In 2013, three new members joined the prestigious Senior Bowl Hall of Fame, presented by Mobile Gas, with the addition of former Atlanta Falcons defensive end John Abraham, former Arizona Cardinals defensive back Aeneas Williams and longtime coach Sylvester Croom.
The trio made up the 25th class and was inducted March 23 at the Grand Hotel Marriott Resort in Point Clear, AL. It joined a prestigious group of 102 former stars that includes the likes of Joe Namath, Walter Payton, Dan Marino, Bo Jackson and Brett Favre.
Senior Bowl Hall of Fame
2000 SENIOR BOWL
Abraham was a four-time Pro Bowl defensive end for the Atlanta Falcons. The former first-round pick of the New York Jets in 2000 holds the Falcons' franchise record for most career sacks (64.5) and, as a free agent at the age of 34, is still one of the most feared pass rushers in the NFL. During his 13-year career, Abraham has tallied 122 sacks.
"John Abraham is one of the preeminent pass rushers of his generation," said Senior Bowl Executive Director Phil Savage.
The former University of South Carolina star racked up 10 sacks in to lead the Falcons last season, and another 10 in 2013 would push him into the top-10 of all-time sack leaders in NFL history.
1991 SENIOR BOWL
Despite only playing one season of college football at Southern University, Williams played in the 1991 Senior Bowl and was a third-round pick of the Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals a few months later. It was a good pick. Over the next 12 seasons, Williams was considered one of the top defensive backs in the league, garnering eight Pro Bowl appearances and earning a spot on the NFL's All-Decade team in the 1990s.
"I just remember what a great honor it was to have come from Southern University - a 1-AA school - and having walked on the football team one week before my junior year and now I'm practicing against the best seniors in the country," Williams said. "I remember being nervous as I don't know what and thinking in my mind, can I really do this?"
Williams played 10 years with the Arizona Cardinals before finishing his career with the Rams in St. Louis, where he retired in 2005 as one of the most dominating defensive backs to ever play the game. Over his career he accumulated a staggering 12 defensive touchdowns (nine off interceptions, three fumbles recovered for touchdowns).
"Aeneas Williams became one of the dominant defenders of his era for the Arizona Cardinals because of his athleticism, instincts and ball skills," Savage said. "He is regarded as one of best 'cover' corners in NFL history and is certain to become a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in due time."
He had 55 career interceptions, recovered 23 fumbles and gained 1,075 total defensive return yards (807 from interceptions and 268 from fumbles - which is still an NFL record). Williams was a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year and is currently the founding pastor of the Spirit of the Lord Family Church in St. Louis, Mo.
1975 SENIOR BOWL
Croom played in the 1975 Senior Bowl after wrapping up four years under Paul 'Bear' Bryant at the University of Alabama, where he helped capture three SEC Championships and was a part of the 1973 National Championship team.
"The thing I remember the most from the Senior Bowl was the intensity throughout the week," Croom said. "Going one-on-one with Gary 'Big Hands' Johnson and getting to play with Walter Payton, that was the highlight of my career."
After a brief career with the New Orleans Saints, Croom returned to Alabama to start a coaching career that has now spanned more than 35 years. He worked in Tuscaloosa for 11 years before making the move to the NFL, where he has coached for eight teams (Bucs, Colts, Chargers, Lions, Packers, Rams, Jaguars and the Titans - where he is currently the running backs coach).
In 2004, Croom became the first African-American head coach in the Southeastern Conference history when Mississippi State hired him to take over its struggling program. He said at the time of his hire, "I am the first African-American coach in the SEC, but there ain't but one color that matters here, and that color is maroon." He led the Bulldogs to eight wins in 2007, including the Liberty Bowl, and won the SEC Coach of the Year Award - the first time a MSU coach had won the award since 1970.
"Sylvester Croom has handled himself with class and dignity as an All-American player, assistant coach and head coach during his storied football life," Savage said. "He has enjoyed a very successful career as an NFL assistant coach, where he has influenced a countless number of players over the years."
"I'm very honored to be considered for induction into the Senior Bowl Hall of Fame," Croom said. "The game means a lot to the sport and the National Football League. It means a lot to the State of Alabama and the City of Mobile. A lot of great athletes have played in the game and I'm thankful to be one of them."