Class of '13 has loads of talent, charisma

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GREEN BAY, Wis. --- Imagine sitting at the head table for dinner the night before the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2013.

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Ogden  Associated Press
Associated Press
Ogden

Brett Favre cackles through six days' worth of pure gray stubble, and Michael Strahan flashes that gap-toothed grin after someone brings up that infamous phantom sack -- that someone most likely being Warren Sapp, laughing with delight through all five courses.

But don't stay up too late, fellas. You'll need to save your strength for tomorrow's induction speeches, which are bound to exceed their allotted time.

"Probably a lot of foolishness will be talked about, will be my guess," said veteran Green Bay Packers tackle Mark Tauscher, who helped protect Favre from the likes of Strahan and Sapp for the better part of a decade. "Those guys are great characters and very good football players. I'm sure there'll be a lot of great stories exchanged -- and most of them will be embellished quite a bit."

Their stories might be embellished, but their football rÃsumÃs certainly don't need to be.

Favre, Strahan and Sapp have retired, costing the NFL three potential first-ballot Hall of Famers with XXXL-sized personalities. Dominant offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden also retired this week, joining former Baltimore teammate Steve McNair. Many expect rock-steady guard Larry Allen to retire, too, and the future of fierce linebacker Junior Seau is uncertain.

Sports talk radio and football Web sites already are buzzing with speculation that the Class of '13 might be the Hall's best ever. They're even wondering which greats might not make it in on the first ballot.

Top players retire from the NFL every year, and the league's popularity never seems to skip a beat. But football just won't be as much fun without Favre, Strahan and Sapp -- players whose exploits on the field were exceeded only by their ability to yap off it.

Discussing his long-standing friendly feud with Favre last season, Sapp said it's a shame there aren't more colorful rivalries in today's game.

"It's just not that way anymore," Sapp said. "These '80s babies have taken over the game, and it's just a different game now. That was something special."

If Allen and Seau join Favre, Strahan, Sapp and Ogden in retirement, the NFL will lose a combined 27 first-team All-Pro selections.

Favre, Strahan, Sapp, Ogden and Allen all have Super Bowl rings. McNair came oh-so-close with Tennessee, and Seau certainly deserves a place in the debate about the best players never to win a championship.

That's pretty good company, as Ogden said this week.

"Now that my career is over, I look up and look back and realize the career that it's been," Ogden said. "Just the fact that I'm mentioned with Brett Favre; Larry Allen, who I loved watching when I was in college and he was a young guy; Junior Seau, a guy who, my goodness, played 18 or 19 years; Strahan, all these guys. It's just really a blessing to be mentioned in the same breath as them as potential Hall of Fame guys."

Ogden wasn't a nationally recognized personality like Favre, Strahan or Sapp, and he didn't want to be. He was content with silencing the opposing team's top pass rusher every week.

Ogden told Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome he was retiring a few weeks ago.

"True to J.O. form, he wanted no fanfare," Newsome said. "That was almost a month ago, and he asked me to just keep it between he and I. And I was able to do that."

Ogden said he preferred to say "take it easy" and walk away without a news conference, but Newsome wouldn't allow it.

Ogden's humble approach stands in sharp contrast to Favre, who kept Packers fans on edge for months by repeatedly flirting with retirement over the past several off-seasons. And even after finally announcing his retirement in March, Favre keeps dropping hints that his decision wasn't final.

"There are always second thoughts, but that's not saying I am coming back," Favre said in April. "It's never a clear-cut decision. It's something I can't expect everyone to understand."

Of course, it's hard to blame Favre for second-guessing himself. Aside from a few cold-weather games last season, including a frigid overtime loss to Strahan's New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game, he always seemed to be having so much fun out there.

And Strahan and Sapp seemed to be in on the joke.

Strahan set the NFL's single-season record of 221/2 sacks in 2001, getting the last one in the season finale when Favre mysteriously fell late in the game. Many believed Favre took a dive for a player he respected, something both have denied.

Strahan said he would be honored to go into the Hall with Favre.

"If that is the case, then that would be phenomenal," Strahan said. "You would go in with some of the greatest players, if not the greatest quarterback, to ever play the game."

Favre had an even more celebrated back-and-forth with Sapp, especially during Sapp's days in Tampa Bay.

The defensive tackle announced his retirement in uncharacteristically low-key fashion, posting a two-word message -- "I'm done" -- on his Web site, qbkilla.com, a few days after the season.

Sapp and Favre seemed to relish their confrontations on the field.

"We were both after the same thing, both after a championship, and our teams being on top of our games," Sapp recalled last season. "It was just one of those deals where it was just a combative thing, but I think a little admiration between us, too."


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