MIAMI -- Ozzie Newsome, a hybrid tight end who helped redefine the position in the 1980s with the Cleveland Browns, was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame yesterday.
The Ravens' vice president of player personnel will be enshrined on Aug. 7 in Canton, Ohio, along with Lawrence Taylor, a linebacker who made pass rushing the defensive rage, and Eric Dickerson, a running back who raised the NFL's yardage bar to record heights.
Also chosen in the Class of 1999 were two players who labored in the anonymity of the offensive line -- guards Tom Mack of the Los Angeles Rams and Billy Shaw of the Buffalo Bills.
Taylor not only was the most dominant player in the group as an outside linebacker for the New York Giants, but the most controversial selection because of his legal difficulties off the field. His success chasing down quarterbacks changed defensive strategies and linebacker profiles.
Newsome's success as a pass catcher at a position known more at the time for blocking also had widespread repercussions.
When the Browns made Newsome a first-round draft pick in 1978, he was an All-American wide receiver at Alabama who did more blocking than catching. He became a tight end after one mini-camp under coach Sam Rutigliano.
But by the time his 13-year career wound down in 1990, Newsome was the league's all-time leading receiver at tight end with 662 catches, a record that still stands.
Along the way, he and fellow Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow of the San Diego Chargers changed the job description of tight ends to include deep threat.
"I remember being called in by Sam [as a rookie] and him telling me the way they would utilize me in the offense, that I would catch a lot of footballs," Newsome said from the Ravens' offices in Owings Mills. "The way defenses were playing, they needed somebody who affected the deep middle part of the field."
Newsome became a big-play receiver. His 662 catches went for 7,980 yards and 47 touchdowns. He played in 197 consecutive games (and a total of 198), had consecutive 89-catch seasons in 1983-84, made three Pro Bowls and did not fumble in the last 557 touches of his career.
He was the focal point of a prolific Browns' pass offense that had Dave Logan and Reggie Rucker on the outside and Brian Sipe at quarterback, and went to three AFC championship games.
"I've known Ozzie for over 20 years," Ravens owner Art Modell said. "I knew him as a great player, a Hall of Fame-type athlete. He had tremendous abilities as an athlete, but he worked hard to be the best."
Said Gil Brandt, then personnel director for the Dallas Cowboys: "He was a tremendous athlete who could really catch the ball, and he was a lot better blocker than people give him credit for."
Newsome and Winslow opened the door for future tight ends like the Denver Broncos' Shannon Sharpe to put up big receiving numbers.
"I saw where Shannon said I never blocked for a 2,000-yard rusher like he did," Newsome said. "But he needs to do his homework. I blocked for two 1,000-yard rushers in 1985 -- Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack. At a point in my career, I became a true tight end."
Newsome, 42, joined the Browns' front office after his retirement and followed the team to Baltimore in 1996. Elected in his fourth year of eligibility, he'll go to Canton at the same time the Browns resurface in Cleveland as an expansion team. The Browns will play the Cowboys on the day he is enshrined.
"It's more special now that Cleveland is back in football," he said. "It'll be an emotional moment, and then again when we [the Ravens] play them."
Asked what his reception in Ohio might be, Newsome was succinct: "There might be people disenchanted with the fact I work for the Baltimore Ravens organization. But I only played for two teams -- Alabama and the Cleveland Browns. I'm a Cleveland Brown. I wore that orange helmet."
Dickerson and Taylor were voted into the Hall in their first year of eligibility. Dickerson holds the league's single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards and ranks third in career yards with 13,259.
Taylor had 132 1/2 sacks in 13 seasons, but his nomination came under scrutiny for drug charges and personal problems. Although the Hall's criteria does not include off-field conduct, the committee spent 30 minutes talking about Taylor, said committee member and Sun columnist John Steadman.
"I counted 27 instances where delegates had something to say about Taylor," Steadman said. "Some delegates talked two or three different times. That's a lot of dialogue."
Taylor was not available for comment, but issued a statement through the Giants. It read, in part: "I appreciate the debate and the consideration that was given to my nomination. Ultimately, this honor has to do with how I played the game. Obviously, the majority of the committee felt the same way."
Pub Date: 1/31/99