Steve Hutchinson's NFL career was only a few weeks old when he started to question whether or not he belonged.
A first-round pick in the 2001 NFL draft, Hutchinson began his career by lining up in practice across from future Hall of Fame defensive tackle John Randle, who would go on to record 11.0 sacks that year on the way to his seventh Pro-Bowl selection. And as Hutchinson recalled this spring while visiting his hometown of Coral Springs, Florida, those early battles with Randle did not go well.
"I get drafted, come two weeks later, we have a minicamp, and I have to block John Randle every day in practice," Hutchinson told Seahawks.com. "It was like I'd never played football before going against him. I remember asking somebody, 'Are they going to cut me? Am I going to be the first first-rounder to be cut in minicamp?' Because I couldn't do anything right."
Of course, Hutchinson didn't get cut after that minicamp, and instead he went on to become of the best guards of his era. And this weekend, 20 years after Hutchinson struggled to block Randle in a minicamp, Hutchinson will join him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame as the 2020 class is enshrined along with the 2021 class, with last year's ceremony having been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hutchinson and the rest of the 2020 class will be enshrined this afternoon at 3:30 p.m. PT, with the ceremony televised on the NFL Network, while the 2021 class, which includes former Bills, Raiders, and Seahawks coach Tom Flores, will have its ceremony on Sunday.
And while Hutchinson might have thought he struggled in those early practices, his teammates remembered things differently when it came to their first impression of the first-round pick out of Michigan.
"Chris Gray and I were walking onto the field, that first minicamp right after the draft, and Coach (Mike) Holmgren is like, 'Hey guys we got a good one. We got a good one,'" said longtime Seahawks center Robbie Tobeck, who will serve as Hutchinson's presenter at the enshrinement ceremony. "Every head coach thinks his first-round pick is a special guy, or he wouldn't have drafted him in the first round. So I remember saying to Chris Gray, 'Well, he's proud of his first round pick. We'll see.' And literally it took one practice and you saw the intensity that he brought, and you saw just the ability, the raw ability that he had, not even really knowing the offense or anything like that that first day, but being able to come and start from day one and be special. I remember we were walking off the field that day and Chris Gray goes, 'You know, I think he's going to be pretty good.' I said, 'Yeah, you're right. He's a special guy.'"
Heading into their evaluation of the 2001 draft, the Seahawks didn't necessarily set out to draft a guard in the first round, even if left guard was a need, but eventually it became evident that Hutchinson was worthy of being selected that early. For Mike Holmgren, a key moment in that decision process was when legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, more than a decade after his retirement, was at Michigan's pro day and made it clear to Holmgren what the Seahawks should do.
Holmgren said Schembechler told him that day, "'Let me tell you something, you came here to see a lot of people, that's the guy you should pick,' and he's points to Steve. I went home and started studying more about Steve Hutchinson. That set the table for the success we had after that. He was one of the vital pieces."
Playing alongside Tobeck, Gray, fellow Hall of Famer Walter Jones, and later right tackle Sean Locklear, Hutchinson was a key part of the best offensive line and one of the best offenses in Seahawks history, a run that culminated in a 13-3 2005 season that saw the Seahawks reach the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history, with running back Shaun Alexander earning MVP honors after rushing for 1,880 yards and scoring a then NFL-record 28 touchdowns.
"The first couple of years we were just learning each other, and then once we understood the offense and what the offense wanted from us, that's when we felt like, man, we could be pretty special," said Jones, who went into the Hall of Fame in 2014. "Matt Hasselbeck was saying, you guys have turned the offensive linemen into rock stars."
Yet even if Jones and Hutchinson made the line "rock stars," Hutchinson still had to wait a bit for this ultimate honor. For as great as Hutchinson was as a player—he made the 2000s All-Decade team, was a seven-time Pro-Bowler, and earned first-team All-Pro honors five times and second team honors twice—he also played one of the game's least glamorous positions and one that rarely sees players go into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. Hutchinson was a finalist in 2018 and 2019, only to get the call a day before the Super Bowl telling him he wasn't voted in. In February of 2020, Hutchinson was again at the site of the Super Bowl—finalists all gather in the Super Bowl city and the vote is held the Saturday before the game, with that year's class being announced at NFL Honors that night—only this time Hall of Fame president David Baker knocked on his door to deliver the news.
"The knock is awful and unbelievable," he said. "It's both ends of the spectrum at once, and I can say that because I've gone through getting the phone call twice, which is awful… You hate it as long as you're getting a phone call, but when you get the knock, it's so awesome. Those first-ballot guys, they have no idea the tension. You can cut it with a knife."
For Hutchinson, Saturday night's enshrinement ceremony will be the fulfillment of a dream that started when he was a kid watching the Hall of Fame game.
"For me, I can look at my career and I have closure to it," he said. "It sounds silly, but I had set out when I started playing football, I wanted to be in the Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame induction when I was a kid was the first thing that signified the beginning of the next football season… I remember saying, man, I want to have one of those. I remember thinking that, I wanted to have a gold jacket. So when I got the news and it finally sank in that I'm going into the Hall of Fame, I was able to take a breath and feel like I had accomplished that. But in the same breath, my entire Hall of Fame speech is going to be thanking all these people along the way that got me to that point, because I wouldn't have done it myself."
Hutchinson, who now works in the Seahawks front office as a football consultant who helps with the evaluation of offensive linemen, may have had help to get to Saturday's crowning moment of his football career, but he also will go into the Hall of Fame because he was an elite talent who combined his physical traits with an equally rare level of competitiveness and work ethic.
"He was relentless," Holmgren said. "He was just what you have to have up front. He had no weaknesses, physically, and then he had such a great attitude. He just would never give up, he worked hard, he listened to his coaches, but at the same time, he was able to speak his mind with me. He was special right from the beginning."