Emlen Tunnell, the Giants' Pro Football Hall of Fame safety, tonight was named to the NFL 100 All-Time Team, the marquee series within the celebration of the league's 100th season.
Tunnell joins linebacker Lawrence Taylor on the 100-player roster, which is being rolled out by position. This week's unveiling featured the secondary and specialists.
Tunnell was one of 14 finalists vying for six spots at the safety position. The others were Jack Christiansen, Brian Dawkins, Kenny Easley, Ken Houston, Paul Krause, Yale Lary, Ronnie Lott, Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed, Johnny Robinson, Donnie Shell, Larry Wilson and Willie Wood.
Ignored in the NFL draft, Tunnell walked into the Giants' office in 1948 and asked founder Tim Mara for a tryout. Thus he became the first African American to play for the Giants and eventually the first to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That is only part of the incredible story that is Tunnell, who suffered a broken neck at the University of Toledo, an injury so severe that both the Army and Navy rejected his efforts to enlist during World War II.
The Coast Guard finally accepted him and, following his service, he enrolled at the University of Iowa. He left the Hawkeyes after the 1947 season and recorded seven interceptions in his debut campaign in the NFL, returning one for a touchdown to help him earn the nickname "offense on defense."
Tunnell played 11 seasons for the Giants and still holds franchise records with 74 interceptions and 257 punt returns. In 1952, Tunnell gained more yards on interceptions and kickoff returns than the NFL rushing leader did running the ball. He was named All-NFL four times and played in nine Pro Bowls. After finishing his career with the Packers, Tunnell had a record 79 interceptions. A key strut in the Giants' famed "Umbrella Defense" of the 1950s, Tunnell was a member of the 1956 championship team with Big Blue and won another title with Green Bay in 1961.
NFL Media enlisted Bill Belichick, a two-time Super Bowl champion defensive coordinator for the Giants, Cris Collinsworth and Rich Eisen to serve as hosts of the six-episode unveiling.
"I thought watching, as a former receiver, some of the catches that he made, they were stunning," Collinsworth said. "Some of the interceptions that he made, he could do the one over the shoulder that is so hard, the high-point catches, and setting up wide receivers and quarterbacks to think that they were open. That's what this guy was about because if it was in the neighborhood, it was his."
In building the structure of the NFL 100 All-Time Team, the organizing committee researched various commemorative team compilations done by other leagues and organizations. Ultimately, a 100-player team was decided upon, with a specific number of players – unranked – across the following positions: quarterbacks (10), running backs (12), wide receivers (10), tight ends (five), tackles (seven), guards (seven), centers (four), defensive ends (seven), defensive tackles (seven), linebackers (12 – six inside, six outside), cornerbacks (seven), safeties (six), kickers (two), punters (two) and kick returners (two).
Members of the 26-person blue-ribbon panel are:
League Voters: Joel Bussert (Former NFL Vice President of Player Personnel and League Historian), Joe Horrigan (42-year Pro Football Hall of Fame Executive), Chris Willis (NFL Films Historian)
Coaches: Bill Belichick (six-time Super Bowl-winning Head Coach), Tony Dungy (Pro Football Hall of Famer and Super Bowl-winning Head Coach), Dick LeBeau (Pro Football Hall of Famer and two-time Super Bowl-winning Defensive Coordinator), John Madden (Pro Football Hall of Famer and Super Bowl-winning Head Coach), Don Shula (Pro Football Hall of Famer and Super Bowl-winning Head Coach), Dick Vermeil (Super Bowl-winning Head Coach)
Personnel: Ernie Accorsi (18-year NFL General Manager), Gil Brandt (Pro Football Hall of Famer and two-time Super Bowl-winning General Manager), Charley Casserly (14-year NFL General Manager and three-time Super Bowl Champion), Bill Polian (Pro Football Hall of Famer and Super Bowl-winning General Manager), Ron Wolf (Pro Football Hall of Famer and Super Bowl-winning General Manager)
Players: Dan Fouts (Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback and veteran broadcaster), Ron Jaworski (former NFL quarterback and veteran broadcaster), Ozzie Newsome (Pro Football Hall of Famer and two-time Super Bowl Champion General Manager), Art Shell (Pro Football Hall of Famer, two-time Super Bowl Champion and former Head Coach)
Media: Dave Anderson (Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist with the New York Times who covered the NFL for more than 50 years), Judy Battista (NFL Media National Columnist and Reporter), Jarrett Bell (Pro Football Hall of Fame voter and USA Today NFL Columnist), Chris Berman (ESPN anchor since 1979), Rick Gosselin (Pro Football Hall of Fame voter and former Dallas Morning News Columnist), Peter King (Pro Football Hall of Fame voter and veteran sportswriter), Don Pierson (Author and veteran sportswriter), Charean Williams (Pro Football Hall of Fame voter and veteran sportswriter and president of the Pro Football Writers Association)
"It's hard to put into words the amount of time and dedication put forth on this project over the past year across our Network, NFL Films and Digital Content teams," said Hans Schroeder, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, NFL Media. "Paying homage to 100 seasons of the NFL is a daunting task, and I could not be prouder of the coordination and caliber of work done by our talented group of storytellers."
Photos from the life and career of Hall of Fame safety Emlen Tunnell