As we all know the Super Bowl is upon us. And while that may leave many of you looking forward to hilarious Chester the Cheetah commercials or Tom Brady sporting a new pair of UGG football cleats, for a group of 32 middle-age, overweight local sportswriters it means something entirely different. These are the men who will select the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class for 2012. And I don't envy them.
That's because, for some arcane reason, the Pro Football Hall of Fame only allows their selection committee to elect 5 modern-era inductees per year. That's right I said five, you know half of the amount that Baseball Hall of Fame voters can support on their annual ballot. Well let's see in baseball there are 9 players on the field in a time, and football there are 11, x2 because of that whole offense defensive thing. So that makes 22 starters on a team. So...numbers suck. But you get what I am saying.
Now last year I used my own brain and unimpeachable opinion to rank the candidates in the correct order. Now did the selection committee agree? Kind of...besides that whole Richard Dent thing.
So since my opinion is so greatly valued I have decided to offer it again. Check that previous link to look at my selection criteria. Also, note that I will not be including 2 finalsts. Bill Parcells, who will almost certainly be selected, and should be since you know...he is the primary person responsible for the turnaround of 5 different NFL franchises, and former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. who only won 4 Super Bowls during his time in the Bay Area. Look comparing players from different eras and at different positions is tough enough, but I have no idea how I am suppose to stack them up against owners and coaches so...I'm just not going to do it.
Also remember that there are no absolute lock first year candidates like there were last year (Marshall Faulk and Deion Sanders), and that I give no extra credibility for length of time on the ballot (like the committe, who seems to want to make candidates "wait their turn," does) so...this is shaping up to be the ultimate crap shoot. Now let's take a look at how I ranked this years fellas.
Should be Locks
1) Willie Roaf, OT--1993-2005
-6x 1st Team All-Pro (1994-96, 2003-2005), 3x 2nd Team All-Pro (1997, 2000, 2002), 11x Pro Bowl Selection (1994-2000, 2002-2005), 1990's NFL All-Decade 1st Team, 2000's NFL All-Decade 2nd Team
Hey remember how left tackle has become one of the premier building block positions in the NFL? Good. Now do you do try to remember that, although he came along just a little before the golden era of NFL left tackles, Roaf is a 9x All-Pro who was selected to the NFL All-Decade team twice in a row. Now look up how many NFL players have done that. It's not many. Now look up how many did it against competition like Jonathan Odgen, Orlando Pace, and Walter Jones. Now vote Willie Roaf into the hall of fame. Because even if he is the 4th best Offensive Tackle in modern football history...that means he's still pretty f'in good right. I challenge anyone to name someone more deserving on the ballot this year.
2) Cris Carter, WR--1987-2002
-1,101 catches (3rd all-time), 13,899 receiving yards (8th), 130 Receiving Touchdowns (4th), 131 Total Touchdowns (8th)
-2x 1st Team All-Pro (1994, 1999), 1x 2nd Team All-Pro (1995), 8x Pro Bowl Selection (1993-2000), 1990's NFL All-Decade 1st Team
Can we end the madness? Please? How is he not in the hall of fame? When was the golden era of NFL receivers? Well how about the mid 90's through the early 2000's when Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin, Tim Brown, Andre Reed, Isaac Bruce, Sterling Sharpe, Torry Holt, Terrance Mathis, Marvin Harrison, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Rod Smith, Keenan McCardell, and Joey Galloway where all in the league and considered "elite" or close to it at some point in time? That looks like a pretty good crop of talent to me.
And from the mid to late 90's and into the early 2000's who was considered the 2nd best receiver by anyone who knew what the F they were talking about? Oh yeah...Cris Carter. Now stop the god damn madness, or else you are going to end up with Randy Moss' busts trying to moon people even though it has no legs, and no CC there to tell him to shut the F up and go to sleep. And that's not good for anybody...unless someone is doing research for a "Night at the Museum Pro Football Hall of Fame" edition or something.
Should Clearly Be In
Well we are done with the lock category. Keep in mind that everyone on this list could, and should, be elected to the Hall. But, if Roaf and Carter don't get in...then I got some issues. Let's take a look at some other people who should in some serious contention.
3) Will Shields, OG--1993-2006
-2x 1st Team All-Pro (2002, 2003), 7x 2nd Team All-Pro (1996-97, 1998-2001, 2004-2006), 12x Pro Bowl Selection (1995-2006), 2000's NFL All-Decade 2nd Team
Of hey remember that honor the NFL has? You know the one where they go to Hawaii and pretend to play football when they are super hungover? Oh what's that called? Oh yeah...the Pro Bowl. Now Will Shields has gone to 12 Pro Bowls. Only four players ever (Hall of Famers Merlin Olsen, Bruce Matthews, Jerry Rice, and Reggie White) have been to more. Only five players (Hall of Famers Randall McDaniel, Jim Otto, and Ken Houston along with future certain Hall of Famers Junior Seau and Ray Lewis) have been to as many.
So wait...we are talking about one of only 10 players who has been to 12 or more Pro Bowls, and there is even a discussion about whether he should be a first ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer? You know who's made the 10th most MLB all-star games of all-time? Yogi Berra. 10th on the NBA list? Tie between Wilt Chamberlain, Bob Cousy, Kevin Garnett and John Havlicek. You guys get what I am saying yet?
4) Cortez Kennedy, DT--1990-2000
-58.0 sacks, 568 tackles, 3 Ints
-NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1992), 3x 1st Team All-Pro (1992-94), 1x 2nd Team All-Pro, 8x Pro Bowl Selection (1991-99), 1990's NFL All-Decade 1st Team
At first it was really hard for me to decide between Kennedy and the next two or three guys, but then I remembered this stat. Since sacks became an official stat in 1982, Kennedy is the only one of two defensive tackles with 150 starts, 8 sacks and 8 Pro Bowls (the other is hall of famer Randy White). That's pretty impressive no? Oh and by the way, Cortez also was one the field for 90% of the Seahawks total snaps for his first 6 seasons. How many defensive tackles play 90+% of their teams snap for even a game in today's NFL? Spoiler Alert...not all that many. Also Cortez was either the best defensive tackle of the 1990's...or he was a close second to Hall of Famer John Randle (Randle was the far superior pass rusher, but as an overall player I am taking Cortez. Close call, could go either way, but Randle did not stuff the run like Cortez, therefore was not as effective of an every down player IMO).
So...do I really have to keep typing? This is my problem with the 5 person limit...you are leaving out the best DT of a generation or the guy who is top 10 in career Pro Bowls or someone else almost just as good. It just ain't fair man...but that's the world we live in.
5) Aeneas Williams, CB--1991-2004
-55 Ints, 795 tackles, 12 TD's
-4x 1st Team All-Pro (1995-97, 2001), 1x 2nd Team All-Pro (1994), 8x Pro Bowl Selection (1994-99, 2001, 2003), 1990's 2nd Team All-Decade Team
Underrated in his own era by many who forget that, well...Aeneas Williams was a freaking stud. In fact in many ways his career arc reminds me of Charles Woodson's. Like Woodson did with the Raiders, in Arizona Aeneas started out as an unabashed bump and run, get in your face and not let you breathe shut down cover corner. However, in his 10th year in the league he was traded to the St. Louis Rams and became a precursor to the Packers version of Charles Woodson. You know the savvy veteran who changes the teams defensive attitude, shuts down the slot (especially on 3rd down when he plays the nickel), shifts over to safety at times to hide some of his age induced range limitations, and is always around the football making big plays? That was him first.
You still don't believe that Aeneas was the early 2000's version of the Pack's C-Wood? Well pop in a tape of the Rams' 2001 NFC divisional playoff game against Green Bay where Aeneas housed 2 Favre picks for TD's and forced a fumble. Yeah...he could single handily win games too. He may not quite be Charles Woodson, but hell...even diet C-Wood is still pretty good in my book.
Crapshoot (But Still Should be In)
Look as I said it's close, and I've gone back and forth on this a number of times, but at the end of the day I have no problem voting the previous players 1-5. I think that is where they should be. Now I have no idea where anyone should go...so God damn it.
6) Tim Brown, WR--1988-2004
-1,094 Catches (4th all-time), 14,934 Receiving Yards (4th), 100 Receiving TD's (t-6th), 105 Total TD's (t-16th)
-1x 1st Team All-Pro Kick Returner (1991), 1x 2nd Team All-Pro (1997), 9x Pro Bowl Selection (1988, 1991, 1993-97, 1999, 2001), 1990's NFL All-Decade Team
I know I know, I had Tim Brown ahead of Cris Carter in last year's ranking. My rationale? Brown's versatility as a kick returner, and his more dynamic big play ability as a receiver, made him a more valuable player than Carter. And I am still not sure I disagree with that. It's just the more I look at the Brown v. Carter debate the more I think that Carter was just better. In my subjective judgement Carter was the superior receiver. Yes I know the some of the stats scewe Brown's way (and he only played one more season), but when you think about players who could tilt a field, make you double cover them, make you say "that m'fer is not beating me today," Carter was that guy...and I'm not sure Brown ever was.
Look Brown deserves credit for his big play ability and his dynamic kick returners earlier in his career, as well as his incredible level of consistent production. But Carter was a game changer, a killer in the red zone (30 more TD catches in 1 less season) and someone who made you say, "Hey...right now I might take him over Rice," even if it was just for a second during the latter part of Rice's utter dominance, and we all knew we never would. That's the difference between Carter and Brown in my opinion, although next year, when they are both somehow still not in yet, I'll probably flip flop again. Especially if Romney wins the presidency and sets that kind of example from the Oval Office.
7) Curtis Martin, RB--1995-2005
-3,518 Rushing Attempts (3rd all-time), 14,101 Rushing Yards (4th), 90 Rushing TD's (t-12th), 17,430 Yards from Scrimmage (8th), 100 Total TD's (t-19th), 17,430 Yards From Scrimmage (8th)
-1x NFL Rushing Champion (2004), 1x 1st Team All-Pro (2004), 2x 2nd Team All-Pro (1999, 2001), 5x Pro Bowl Selection (1995-96, 1998, 2001, 2004)
Last year I said that it took 3 running backs to replicate Marshall Faulk in today's NFL. Well, it may not take 3 to replicate Martin...but it certainly takes at least 2. One of my favorite things about a running back is when he doesn't have to leave the field very often. When he can run between the tackles, bounce it out, catch it out of the backfield, and holy F...pick up the GD blitz. There aren't many guys left who can do all those things...and Martin could. Add in the fact that Martin was incredibly durable, logging 300+ carries in 8 of his 11 seasons, and productive, one of only 2 backs to rush for 1,000+ yards in each of his first 10 seasons (Barry Sanders was the other...and I think we all know how he turned out. Even his sperm turns into 180 lbs. of break yo' ankles), and it is hard to imagine that Martin will be left out for long.
The problem is that there are more "elite" players for longer periods of time (relative to their position) at the top of this class then there should be. And while Martin certainly was an elite back, his case rests more on his durability and production in my opinion. And with some of the other nominees that are out there...that's just not going to cut it in my book. But hopefully it will soon...cause C-Mart was a great, great back who is more than worthy of the honor. And in my opinion his unbelievable stats validate that thought, instead of inflating it (as they do with some other finalists, see Bettis, Jerome and Reed, Andre).
8) Chris Doleman, DE--1985-1999
-150.5 Sacks (4th All-Time), 914 Tackles, 44 Forced Fumbles, 24 Fumble Recoveries, 8 Ints, 3 Total TD's
-2x 1st Team All-Pro (1989, 1992), 2x 2nd Team All-Pro (1987, 1993), 8x Pro Bowl Selection (1987-90, 1992-93, 1995, 1997), 1990's NFL All-Decade 2nd Team
I really agonized between Doleman and Kevin Greene, but in the end I went with Doleman because, well...I did. Consider this, not only did Doleman have one of the best seasons ever rushing the passer (21 sacks in 1989), but he had 8 seasons with double-digit sacks, 3 more with at least 8, and another 2 with 7. That's 13 seasons were Doleman recorded at least 7 sacks (which actually ended up being 13 consecutive seasons out of Doelman's 15 in the League. He recorded a measley 3.5 sacks in his first two seasons combined. In his 3rd season he switched from OLB to DE and became a pass rushing force almost instantly). In fact Doleman's consistent production had (and still has) me so impressed that I ranked him higher than Cortez Kennedy last season (Kennedy has risen more than any other holdover from last year's finalists. When considering that his combination of durability, production and recognition is almost unheard of for a modern defensive tackle, it was a clear choice in my book).
Doleman was clearly the third best defensive end in a generation that included two of the best ever in Reggie White and Bruce Smith. Add in historic levels of consistency as a pass rusher, and I think Doleman has a strong case to be even higher. Just couldn't do it in this group.
9) Kevin Greene, OLB--1985-1999
-160.0 sacks (3rd All-Time), 669 Tackles, 23 Forced Fumbles, 26 Fumble Recoveries, 5 Ints, 3 Total TD's
-2x 1st Team All-Pro (1994, 1996), 1x 2nd Team All-Pro (1989), 5x Pro Bowl Selection (1989,1994-96, 1998), 1990's NFL All-Decade 1st Team
At first I agonized over the decision between Doleman and Greene, but the more I think about it the more I am happy with their respective placements. First the positives for Greene. Well how does 160 career sacks (3rd behind just these two guys named Bruce Smith and Reggie White), 10 seasons with at least double digit sacks, another 2 with 7+, and a career average of 10.66 sacks per season (compared to Doleman's average of just a shade over 10 flat) sound to you? Now here's why Doleman's case should be considered before Greene's. One Doleman (unofficially) has roughly 250 more tackles than Greene does in just 4 fewer career games. Two, while Pro Bowl voting is hugely flawed, Doleman was recognized by his peers as the better player more consistently. Third, Doleman played at a loaded position (Smith, White, etc.) while the 1990"s All-Decade linebackers include Hall of Famers Junior Seau and Derrick Thomas, as well as Greene, Cornelius Bennett, Levon Kirkland and Hardy Nickerson. Great players? Yes. Hall of Fame caliber? Not under the current selection process.
Finally, while I don't understand what this is or how it works, Pro Football reference has given Doleman a 32 point lead in career Approximate Value, indicating a significant higher contribution to his team from Doleman throughout the course of his career than from Greene. So if the two are comparable pass rushers (they are), and Doleman clearly played the run better, stood out more in a more loaded position group, and some sort of weird stat justifies my view that he was significantly more valuable to his team's defense than Greene, that is more than enough evidence for me to give him the edge here. Even if Greene did total 9.5 more career sacks.
*Just a note on approximate value. It is not a refined statistic like WAR in baseball that has been validated. It is simply one man's attempt to assign value to individual performances within the team concept that reigns supreme in football. It is far from perfect, and I honestly feel bad using it. For instance Cris Carter's career approximate value was 10 points lower than Tim Brown's, and Cortez Kennedy's is 32 points lower than Doleman's (although there are explanations to each, such as Carter playing with Randy Moss in a more prolific passing offense where he shared the ball more and thus got a lower % of his teams overall receiving yards, or Kennedy's career only lasting 11 seasons). It's important when using this stat to try and not make apples to oranges comparisons, instead using it as a tool to compare players with similar career lengths, positions and responsibilities, which is why I thought that Doleman v. Greene was the perfect time to break it out. And honestly the only time where it is even close to being applicable here in my opinion (along with comparing Charles Haley, another pass rushing OLB/DE, to these two).
10) Dermontti Dawson, C--1988-2000
-6x All-Pro (1993-98), 7x Pro Bowl Selection (1992-98), 1990's NFL All-Decade 1st Team
I think a lot of people forget just how good Dawson was because well 1-He was a center and 2-He, well...was a center. Think about this of all the great players in the league during the 1990's, and then know that Dawson is the one of only two people to be named 1st Team All-Pro by the Assosicated Press in six straight seasons within the decade (The other was John Randle. Reggie White made it 6 straight times, including 1990 and 1991, but his streak started in 1986). So there is no question that Dermontti Dawson is one of the most dominant players, in terms of his position, of an entire generation. The problem? He is a center.
Outside of possibly safety, I cannot think of another group that is more underrepresented in Canton. Consider another Steelers legendary center, Mike Webster. Webster was a 5x 1st Team All-Pro, a 4x 2nd Team All-Pro, and a 9x Pro Bowler. He had a 9 season peak, while Dawson's last just 7. And it still took Webster 5 years of eligibility to get selected. Add Webster's notoriety for helping the Steelers to 4 Super Bowl titles (winners get picked first, just a matter of perception) to his slightly longer longevity, and the fact that he played in an era where there were much higher profile centers (Dwight Stevenson and Jim Langer to name a couple of Hall of Famers who played against Webster. Dawson's generation isn't close to produce 3-4 Hall of Famers at the position. In fact Dawson is the only guy with a chance) and his case seems far more compelling than Dawson's.
And Webster still had to wait 5 years. Dawson's already waited 5. Something tells me he's got a few more to go, but he will (and should) eventually get there.
Not Happening (Well At Least in My Book)
As I said if I were voting 1-5, then no one from the last category would have made it. However, don't expect the voting to go down like that (it's such a subjective process, and who knows who is going to value what in that committee room). That being said I would expect the 5 (actually probably only 3 or 4 due to Parcells and Debartolo's names on the ballot) players elected to come from the list of 10 finalists above, because each and every one of these players coming up have another player (or players) on the ballot who played their position and was simply better than they were. Although I've been wrong before. Remember I ranked Richard Dent dead last on my imaginary ballot last year? And he made it so...who knows.
11) Charles Haley, OLB/DE--1986-1996
-100.5 Sacks (t-25th), 485 Tackles, 26 Forced Fumbles, 8 Fumble Recoveries, 2 Ints, 1 Total TD
-2x 1st Team All-Pro (1990, 1994), 5x Pro Bowl Selection (1988, 1990-91, 1994-95), 5x Super Bowl Champion
Let's not take into account the fact that Haley was batshit crazy, especially during his days with the Cowboys, because well...who wouldn't want to walk around naked 24/7 or watch themselves jerk it? This is America after all. So now that we've forgotten all about Haley's gianourmous schwanz, the question remains...how good was Haley? Look there's is no question that he was an absolute stud who was a driving force for more than 5 Super Bowl Champions. That's pretty impressive. He also recorded double digit sacks 6x in his career, had a legitimate claim to win defensive player of the year in 1990 (16 sacks, 3 Forced Fumbles, lead the entire league in approximate value), and was able to rush the passer very effectively as both a stand up OLB in San Francisco and with his hand on the ground as a DE in Dallas. But there is no way that he merits selection over Doleman or Greene. Outside of his six seasons with double digit sacks, Haley recorded one season with 7, one with 6.5, one with 6, and three with 3.0 or less. Doleman had 13 seasons with 7+ sacks, and we all know that 13>7. Greene had 12, which is also significantly more than 7. Haley also had just 5 seasons with an approximate value in double figures, while Doleman had 9 (Greene also only had 5).
Finally Haley was clearly a worse run defender than Doleman, and probably a slightly worse one than Greene (based on the unofficial stats, although this may be too close to call), and since he played both of their positions (pass rushing OLB and RDE), there is really no excuse for this being the case. Look I know Haley is a 5x World Champion, and that counts for a lot, but there is just no way that Haley proves superior as a player to either one of his contemporaries who are also finalists. I just couldn't selected him on this ballot in good conscience, although something tells me the committee may. But hey, as long as Haley pulls out his slong on that stage in Canton...I'm OK with it.
12) Andre Reed, WR--1985-2000
-951 Receptions (10th All-Time), 13,198 Receiving Yards (12th), 87 Receiving TD's (12th), 88 Total TD's (34th)
-2x 2nd Team All-Pro (1989-90), 7x Pro Bowl Selection (1988-94)
Look I don't want to beat a dead horse here with Reed, and I know I poo pooed all over his Hall of Fame case last year. And before I get going again, let me just say that Reed was an excellent, excellent receiver on an excellent, excellent set of Buffalo Bills teams that would have never reached the heights they did without him. And it may not be fair that Reed isn't in the Hall when his QB (Jim Kelly) and RB (Thurman Thomas) were easily elected. And Reed's career kinda hit a standstill right when the receiving explostion of the mid-1990's was getting under way. However, with all of those things being said, there is just no way that Reed can be considered in this class, especially with 2 clearly superior receivers from his own era (Cris Carter and Tim Brown) on the ballot. Reed's stats don't stack up very well anymore. He was never a 1st Team All-Pro. Rice, Carter, Brown and Michael Irvin at least (not to mention Isaac Bruce, Marvin Harrison or anyone else who came slightly after him, or his teammate James Lofton or Art Monk who came just before him) were considered better than him in his own generation.
With Carter and Brown still on the ballot, who both made the 1990's All-Decade team ahead of him by the way, there is no subjective or statistical value you can use to justify putting Reed in the Hall (not even approximate value, where his career 131 AV mark ranks behind both Carter and Brown, and his 6 seasons with double digit AV ties Carter and is 2 behind Brown). Reed is a great player, but with Carter and Brown on the ballot, and more superior receivers coming, I don't like is chances...or think it would be fair if he was in when superior players were not.
13) Jerome Bettis, RB--1993-2005
-3,479 Rushing Attempts (4th All-Time), 13,662 Rushing Yards (6th), 91 Rushing TD's (10th), 94 Total TD's (t-23rd), 15,111 Yards From Scrimmage (18th)
-2x 1st Team All-Pro (1993, 1996), 1x 2nd Team All-Pro (1997), 6x Pro Bowl Selection (1993-94, 1996-97, 2001, 2004)
Look there's no question that the Bus was a tough runner, a battering ram who went on to become a cultural icon who made us all laugh in The Office and Papa John's commercials. That being said, he just does not merit consideration here, especially with Martin on the ballot. He has fewer rushing yards, less touchdowns and a slightly worse yards per attempt average (3.9 to 4.0) on just 39 fewer carries attempts than Martin. He was clearly not as good of a receiver out of the backfield as Martin was, logging fewer than half as many receptions (484 for Martin v. 200 for Bettis) and receiving yards (3,329 for Martin v. 1,449 for Bettis). The Bus could not stay on the field on 3rd down and pick up the blitz like Martin could. He couldn't quite break runs off to the outside and run away from defenders as well as Martin could. He played for a vaunted Steelers offensive line for most of his career, while Martin played on some mediocre Patriots and Jets squads.
Also Bettis was slightly less durable logging an average of just over 18 carries per game in his career, while Martin logged nearly 21. Look there may not be room for one running back in this year's Hall of Fame class, and there certainly is not room for two. Bettis clearly falls short of induction this year. And, in spite of his gaudy career totals, I'm not sure that that is unfair for a runningback who could not stay on the field every down. At least not in the short term.