- John Clayton, NFL senior writer
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The Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2013 may not need much discussion.
Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, fifth among the NFL's all-time sack leaders, announced his retirement Monday. Eligible for Canton in five years, Strahan joins a list of Hall candidates that starts with Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre and former Bucs and Raiders defensive tackle Warren Sapp. Ravens left tackle Jonathan Ogden, perhaps the most dominating blocker during his era, could join them if he announces his retirement soon.
These four players epitomize the modern-day player. Strahan and Sapp have colorful personalities. Sapp talked tough and made people realize that football is a violent game of intimidation. Favre was one of the greatest gunslingers in NFL history. Ogden is the quiet professional who blocks out any pass-rusher trying to get his quarterback.
Strahan, 36, was the sack specialist who just loved the game. That's the great part about all four of these players: They love football. They are intelligent and articulate. They could tell stories and provide anecdotes about what happened on the field each week.
In talking to friends over the weekend about his decision to retire, Strahan acknowledged he might not make it to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot because of the competition. Favre is an automatic. Sapp will be hard to argue against because he was one of the more dominating defensive tackles in his era.
But the case for Strahan as a first-ballot Hall of Famer is pretty convincing. In 15 seasons, he had 141½ sacks. In 2001, he set the NFL record with 22½. He owns a Super Bowl ring and has been to seven Pro Bowls. Plus, Strahan aged as well as any pass-rusher in NFL history: From age 29 until his retirement, he had 79½ sacks in seven seasons.
Even last year's strange campaign was a testament to his skills. Strahan missed training camp, but he paid his fines, showed up to play and had a nine-sack season. During the playoffs, he ignited the Giants' pass-rush as New York scrambled to win the Super Bowl.
Sacks alone don't make a Hall of Famer. Longtime linebacker/defensive end Kevin Greene had 160 career sacks and has never advanced beyond the final balloting for the Hall of Fame. Former Vikings defensive end Chris Doleman has a hard time getting into the voting room even though he has 150½ sacks.
But what Strahan did goes beyond the numbers: He made everyone around him play better. Sure, the good pass-rushers draw the extra blocking that allows teammates to go one-on-one against an opponent. Strahan did that and more. His personality kept the locker room loose and kept the minds of his defensive teammates into the game.
Strahan's personality reminded me of former Steelers defensive end Dwight "Mad Dog" White, who died Friday. White was a fiery, emotional leader of the Steel Curtain. If opponents talked trash, White would fire back with words and actions.
Strahan came from a humble background, playing his college ball at tiny Texas Southern. Not coming from a big school, he wasn't guaranteed a pro career. Strahan came in with the idea that he had to work at his game first, but he also realized football was a game and it was OK to have fun.
I'll never forget covering the Giants' practices earlier this year during Super Bowl week. As pool reporter, I watched how Strahan worked the field. He was constantly talking, coming up with profane chants that kept the front seven of the defense loose. He chided coaches and teammates. Everyone laughed.
If Strahan, Favre and Sapp go into the Hall of Fame the same year, allot more than 15 minutes per speech. The Class of 2013 could end up being one of the most entertaining of all time.
John Clayton, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame writers' wing, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.