The Hall of Fame Series: Steve Hutchinson
Class of 2021
Over the past weekend, former Minnesota Vikings guard Steve Hutchinson became the 15th and latest member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame to play a majority of his career in purple. Acquired in a juicy, controversial move including a “poison pill” (more on that later), Hutchinson was the first prized acquisition of the Brad Childress Era. The transaction ushered in a mentality coming off of the Love Boat scandal. Hutchinson was not only a great player but a phenomenal person off the field, fitting the mold of what Childress and owner Zygi Wilf were looking for under the new regime.
Hutchinson’s NFL success should have come as no surprise to anyone who watched him in college. In Michigan, he won a national championship in 1997, protecting Tom Brady in many games along the way. In his final season with the Wolverines, Hutchinson was a unanimous All-American and the 2000 Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year. To no one’s surprise, Hutch was highly touted heading into the 2001 NFL Draft.
As if his college pedigree wasn’t enough, Hutchinson put on a clinic at the NFL Combine. He not only showed his strength with 31 bench reps, but he also put his athleticism on display with a 33.5” vertical jump. Hutchinson was primed for a first-round selection. The only question that remained was where he’d be chosen.
What makes Steve Hutchinson’s draft position so intriguing is what one team gave up to select another player. The Packers traded the 17th overall selection in the first round, along with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, to Seattle in exchange for the Seahawks’ first-round pick (tenth overall) and Seattle’s third-round selection. Green Bay selected defensive end Jamal Reynolds with their first-round pick. In three seasons, he accumulated three total sacks with the Green and Gold. In the third round, the Packers selected linebacker Torrance Marshall. He started two games in four seasons with Green Bay.
Meanwhile, Seattle snagged Steve Hutchinson and paired him with future Hall of Fame left tackle Walter Jones. The Seahawks thus boasted one of the best offensive lines of the early 2000s. This culminated in 2005 when running back Shaun Alexander set the then-NFL record with 27 rushing touchdowns in a season as the Seahawks advanced to their first Super Bowl in team history.
This didn’t last forever, though. With Childress taking over the recently-fired Mike Tice, the Vikings made an aggressive, controversial move to snag Hutchinson as the 2006 off-season began. Seattle, tentative to give Hutch the franchise tag, instead hit him with the rarer transition tag. Minnesota, smelling a chance to snag a star lineman, began working with Hutch’s agent, Tom Condon, on an unprecedented contract. Had Hutch been given the franchise tag, he would have played out the 2006 season with a salary averaging the earnings of the top-five highest-paid offensive linemen in the league.
Instead, with the transition tag, the Vikings had an opportunity to snatch Hutch without giving up any compensation. Condon and the Vikings then worked on a “poison pill”. Essentially, Minnesota offered Hutch a seven-year, $49 million contract. Here’s the catch, though: Hutchinson’s entire contract would become guaranteed if he wasn’t the highest-paid offensive lineman on the team. Strapped for cash a year after extending Walter Jones, Seattle could do nothing as Hutch traded Starbucks for Caribou Coffee.
From there, Minnesota’s identity changed. An offensive line that went, from left to right, Bryant McKinnie, Hutch, and Matt Birk, became one of the league’s best, paving the way for the underrated Chester Taylor to run for 1,216 yards in 2006. A year later, rookie Adrian Peterson then began a four-year stretch of 1,000-yard seasons to begin his career. In 12 seasons, Hutch blocked for a 1,000-yard rusher 11 times.
Although Hutchinson never won a Super Bowl, the personal accolades always came in. He was selected to the Pro Bowl every year from 2003 through 2009, one of nine members of the 2009 Vikings team to be honored. He was a first-team All-Pro five times in this span while the other two omissions came with him still being recognized as second-team All-Pro. And in 2006 and 2009, Hutch was named the NFL Alumni Offensive Lineman of the Year. For what it’s worth, he was on the three-man recruiting trip, along with Ryan Longwell and Jared Allen, to drag Brett Favre back to Minnesota for one more season in 2010.
Hutchinson retired after the 2012 season following one final year in Tennessee. He had to wait through three years of Hall of Fame eligibility to finally hear his call. When he did, though, his wife Landyn caught the normally stoic Hutch in an emotional, vulnerable moment.
On Saturday, Steve Hutchinson gave a short but to-the-point Hall of Fame acceptance speech that resonated with not only Vikings fans, but NFL fans as well. True to form, Hutch made sure that it was known that even though it was his night, he wouldn’t be where he was without the people around him. As anyone who watched his career, though, they knew that success followed Hutch wherever he went.