The Pro Football Hall of Fame will formally welcome its Class of 2019 on Saturday. This week, Yahoo Sports is highlighting memorable moments for each member of the eight-man class, leading up to the big ceremony.
Kevin Mawae made room for running backs everywhere he went.
Chris Warren was one. The former Seahawks running back had two 1,000-yard seasons running behind Mawae in Seattle including a career-high 1,545 yards in Mawae’s rookie season.
Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin reached that mark seven times with Mawae opening holes for him as a New York Jet.
And Travis Henry (1), LenDale White (1) and Chris Johnson (2) were all escorted by Mawae in Tennessee on their way to 1,000-yard seasons.
That was nearly assured for any runner who followed the 6-foot-4, 289-pound center. Mawae cleared the way for a 1,000-yard rusher in 13 of his 16 NFL seasons.
“I don't know if I would've made it to the Hall of Fame without Kevin,” Martin told ESPN. “From running behind him, I still have yet to see another lineman who was as agile and still as strong and formidable as he was.”
His best seasons came with New York Jets
Mawae’s prime years were with the Jets. He signed with New York as an unrestricted free agent after spending his first four seasons with the Seahawks, who drafted him out of LSU with the 36th pick of the 1994 draft. He was named to the NFL’s All-Rookie team that season. (Mawae played right guard his first two years in Seattle, then moved to center for the rest of his career.)
His eight-year stint with the Jets began in 1998. With Mawae a starter, the Jets averaged 117.4 rushing yards per game that year, which was fifth in the league. They finished the season first in the AFC East with a 12-4 record under coach Bill Parcells, and they appeared in their first AFC championship game since the 1982 season.
Six of Mawae’s eight Pro Bowl nods came as a Jet, and the six-time All-Pro (three first-team, three second-team) made four playoff appearances in New York.
Mawae’s time in green and white ended after 2005. He suffered a left triceps injury in Week 6 and it kept him out for the rest of the Jets’ 4-12 season.
The injury also ended Mawae’s consecutive starts streak (177), which had gone back to his second year in the league.
Twilight as a Titan featured a 2K-yard rusher
After signing with the Tennessee Titans in 2006, Mawae spent his final four NFL seasons anchoring one of the best offensive lines in Titans history.
Tennessee set the franchise record during the 2008 season, tying the league low in sacks allowed with 12. The Titans went five games without giving up a sack at all.
And in his final season, Mawae was selected to his eighth and final Pro Bowl after Tennessee’s offensive line led the way for Johnson’s 2,000-yard rushing season.
Mawae’s impact wasn’t confined to the field, though. And it didn’t end when he unlaced his cleats for the final time in 2009.
He was known for his faith and his outspokenness on such issues as free agency and agent regulation.
The NFL Players Association elected Mawae its 14th president in 2008, a year before he retired. And he led the NFLPA until 2012.
Mawae guided the union through the 2011 lockout and the collective-bargaining agreement negotiations that followed.
It was never Mawae’s goal to be a Pro Football Hall of Famer.
As an 8-year-old, the Savannah, Georgia, native, knew what he wanted to do. He said he never had a plan B. It was always going to be football. But he avoided the Hall the first time he had the chance to visit the Canton, Ohio, site with a team.
“I didn’t feel worthy to be in the room,” Mawae said as a Hall of Fame finalist.
He said his focus was always to be a smart player, a competitor and a reliable teammate. Those components, for him, would be enough to earn a seat among the NFL’s elite.
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