Add to that the blocking dynamos Steve Hutchinson, Jim Covert and Steel Curtain stalwart safety Donnie shell. There are also former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue as well as coaches Bill Cowher (and Jimmy Johnson).
All of them entered the hall Saturday night, one year late because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they were just as happy.
Hutchinson joked that if you told me after I graduated at the University of Michigan, I'd be thrilled to stand in Ohio in August," "...to him, Canton, Ohio is the best.
All 12 men who were enshrined that night felt the same way.
Atwater stated, "I am humbled to wear this jacket," before looking around at other Hall of Famers on the stage. "What a group!
Polamalu's 12-season career was filled with incredible performances, leadership, and winning with the Steelers. He was the 16th overall draft selection in 2003. He hails from Southern California and played in three Super Bowls. Two of them were won by him. He was also named the NFL's 2000s Team of the Decade.
"I love football. It was my whole life. He was delayed by the cheers of 18,383 who cheered loudly and long for him.
Then he spoke about his "willingness" to go beyond what the body believes is possible. Football was a challenge for me mentally, physically, and spiritually. To quench my desire, I had to succeed."
Atwater, who was a Super Bowl winner with Denver, may have been the most physically-minded defensive back of his time, as might the Cowboys' Harris or Shell in theirs.
Shell, a South Carolina State linebacker, was undrafted. He was moved to safety in Pittsburgh and made a name for himself as a tackling machine. Shell impressed Chuck Noll by making such an impression on veterans that he was made a starter safety. He was a Steelers fixture for 14 seasons.
Shell recognized Steeler Nation with hundreds of Terrible Towels waving. She then stated that "When facts get in your way of your goal," she must be against the grain.
It was a huge night for Pittsburgh, as Shell, Polamalu, and Cowher were enshrined in Steelers. Covert then went to Pitt, where he blocked Dan Marino.
Cowher exclaimed, "What a weekend it was for the Pittsburgh Steelers," as Terrible Towels were waved around the stadium. It is amazing to me that I was able to enter the Hall of Fame along with Troy Polamalu (drafted) and Alan Faneca. Donnie Shell, the late great Bill Nunn were also there.
Cowher also paid tribute "the only coach I ever worked with," Marty Schottenheimer. Cowher predicted that "one day" he would be in the Hall of Fame.
Hutchinson was an All-Pro five times and a member of the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team. He was a strong pass protector and opened up holes for rushers, who averaged just below 1,400 yards per season.
Hutchinson joked about the possibility of being uncomfortable at Hall of Fame Stadium. He then advised his son to not "fear failure, but fear to haven't given my all."
Although Tagliabue was often overlooked for the hall, his record as a commissioner is impressive. His stewardship of 1989 to 2006 saw him face many obstacles, including the Gulf War, 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. His ability to overcome those challenges, keep labor peace, guide the NFL through expansion, increase revenues, and pass the Rooney Rule led him to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the centennial class.
Tagliabue stated, "This is like a reality." "The centennial class spans the history of pro football."
With his 6-foot-8, 215-pound frame and powerful hands, Carmichael was a dominant defensive back. In an era where the passing game was less prominent than it is today, Carmichael was an Eagles star between 1971 and 1983 with three 1,000-yard seasons. He was averaging a touchdown for every 7 1/2 catches, and was named to the NFL 1970s All-Decade Team. Carmichael was named the league's Man-of-the Year in 1980.
When his bust was revealed, Carmichael exclaimed "Whew! Baby!" "It is an honor to be part of this brotherhood and fraternity with love. It has been quite a journey.
During his speech, Bruce identified his 14 siblings.
Bruce stated, "Coming from my heart tonight." Bruce spoke next about "the defensive backs who baptized my -- and the ones that I baptized."
James delivered the most memorable line of the evening. He was "inmate number. The Hall of Fame has 336 members. Peyton Manning, who Peyton Manning described as "the best teammate that I have ever played with", concluded his remarks with "Inmate No. 336."
Manning, Faneca and John Lynch will also be insecrating Manning Sunday night, along with other Class of 2021 members: Calvin Johnson, Faneca and John Lynch, Faneca, Faneca, John Lynch Tom Flores, Drew Pearson, Nunn, and Charles Woodson.