 11th all-time in both receiving yards, and receptions.
This was Johnson’s third time as a finalist. He is also the first member of the Houston Texans to head to Canton.
Julius Peppers, Defensive End
Julius Peppers was drafted second overall by the Carolina Panthers in the 2022 NFL Draft, and it did not take long for him to make his mark on the league. In just his second game as a rookie, Peppers recorded three sacks against the Detroit Lions as Carolina beat Detroit 31-7. He finished his rookie year with 13 sacks, as was selected as the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year.
His career spanned two stints in Carolina as well as time in Chicago and Green Bay, and when he retired he was fourth on the all-time sack list with 159.5. He is still the only player in NFL history with at least 100 sacks and 10-plus interceptions. His selection to Canton seemed a lock given that he is one of just four players to record ten seasons with ten-plus sacks. The other three? Bruce Smith, Reggie White, and Kevin Greene, all members of the Hall of Fame.
This was his first year as a finalist, and his first year of eligibility.
Patrick Willis, Linebacker
Patrick Willis played his entire eight-year career with the San Francisco 49ers, and while his career was cut short due to injury, during his career Willis earned a reputation as one of the league’s best inside linebackers. He was strong, athletic, and the prototype “sideline to sideline” linebacker that NFL teams covet in today’s game.
During his rookie season, Willis led the NFL in both total tackles (174) and solo tackles (136), and he was named the Defensive Rookie of the Year. Willis was a four-time First-Team All-Pro selection, and made the Pro Bowl in seven of his eight NFL seasons.
This was the third time Willis has been a finalist.
Randy Gradishar, Linebacker
Randy Gradishar spent all ten of his NFL seasons with the Denver Broncos, and became a key component of the team’s “Orange Crush” defense. He helped the Broncos reach Super Bowl XII during the 1977 season, the team’s first Super Bowl appearance. The following year he was named the AP Defensive Player of the Year, as he notched four interceptions that season.
Over his ten-year career, Gradishar never missed a game.
Steve McMichael, Defensive Tackle
Steve McMichael was drafted in the second round of the 1980 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots, but when the Patriots cut him ahead of the 1981 season, he found his way to Chicago. He became an integral part of the Bears’ stout defenses of the 1980s, as the latest edition of the “Monsters of the Midway” locked down opposing offenses and propelled the Bears to a win in Super Bowl XX … over the Patriots.
During his time in Chicago, McMichael racked up 814 tackles and 92.5 sacks. He ended his career playing one season with the Green Bay Packers and added 2.5 more sacks to his resume, retiring with 95 career sacks, a mark that ranks fourth all-time among defensive tackles.
McMichael has been battling ALS the past two years and has lost the ability to speak, but his wife Misty believes his run to Canton has helped extend his life. “He would have died at home if it wasn’t for the nomination,” she told the Chicago Sun-Times. “He was dying in front of us. We ripped up the DNR (do not resuscitate orders) because of the nomination. He has to live to see this.”