Inside Kevin Mawae’s agonizing wait for his Hall of Fame nod
TEMPE, Ariz. — Kevin Mawae had it all planned out.
If he wasn’t a member of this year’s Pro Football Hall of Fame class, he and his wife, Tracy, were going to hop a flight from Atlanta back to Phoenix the morning of Super Bowl LIII so they could return to their home in Scottsdale, Arizona, in time for kickoff. That would have also given Mawae enough time to get some rest before spring practice started the next morning at Arizona State, where he joined the football team as an offensive analyst in March 2018.
But Mawae, 48, didn’t need to make contingency plans this year.
The former NFL center who played in 241 games over 16 seasons for the Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets and Tennessee Titans was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Feb. 2, in his third year as a finalist.
The moment the coveted knock on his hotel door happened, Mawae knew he wouldn’t be back in Arizona until Monday night — tired, emotionally drained and a Hall of Famer — with a team meeting scheduled for 7 a.m. on Tuesday.
Waiting it out
When he left Phoenix for Atlanta on the Thursday before the Super Bowl, Mawae didn’t know how the weekend would play out or which travel itinerary he would need. But he would find out by early Saturday evening.
Mawae’s agenda for the weekend was full from the time they landed around 2:30 p.m. Thursday until about 1:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon, when he had to be in his room, dressed up and waiting to hear his Hall of Fame fate.
From that point on, however, his schedule was empty — on purpose.
Mawae had been through Hall of Fame Saturday the previous two years, both times getting the phone call telling him he didn’t make it instead of the knock on the door from Hall of Fame president David Baker. He knew the routine. The selection committee begins deliberating at 7 a.m. local time. All 15 finalists were asked to be in their rooms by 2 p.m. and ready to go, because if they’re selected, they’re quickly whisked away to the NFL Honors show.
Mawae and his wife went out for breakfast early Saturday morning, fit in a little shopping at the mall and went out to lunch, all to stay busy. As much as Mawae knew he shouldn’t think about the ongoing vote, he couldn’t help himself. Walking around, he kept thinking of more people he wanted to call if he got in.
The Mawaes were back in their room by 1:30 p.m. They made the trip alone. Their daughter, a swimmer at ASU, stayed in Arizona to train for a meet. Their son, a student at Eckerd College in Florida, had just returned from a research trip to Cuba and was starting his semester on Monday.
The wait began.
“I knew it was going to be a long afternoon,” he said.
Around 1:40 p.m., a friend of Mawae’s, who had been with him at the Thursday night reception in previous years, texted, cryptically, “Are you in the room now?” That was it. Mawae debated a workout but thought it might take too long, so he jumped in the shower instead. But while showering, a wave of fear washed over him. He got a “sick feeling” he wasn’t getting in this year.
There are two unwritten rules on the day of the Hall of Fame vote: Finalists don’t order room service, and they tell everyone they know not to call them.
While Mawae was shaving after his shower, still fearful he wouldn’t get in, his phone rang. It was 1:45 p.m.
His heart sunk.
But on his phone, he saw the name of one of his oldest and best friends — Dino Rizzo, a pastor from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who had married Kevin and Tracy. Mawae quickly questioned why Rizzo was calling. Rizzo had forgotten to not call. They finished their conversation quickly, and Mawae then hung out.
“That was the worst moment,” Mawae said.
The waiting continued.
For the next few hours, Mawae sat on the couch in his hotel room, answering texts on his phone and computer, talking with his wife and playing a puzzle game on his phone. At one point, he went on Twitter, but started seeing clips of presenters sent out by the Hall of Fame. Then he saw a photo of a blank ballot. Then, seconds later, he started seeing photos of that ballot that users had filled out on their own. It became too much for him and he logged off.
By 3 p.m., he knew the vote was in.
By 4 p.m., he was told this year’s class would start finding out. The clock kept ticking. By this point the previous two years, Mawae said he had already found out his fate.
Mawae’s resting heart rate ranges from 58 beats per minute to 65. Over a two-hour stretch that Saturday afternoon, it jumped to anywhere between 82 beats and 96.
“I’m literally getting a workout just sitting there,” he said.
He knew he had to calm down. He leaned forward, put his head down and started taking deep breaths. In. Out. In. Out.
Bam. Bam. Bam. Three loud knocks on the door.
Mawae was in.
He jumped out of his chair. He started crying. Tracy’s mouth dropped open, and she started crying. He started recording on his phone and tossed it to her, but she was running toward him, trying to put on her shoes at the same time. She had to remind him to open the door.
Awaiting Mawae was Baker.
“I don’t even remember what he said,” Mawae said. “Congratulations? I don’t even know.”
— Abigail (@abigailmawae) February 6, 2019
While the two men were hugging, Mawae still in tears, the door shut behind him.
Then it was time for Mawae to head downstairs, where he would meet his fellow inductees, get in a van and head to the NFL Honors show, where the Class of 2019 would be officially unveiled to the world.
Mawae wouldn’t be going back to Arizona on Sunday.
“I’m just thinking, this is such the coolest moment of my life, especially from a football standpoint,” Mawae said. “This is the absolute coolest moment I’ve ever been a part of. That’s all I can think of. When I opened that door, it’s like the greatest moment of my sports history just happened about 30 minutes ago.”
By the time Mawae turned on his cellphone Saturday night, he had 467 text messages. By the time he went to sleep at 3 a.m., he had answered about 200.
When he woke up the next morning, he had more than 300. Mawae, who promised Tracy he would respond to everybody who reached out, spent most of Sunday morning before the Super Bowl on his phone, returning texts and calls.
Then it was off to the game.
The next morning, while the Atlanta airport was bursting with travelers trying to catch flights, Mawae was sitting in an orientation for the eight inductees and their families. The Hall of Fame committee laid out what the next six months would entail, and Randy Moss shared his experience of going through the induction process a year earlier.
Then it was time to get fitted for his gold jacket and measured for his bust.
Tired, emotional and a Hall of Famer, Mawae and his wife left Atlanta late Monday and headed back to Arizona.
He had work the next morning.
Back to football
Mawae got to bed around midnight Monday night. He was out of his house by 5:30 Tuesday morning. Fifteen minutes later, he pulled into the parking lot at Sun Devil Stadium.
Waiting for him at his computer station in the staff conference room were balloons in colors of all three NFL teams he had played for, two blown-up, framed photos, a poster and a cake. Mawae couldn’t hold back his tears.
Mawae then walked into the weight room for his morning workout. As he walked down the stairs, the hoots and hollers began. He found ASU football coach Herm Edwards, who had coached Mawae with the Jets from 2001 to 2005, and the two embraced in the middle of the room, Mawae crying into Edwards’ shoulder.
After he heard the news on Saturday, Mawae informed all the ASU coaches in a group text. He jokingly told Edwards he wasn’t going to be at Monday’s staff meeting. But Edwards wasn’t surprised Mawae showed up for work Tuesday.
“I said, ‘You take as long as you want. We understand,'” Edwards said. “But, Kevin, he understands the importance. That’s the kind of player he was. He knows when it comes to football, team, being where you’re supposed to be, he’s going to be there. That’s his DNA. That’s how he functions.”
When it was time to change for practice, the Sun Devils equipment staff had a surprise (sort of) waiting for Mawae.
Before he had left for Atlanta, Mawae joked with the equipment managers that if he got into the Hall, he wanted to wear all gold to Tuesday’s practice. The equipment staff made sure that happened, outfitting Mawae with gold shorts, socks, shoes and a T-shirt that had “HOF” down the back. The only thing not gold? A black Hall of Fame hat.
By midweek, a few days after his whirlwind weekend was over, Mawae was exhausted, running on “fumes.”
He hadn’t slept eight hours all week, working on Hall of Fame plans every night until well past midnight. He was still out of the house by 5:30 every morning, fueling himself on leftover cupcakes. His days were full of meetings, practices and interviews.
Some of his Hall of Fame classmates such as Tony Gonzalez and Ed Reed are well known. Mawae, not so much. And that has led to a lot of long interviews. He has had a hard time verbalizing how it all felt, which has led to a lot of dead air on the radio. That’s in part because he didn’t have time to take it all in.
“I just want to sit down and not go anywhere,” he said.
That didn’t happen until Sunday, the Sun Devils’ first day off. His plan was to go to church in the morning and relax the rest of the day after a week of practices and recruiting.
But Mawae wasn’t going to miss practice to sit at home or go on a vacation to celebrate.
“I wanted to be back because it was the first day of practice,” he said.
And that surprised at least one of the Sun Devils’ offensive linemen.
“Definitely,” senior tackle Zach Robertson said. “I thought he would be out partying for about a week because I know I would for sure. I wouldn’t be back here. He wanted to get straight back to it.”