For the past two years, Steve Hutchinson has been holed up in a hotel room the first weekend of February waiting for a knock on his door that didn’t come.
Hutchinson, a former all-pro guard with the Vikings, was one of 15 modern-era finalists in 2018 and 2019 for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Finalists come to the site of the Super Bowl and wait to see if hall of fame president David Baker shows up on the eve of the game.
If the phone rings and the hall of fame is on the line, that means it’s time to go home.
“It’s been a really rough two years, to be honest with you, not getting that knock on the door,’’ said Hutchinson, who starred in the NFL from 2001-12, including 2006-11 with the Vikings. “It’s something that would be really dear to me. I haven’t won a Super Bowl. I had a lot of individual accolades with all-pro and all-decade (in the 2000s), Pro Bowls, but (making the hall of fame) would give closure to my career. … To get that gold jacket, it’s kind of the last step.’’
There remains plenty of hall hope for Hutchinson, who played with Seattle from 2001-05 before signing as a free agent with Minnesota. Hutchinson is now a consultant for the Seahawks, who play host to the Vikings on Monday night.
Hutchinson, 42, was named last week one of 25 modern-era semifinalists for the hall. The list will be chopped down to 15 in January.
Hutchinson didn’t get selected last February, when the competition was stiff due to tight end Tony Gonzalez, safety Ed Reed and cornerback Champ Bailey being no-brainer selections when each was eligible for the first time. But Hutchinson could have a much better chance when the next class is named Feb. 1, on the eve of Super Bowl LIV in Miami,
“It would be extra special to get in this year because I’m from South Florida,’’ said Hutchinson, a Fort Lauderdale native who made seven Pro Bowls and five times was named all-pro. “It would be fitting for me for it to happen where it all kind of started.’’
Randall McDaniel, the only former Vikings guard in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, expects Hutchinson to join him one day in Canton, Ohio.
“For Hutchinson, it’s not a matter of if he’s going to get in, it’s a matter of when he’s going to get in,’’ McDaniel said. “He’s got a great opportunity. He had a nasty streak and he stayed on his blocks. He played an old-school style.’’
McDaniel played in the NFL from 1988-2001, including 1988-99 with the Vikings. He took note of Hutchinson in 2001, when he was a Seattle rookie and McDaniel was playing his final NFL season with Tampa Bay.
After being taken with the No. 17 pick out of Michigan in the 2001 draft, the 6-foot-3, 313-pound Hutchinson made three Pro Bowls and twice was named all-pro with Seattle. He came close to winning a ring after the 2005 season, but the Seahawks fell 21-10 to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XL in what turned out to be his last game with them.
The left guard was bound for free agency in March 2006 after negotiations for a contract extension broke down. The Seahawks then elected to place a transition tag on Hutchinson, giving them the right to match any contract offer.
“There were ongoing negotiations all year long, and we could never even get close,’’ Hutchinson said. “They had the option at the tag deadline to transition me, as opposed to franchise tagging me, which left the door open for me to go to another team with Seattle not getting any compensation.’’
The Seahawks figured they could match an offer and keep Hutchinson. But then Hutchinson’s agent, Tom Condon, and Vikings salary-cap specialist Rob Brzezinski sprung into action.
Minnesota offered Hutchinson a poison-pill contract worth $49 million over seven years, the richest contract ever awarded a guard. The catch was that if Hutchinson wasn’t the highest-paid offensive lineman on his team then his entire salary would be guaranteed. If he was top guy on his team, the guarantee was $18.5 million.
The Seahawks previously had signed left tackle Walter Jones, a future hall of famer, to a more lucrative deal. So their hands were tied.
“The Vikings absolutely knew Seattle couldn’t match it,’’ Hutchinson said. “I was apprehensive at first because I just knew what it would do to Seattle and I didn’t want them to mistake me as being purposely malicious because I had no reason to be malicious to that organization.
“My agent said, ‘Hey, listen, if you want to be the highest paid and smash the record for guards, you basically have to sign the clause and the poison pill because Minnesota doesn’t want Seattle to match and look silly.’ Obviously, I had to make the decision do to it.’’
Hutchinson signed the poison-pill deal and the outraged Seahawks did not match it. The maneuver soon was outlawed in NFL contract negotiations.
Center Matt Birk, who made six Pro Bowls while playing for the Vikings from 1998-2006 was elated by the signing. He suddenly had lining up next to him one of the NFL’s top guards thanks to the Wilf ownership group, which had bought the team from Red McCombs in 2005, opening the vault.
“That’s getting creative, for sure,’’ Birk said of the poison pill. “I had played with Hutch in the Pro Bowl, so I knew, ‘This guy’s good.’ He had that killer instinct, so when we got him, I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh,’ because we were kind of in a new era with the Vikings gone from the Red McCombs years of rarely signing any big free agents, and then all of a sudden we’re bringing in the best guard in football.’’
Hutchinson continued to build on his reputation of being one of the best and one of the strongest offensive linemen in the NFL. Just ask defensive end Jared Allen, who was with Kansas City in Hutchinson’s first two Minnesota seasons and later played with the Vikings from 2008-13.
“We were doing one-on-ones in Mankato,’’ Allen said of a scrimmage between the Chiefs and Vikings. “Our D-line coach, Tim Krumrie, was like, ‘Hey, do not run down the middle on this guy.’ (Chiefs defensive tackle) James Reed used to give this stutter step and try to bull rush, and he did that to Hutch, and Hutch grabbed him by his shoulder pads and lifted him up and James’ legs were running in the air. He just held him there. … We were laughing, and it was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, that’s a different kind of strength.’’’
The year after Allen became Hutchinson’s teammate, the Vikings in 2009 went 12-4 and won the NFC North. Minnesota that season had 10 Pro Bowl selections, including Hutchinson, Allen and future hall of fame quarterback Brett Favre.
The season, though, ended in bitter disappointment. The Vikings lost 31-28 in overtime at New Orleans in the NFC Championship Game, denying Hutchinson a chance to play in a second Super Bowl.
“Everything was going right,’’ Hutchinson said of the season. “Favre came in and had an instant rapport with the seasons. … But you still kind of sit back and look at it like, ‘Man, we could have won that game and ended up playing Indianapolis in the Super Bowl.’’’
That season turned out to be the last time Hutchinson would appear in the playoffs and the last time he would be named to the Pro Bowl or all-pro. He was released in March 2012 with one year and $6.95 million left on his contract and spent one final season with the Tennessee Titans.
“I enjoyed my time in Minnesota, and I don’t know if anybody’s really ever happy with getting released, but I was released and I went to Tennessee, which ended up being a blessing in disguise because I’ve lived here ever since,’’ said Hutchinson, who lives in Nashville with his wife Landyn, daughter Lily, 15 and son Luke, 12.
Hutchinson left the Vikings with more than just a legacy of performing well on the field. During his time in the Twin Cities, he was very active in the community, including extensive work with the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.
When Hutchinson played his final season with the Vikings, tight end Kyle Rudolph was a rookie. He has since become very active with the children’s hospital, including in 2017 opening Kyle Rudolph’s End Zone, a place for patients to relax and spend time with friends and family.
“Steve started a lot of things that we still have here,’’ Rudolph said. “He started the hospital visits, the holiday parties. … Hutch was definitely one of the older guys that I looked up to and learned how to act off the field and what to do in the community.’’