Well Super Bowl Sunday is here, and it’s time for our nation to indulge in our annual glutton fest with liquor and fried food. But, while the rest of America will be paying attention to Bud Light commercials and the special episode of Glee Fox is televising after the game (Glee following what’s supposed to be the manliest sporting event of the year? That’s just not right), I’ll be focusing on football…and it will have nothing to do with Troy Polamalu/Clay Matthew’s hair or Ben Roethlisberger skeeting in his pants on the podium while accepting the Lombardi Trophy. No, I’m all about the history of the game this weekend.
On Saturday the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Board of Electors will meet to decide the inductees in the institution’s class of 2011. The Pro Football Hall of Fame selecting process is both simple and inefficient now that the 15 modern era finalists for induction have been selected. The 44-person selection committee will vote on each candidate. A candidate needs 80% of the votes to be elected. However, no more then 5 modern era nominees can be inducted. Why cap it and leave deserving players waiting in the wind (especially at such a low number like 5)? That I don’t know, but I do know there are some hard decisions to be made by the Board of Electors this weekend.
I had a difficult enough time whittling my list down to five, but before I explain my decisions let’s take a look at the criteria I used to differentiate the finalists.
1) Comparison Against Peers-This is the first and most important criteria when judging player’s accomplishments (especially when considering players from different eras). Basically it is important to be the “best,” or close to the best, player of your time (both at your position and as a whole). This is determined through both a subjective and objective analysis of your career.
The most obvious example for this is at the wide receiver position. Changes in both the games’ rules and the style of play in the NFL have led to a proliferation of passing in the league, and of course that has led to a gigantic jump in receiving statistics. Add in the longer seasons and careers that are enjoyed by players today, and it becomes impossible to objectively judge today’s receivers against their predecessors in different eras.
For example let’s look at Andre Reed, one of three receivers who is a finalist for induction this weekend. Reed played 13 seasons with the Buffalo Bills ending his career 951 catches (10th all time), 13,198 receiving yards (11th) and 87 receiving TDs (12th all time). Those statistics are impressive enough, but if you transplanted Reed’s career into the 1960’s and 1970’s, those stats would have caused the NFL record book to rip to shreds. You can’t compare Reed to Fred Biletnikoff or Lance Alworth, at least not statistically, so it’s important that you compare Reed subjectively and objectively to his peers to gauge whether or not he is worthy.
This is where the subjective measure comes in. Peers can’t be compared solely through statistical analysis. For instance Reed ranks higher then one of his contemporaries, hall of fame receiver Michael Irvin, in almost every statistical category. Reed has more catches (951 to Irvin’s 750), yards (13,198 to 11,904) and TDs (87 to 65). Since they played in the same era does that statistical dominance make Reed a more deserving hall candidate? It can certainly be argued, but I would say no. Subjectively watching the two play, I think Irvin was superior.
While that may be an argument for a different day, it helps to explain my thinking. First take the athlete and put him in context. Once I did that, I then measured (through both objective and subjective measures) how good the player was when compared to the other players of their time.
2) Comparison As a Whole-After judging the athlete against his peers, then you can judge him against the rest of league history. Reed once again proves as a perfect test case for this theory.
Reed was never, at any point in his career, the best receiver in the game. Really in my opinion he was never even solidly in the top 5. I also don’t seem to be the only one to hold that judgment, since Reed was never voted as a 1st All-Pro (meaning he was never considered to be a top 2 receiver in any season he played in the league…although he twice made the 2nd team). While I don’t blindly trust all-pro voting when evaluating a player, it’s still has to be a strike against the player that he was never truly considered “elite” during his playing years.
However, there could be several reasons for this. First Reed was playing in an extremely talented era of NFL receivers. Yes the statistic jump was largely due to rule and strategy changes in the league, but it was also due to a supplement of talent at the skill positions. Jerry Rice (arguably the greatest player ever, but that again is an argument for another day), Tim Brown, Cris Carter, Henry Ellard, Irving Friar, Art Monk and Michael Irvin all entered the league within 5 years of Reed (everyone but Monk within 3). That list includes 7 of the top 25 players in all time receiving yards, 3 Hall of Famers and 2 almost certain future Hall of Famers. By 2012 there will be five Hall of Fame receivers who entered the league in Reed’s decade. Add the fact that Reed shared the later part of his prime with possible future Hall of Famers like Randy Moss, Isaac Bruce, Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens, Jimmy Smith, and Rod Smith (all entered the league by 1998, all but Moss by 1996) and it becomes easier to understand why Reed was never considered to be “elite” in his own time period.
But that doesn’t mean that Reed shouldn’t be inducted into the Hall. If Reed had never made an All-Pro team in an era of depleted talent at wide receiver, then that would make his case much simpler. But when taking into account the talent at the position during this time period, which is among the strongest for wide receiver talent in NFL history, Reed becomes a much more deserving candidate. It’s all a matter of weighing Reed’s performance against his peers then giving it some overall context in the league’s history by comparing the talent in his era to the talent at other points in the past.
3) Statistics-I am not a big fan of statistics as a pure measurement for Hall of Fame candidacy in the NFL. As I wrote earlier with more games and longer careers, statistics have become less and less reliable as a measuring stick in today’s game. They can inflate a candidate’s credentials, like they do (in a sense) with Reed and Jerome Bettis (I will write about this later).
However, there are some times when statistics can show how underrated a great player is, especially to the public. A perfect example of that is 2011 finalist Curtis Martin. Martin rushed for 14,101 yards (4th all-time) and 90 touchdowns (12th) on 3,518 carries (3rd). He also scored 100 touchdowns when you combine his rushing and receiving totals (t-19). Add in 3 all-pro teams (2 1st, 1 2nd), 5 pro bowls, a rushing title (2004), and ten straight thousand-yard seasons to begin his career, and his credentials seem much stronger. If Martin hadn’t put up such a staggering statistical totals people might forget that he was consistently one of the top 4 or 5 running backs in the league for close to a decade.
Basically my point is that statistics can improperly inflate a hall of fame case, just as they can shed light on a player who might have been somewhat ignored. That’s why they are just a tool used in measuring a player’s greatness, and don’t ensure induction in the Pro Football Hall of Fame like they can in other sports (Baseball especially).
4) Versatility-This is the most forgotten aspect when judging great players. Does the player have any holes? Are there situations where he can’t be on the field? Or is he so exceptional that he plays every play and excels in all scenarios?
That is why Emmitt Smith is a better football player then Barry Sanders in my opinion (not a better pure runner). That is why Paul Hornung is a Hall of Famer and all-time great, instead of a very good running back on a great team. That is why I think Marshall Faulk was the greatest player in the history of football for 3-season period.
For a player’s versatility to matter you cannot just be adequate in every area. You have to be excellent in everything, or good at so many different things that you become great because no one else can do everything that you do. Look at Hornung, the man was one of a kind. He could run, catch, pass, block and kick. It was like he was Boobie Miles in Friday Night Lights cause he could do everything on the field (he could probably walk the dog, fill the gatorade cooler and paint your back porch too). Hornung was the most versatile player in NFL history and that’s why he’s in Canton. That’s why he was a game changer because of all the different skills he brought to the table.
5) Game Changing Skill-This is the opposite of the versatility argument, but it has the same principal. If you are so good at one aspect of the game that no one else can do it as well as you, then that is important. Take Devin Hester. When he hangs up his cleats he should be an easy Hall of Famer, the same way Hornung was…because he is a game changer. No one else can do what he does, or what he has done for several years. If you replaced Hester with any other kick returner in the league (besides maybe Brad Smith or Leon Washington) there would be a noticeable drop off that would affect Hester’s team negatively. And it has been that way consistently for almost half a decade.
That’s why Ray Guy should be in the hall of fame. Not only did he bring an almost revolutionary ability to the game (I’ll take about this later), but also if he was replaced by an other punter the drop off could not be ignored. And that was a consistent fact for years in the 1970’s.
Being the best at a certain aspect of the game isn’t enough however, as you could have gathered from what I wrote about Hester and Guy. For instance the Bear’s long snapper Patrick Mannely has an important skill, one that earns him a roster spot in the NFL. But, even if he is the best long snapper who has ever lived, if you filled his spot with any other NFL long snapper the possible drop off in skill would probably not diminish the Bear’s chances at winning. Replacing Hester and Guy with any contemporary would hurt their team significantly, just like replacing Hornung with someone who couldn’t do everything that he did would have.
6) Consistency-A lot of players peak in the NFL then fizzle. They might meet some of the criteria laid out, being elite amongst their peers, or being able to do things no one else could, but how long did they do it for. Having that peak is important, but it’s also important to consider how long they were great. Brian Sipe may have won the NFL MVP award, but his short time as an “elite” level player certainly doesn’t qualify him to be a Hall of Famer.
Look at Kurt Warner, who had arguably the greatest three years a NFL quarterback has ever had from 1999-2001, but then fizzled due to injury issues and a messy divorce with the St. Louis Rams. If Warner had never returned to being an elite level quarterback with the Arizona Cardinals, would he be a Hall of Fame worthy player? Off three years? No way. He needed to give his career some consistency and prove he was still an elite player to meet a Hall of Fame threshold, and that’s exactly what he did. Every candidate has to have some level of consistency, like Warner eventually did, to prove they are truly worthy. Two or three years, as good as they might be, just aren’t enough.
7) Revolutionary Ability-This is someone with skills or ability that revolutionize the way the game is played. For instance look at Bob Hayes, the Hall of Fame wide receiver for the Cowboys. If you look at his career statistics or consistency as an elite player, he doesn’t quite meet the standards. But, when you consider that his speed changed the way the wide receiver position was played (thus changing the entire shape of NFL offenses by becoming such a threat in the vertical passing game), that unique combination of skill and timing allowed him to change the NFL and earn a spot in the Hall of Fame.
Usually this revolution ability comes from a player who otherwise would be in the Hall. For instance Lawrence Taylor (without a doubt the greatest defensive player of all time) changed the way defense was played in the NFL with his unique abilities. He revolutionized the 3-4 defense, and was the first true “rush end” in the league’s history. Now someone with Taylor’s resume (9x 1st Team All-Pro, 10 Pro Bowls, 3 defensive player of the year awards, 1 NFL MVP) would easily be a Hall of Famer even if he wasn’t the first player in the league history who could do what he did. However, if Taylor hadn’t changed the NFL, would he be the best defensive player ever? I don’t know, but I do know that being the first makes you better…just a simple fact.
8) Being a Winner-This especially comes to play in quarterbacks. It’s the reason why guys like Terry Bradshaw and Troy Aikman are clear cut hall of famers even though you may just look at their stats and think Boomer Esiason or Dave Krieg were just as good. Being a winner matters, especially when you are a driving force behind championship teams.
However, this doesn’t only apply to quarterbacks. There have been several players who became dynamic forces on championship teams and legitimized themselves as hall of fame candidates. Look at Lynn Swann. The guy has below average statistics for a hall of fame wide receiver, and had a short peak as an elite level player (just 3 pro bowls and all-pro selections), but he was such a force for the Steelers dynasty that he became a hall of famer by helping driving a champion. He made big plays in big games, and that’s why he earned a spot in Canton.
Now let’s take a look at how I ranked this year’s finalists. Remember a maximum of five modern-era players can get in (and a minimum of 2-although that shouldn’t be an issue this year), so even though there are others I think deserve induction, they technically wouldn’t be if my rankings were the deciding factor.
1. Deion Sanders, CB, 1989-2000; 2004-2005
-53 Ints, 9 TDs, 6 Punt Return TDs, 60 catches for 784 yards and 3 TDs
-NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1994), 6x 1st Team All-Pro (1992-94, 1996-98), 2x 2nd Team All-Pro (1991, 1999), 8x Pro Bowl Selection (1991-94, 1996-99), 1990’s NFL All Decade 1st Team, 2x Super Bowl Champ (1994 49ers, 1995 Cowboys)
Arguably the great cover corner who has ever lived, Sanders is a no brainer. His unique coverage skills and speed help change NFL defenses, as team after team started searching for that “shutdown” corner. Judge him against any criteria and his case is obvious. He was considered the best defensive back (if not defensive player) of the 1990’s, and could go down as the greatest corner in the history of the league. His versatility as a kick returner and receiver made him more valuable then almost any other defensive player of his time. He may not have been the greatest tackler ever, but he did more then enough other things well to make up for that flaw. An easy selection, I’d be shocked if he didn’t get unanimous support from the board.
2. Marshall Faulk, RB, 1994-2006
-2,836 carries for 12,279 yards (10th all-time), 4.3 yards per rush, 100 rushing TDs (t-7th), 767 catches, 767 receiving yards, 36 receiving TDs, 136 total touchdowns (t-7th), 19,154 yards from scrimmage (4th)
-NFL MVP (2000), 3x NFL Offensive Player of the Year (1999-2001), NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (1994), 3x 1st Team All-Pro (1999-2001), 3x 2nd Team All-Pro (1994-95, 1998), 7x Pro Bowl Selection (1994-95, 1998-2002), 1x Super Bowl Champion (1999 Rams)
It was painful for me to decide between Faulk and Sanders for the top spot, but either way both should be sure-fire selections. Faulk was a great player with the Indianapolis Colts, but once he moved to St. Louis he became one of the best to ever don a uniform. You have to understand that for a three-year period Faulk was the greatest player in the history of the NFL, and I don’t say those words lightly. He was the most important player in one of the greatest offenses in the league’s history. Take a second and listen to some of these stats and achievements by Faulk. First Marshall is the only player in NFL history with 12,000 rushing yards and 6,000 receiving yards. His 19,154 yards from scrimmage are fourth in NFL history (behind just Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton). His 136 total career touchdowns rank seventh. His 767 receptions are second all time by an NFL running back (behind fullback Larry Centers). Oh yeah, and he is one of just two players in league history to win the Offensive Player of the Year Award three times (the other is Earl Campbell). So by any measurement Faulk ranks with just about any player in league history. Plus he was the definition of versatility. He could run outside, run inside, run in short yardage/goal line situations, catch better then any back ever out of the backfield, and was also a terrific pass blocker. He played every play, in any situation, and excelled. Compare him to his peers or compare him to any running back ever, there’s still no debate. Anyone who votes against him shouldn’t be invited back to Canton.
Should Be Locks
3. Shannon Sharpe, TE, 1990-2003
-815 catches, 62 TDs, 10,060 receiving yards
-4x 1st Team All-Pro (1993, 1996-98), 1x 2nd Team All-Pro (1995), 8x Pro Bowl Selection (1992-98, 2001), 1990’s NFL All-Decade 1st Team, 3x Super Bowl Champion (1997-98 Broncos, 2000 Ravens)
This is Sharpe’s second year on the ballot and I cannot believe he didn’t make it last year (although that class might have been more loaded then this one). Sharpe is the greatest receiving tight end in NFL history (possibly excluding active players Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates in the future). Read that again, the greatest receiving tight end in NFL history. There is no doubt about it, whether you used stats or your own two eyes. Sharpe excelled on almost every criterion I listed earlier. He was the best tight end of his time, he had the best stats, a great peak, an incredible level of consistency, and some versatility as well (he blocked well enough to help Terrell Davis win an NFL MVP and rush for more then 2,000 yards). He didn’t revolutionize the game like Ozzie Newsome, Kellen Winslow, Dave Casper or the great receiving tight ends before him, but he did take the skill to an art form. The most unfair part of the process is that many voters consider Sharpe to be a wide receiver, which is ridiculous to me. He was absolutely a tight end, and his woes as a blocker were extremely overblown. He may not have been overpowering, but he blocked pretty well in Denver's zone system and didn't come off the field in running situations. Share may be a terrible TV analyst but he was a great player, and he should be a slam-dunk Hall of Famer.
4. Willie Roaf, OT, 1993-2005
-6x 1st Team All-Pro (1994-96, 2003-05), 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 2nd Team
Often forgotten because of the three-headed monster that came behind him at left tackle (Jonathan Ogden, Orlando Pace and Walter Jones) that changed the game forever, but Roaf’s credentials can’t be ignored. Roaf was kind of a precursor to the big 3, and when you consider his longevity and consistency his career could rank right up with any of them. Roaf was not only an all-pro before these guys came along, but he was one after they were established as well (including beating some of them on voting at times). 9 1st or 2nd Team All-Pros, 11 Pro Bowls, twice making an all decade team. I mean how can you argue with that. You could also argue that Roaf was the true “franchise left tackle,” even if he came along just before that term really started to mean something in the NFL. No matter how you judge him, Roaf was among the best of his time, among the best ever, and had an incredible run of consistency. He may not actually be a lock, but he should be.
Unquestionably Should be In (but 5 player limit hurts)
5. Tim Brown, WR, 1988-2004
-1,094 catches (4th all-time), 14,934 receiving yards (4th), 100 receiving TDs (t-6th), 105 total touchdowns (t-16)
-1x 1st Team All-Pro as Kick Returner (1991), 1x 2nd Team All-Pro (1997), 9x Pro Bowl Selection (1988, 1991, 1993-97, 1999, 2001), 1990’s NFL All Decade 2nd Team
This is were it really gets interesting (because I think the previous four should undoubtedly be voted in) as the race heats up for the fifth spot. In my opinion it’s between Brown and Carter (who should have been elected three years ago). A sensible move for voters would be to put Carter ahead of Brown, since this is only Brown’s second year on the ballot, and let Tim wait another year or two like Carter had to. But that is not how I view it. I am trying to distinguish who I would vote for based solely on the criteria listed above, not based on who was gotten snubbed in the past. First, both should be no brainer Hall of Famers. Brown’s only problem may be his lack of distinction verse his peers (just one all pro team as a receiver, and a second team at that, although Carter didn’t really rack up all pro teams either). But when you consider the middling offenses Brown was playing on for much of his career, what he did becomes much more impressive. His consistency is incredible as Brown recorded nine straight thousand-yard seasons from 1993-2001. Add in Brown’s versatility (he was a great kick and punt returner earlier in his career) and Brown’s case becomes even more obvious. I give Brown the edge over Carter because of his versatility and a slight subjective judgment that he was the better player (more of a game changer then possession receiver). In case you were still doubting Brown’s resume, listen to the legendary Pat Summerall who called Brown “the greatest football player he’s ever seen,” at the Cotton Bowl this year. Hard to argue with that.
6. 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
Carter was inexcusably left out off the Hall in his 1st year of edibility in 2008. He was again left out in 2009 and 2010. The more you watch the more you think the Hall is playing some sort of joke on Carter, trying to punish him for his sketchy past (drug problems early in his career) or something. You could easy flip Brown and Carter, but both have to be considered deserving. As I said earlier, I think Brown was better then Carter by the smallest of margins (due to his versatility as a returner and being more of a game breaker as a receiver), but this is where the limit gets me because Carter shouldn’t even still be on the ballot. Unfortunately if I were deciding he’d unfairly get left off again. How do you leave someone with 1,100 catches and 131 career touchdowns out for a fourth time? How do you ignore someone so consistent that he put up eight straight 1,000 yard receiving years? I don’t care what era he played in, or if those stats are inflated, because I saw the man play…and he was every bit that good. I have no problem if he gets in over Brown, but no matter how you judge the Brown/Carter debate any reasonable person has to think it’s ridiculous that both probably won’t be enshrined this season (or that they aren’t enshrined already).
Should Be In (But won’t make it with the maximum)
7. Curtis Martin, RB, 1995-2005
-3,518 carries (3rd all-time), 14,101 rushing yards (4th), 90 rushing TDs (t-12th), 17,430 yards from scrimmage (8th), 100 total touchdowns (t-19)
-1x NFL Rushing Champion (2004), 1995 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, 2x 1st Team All-Pro (2001, 2004), 1x 2nd Team All-Pro (1999), 5x Pro Bowl Selection (1995-96, 1998, 2001, 2004)
Martin is such a deserving hall candidate, I find it hard to leave him on the outside looking in (hypothetically). As I wrote earlier, Martin’s statistics show how underrated he is, at least to public. However, it’s still not enough to rely solely on Martin’s stats alone to legitimize his candidacy. I saw Martin play, and he was a tough, tough runner. He could go outside, but he loved to bang between the tackles. He was an adequate receiver, and could pick up the blitz, making him a true feature back that played every-down. Martin was also an absolute workhorse, logging the third most carries in NFL history and topping 300 attempts in 8 of his 11 seasons. His production was also incredibly consistent throughout his career, rushing for over a 1,000 yards in each of his first ten seasons (one of only two players, along with Barry Sanders, to rush for 10,000 yards in his first 10 seasons). Martin also had a true peak where he was undeniable one of the game’s best backs through any subjective measure (1999-2004 he was one of the top 3 or 4 consistently). I think Martin is a deserving candidate, but it would not surprise me to see him miss the cut this time. However, his credentials cannot be ignored, and he should be voted in sooner rather then later.
8. Chris Doleman, DE, 1985-1999
-150.5 sacks (4th all-time), 914 tackles, 8 Ints, 2 TDs
-3x 1st Team All-Pro (1987, 1989, 1992), 2x 2nd Team All-Pro (1990, 1993), 8x Pro Bowl Selection (1987-1990, 1992-93, 1995, 1997), 1990’s NFL All Decade 2nd Team
How is this guy not in the Hall of Fame yet? And because of this ridiculous 5 player maximum, he might not get in yet again. This guy had 21 sacks in 1989. He had 14.5 sacks in 1992, and 15 sacks in 1997. How’s that for longevity. Also consider that he recorded double-digit sacks 8 times (including 5 other seasons where he topped 7.0 sacks). Doleman is a model of consistency that stood out among his peers as one of the best of a very competitive era. I mean the only reason he was 2nd team all decade on the 1990’s team is because there were two other defensive ends named Reggie White and Bruce Smith. Maybe you’ve heard of them. Add in the fact that Doleman retired after the 1999 season, where he still recorded 8 sacks, and there was really no really serious decline in his game. Unbelievable. His time has got to be coming, although I don’t think it will be 2011.
9. 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 (1996), 8x Pro Bowl Selection (1991-1999), 1990’s NFL All Decade 1st Team
Like Brown and Carter, you could flip Doleman and Kennedy. I went with Doleman because of his tremendous consistency and longevity, but Kennedy is really just as deserving. First of all Kennedy’s 1992 season was one of the best ever enjoyed by a defensive player of the year. 92 tackles, 14 sacks and 4 forced fumbles for a defensive tackle? Unbelievable. But Kennedy was far from a one-year wonder. You could easily make the argument that Kennedy was the best defensive tackle in the NFL for the better part of the decade in the 1990's (apologies to 2010 Hall of Fame inductee John Randal). Here is another thing that made Kennedy so great, he played in every situation. He wasn't just a passing rushing DT or a run stuffing nose tackle. He was an athletic monster who never left the field and excelled in every situation, and that's what is so rare about him as a defensive tackle. I mean the guy played more then 90% of his snaps for his first six seasons, and that is just unheard of for an interior defensive lineman. Consider this since stats became an official stat (in 1982) Kennedy is one of only two defensive tackles with 150 starts, 50 sacks and 8 pro bowls (the other is hall of famer Randy White). The more I write about the guy, the higher I want to put him on the list. He dominated consistently, stood out among his peer group, and is still recognized as one of the greatest and most complete interior defensive lineman ever. He should be a hall of famer, but like many other deserving candidates, he probably won’t be getting the call in this class.
10. Dermontti Dawson, C, 1988-2000
-6x 1st Team All-Pro (1993-98), 7x Pro Bowl Selection (1992-1998), 1990’s NFL All Decade 1st Team
The unsung candidate in this class, Dawson probably should have already been enshrined. I mean six straight 1st team all-pro selections, seven straight pro bowls and a spot on the 1990’s All Decade Team are some pretty good credentials. The problem? Dawson played an under recognized position. While he was clearly the best center in the league for close to a decade, he was never given the credit he was due. It was like a forgone conclusion that Dawson was the league’s top center so no one ever really analyzed how good he really was. When comparing Dawson to his peers, he dominated his era at the center position as much as anyone in modern football (who else was unequivocally the best center in the league for 6 straight seasons?). He clearly deserves a spot in Canton. I hope the voters take the time to consider his resume, even if I wouldn’t quite put him in the top five of this group.
Deserving (but not quite worth top 5 consideration)
11. Jerome Bettis, RB, 1993-2005
-3,479 carries (4th all-time), 13,662 rushing yards (5th), 91 rushing touchdowns (t-10th), 15,111 yards from scrimmage (18th), 94 total touchdowns (t-22nd)
-1993 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, 2x 1st Team All-Pro (1993, 1996), 1x 2nd Team All-Pro (1997), 6x Pro Bowl Selection (1993-94, 1996-97, 2001, 2004), Super Bowl Champion (2005 Steelers)
Bettis is a beloved NFL runner, but clearly the third most deserving of the three running backs. The bus may have been incredibly popular with fans and the media, but in reality he was just a very solid back who’s durability allowed him to pile up gaudy statistics. That being said, you do have to give Bettis credit for his longevity and consistency. Eight thousand-yard seasons is nothing to sneeze at. But how did he distinguish himself? He was a three-time all-pro, but when would you consistently call him an elite running back? He was a tough runner, a workhorse who toted the rock a lot, but is that enough to be in the hall? He had a mediocre yards per rush average (3.9, below the adequate 4.0 of Martin, in less carries), was a below average receiver, and had to come off the field in third down situations. Bettis’ career numbers are great, his consistency is impressive, and he did get some accolades that could lead you to believe that he was an elite level performer in his prime. But, in my opinion, he didn’t do enough to separate himself beside carry the ball a lot…and that just isn’t quite enough in a class this loaded. Bettis time will probably come, but there are better candidates out there right now.
12. Andre Reed, WR, 1985-2000
-951 catches (10th all-time), 13,198 receiving yards (11th), 87 receiving touchdowns (12th), 88 total touchdowns (t-33rd)
-2x 2nd Team All-Pro (1989, 1990), 7x Pro Bowl Selection (1988-1994)
I was all over Reed’s case when discussing my criteria, and incase you couldn’t tell I think he falls just short. And, like Bettis, I think a big part of his problem is the two other finalists who happened to play his position and are clearly better candidates. I know Reed made as many all-pro teams as Tim Brown, but the 1990 selection was especially weak (945 receiving yards, 8 TDs. A good year but not all-pro material). Reed had a couple of very good seasons (1989 and 1994) without ever really having a monster year. He has great longevity (12 out of 13 seasons with 700 or more receiving yards) and good consistency, but he lacked a real elite-level peak. The career stats he accumulated just aren’t enough to differentiate himself in my opinion, especially if you combine them with a subjective assessment of his play (Rice, Brown, Carter, Sterling Sharpe at his peak and Irvin were all considered the better receivers during the time period). I know I said Reed played during the most talent filled era for receivers in NFL history, so I do still think he has a shot at getting inducted even if he was never one of the truly great receivers during his era. However, just like Bettis, there is just no way he is deserving in this class.
13. Charles Haley, DE, 1986-1999
-100.5 sacks (t-23rd all-time), 485 tackles, 2 Ints
-2x 1st Team All-Pro (1990, 1994), 5x Pro Bowl Selection (1988, 1990-91, 1994-95), 5x Super Bowl Champion (1988 and 1989 49ers, 1992, 1993 and 1995 Cowboys)
Haley is an interesting candidate, with a short (but dominating peak) that resulted in solid statistics and a good overall resume. The guy was one of the league’s elite defensive players when he was at best (16.0 sacks in 1990, 12.5 in 1994), but is there enough consistency there? Haley did reach double-digit sacks five times, but there were times when his production dropped so significantly that I don’t think he can possibly make the cut in this class. However, Haley’s most compelling support comes from being a winner. The guy was a legitimate force for five super bowl champions, and was a monster when the game was on the line. That’s why I would vote for Haley in a different year, but I just couldn’t do it here (although I don’t actually have a vote).
14. Richard Dent, DE, 1983-1997
-137.5 sacks (t-6th all-time), 671 tackles, 8 Ints
-Super Bowl MVP (1985), 2x 1st Team All-Pro (1984, 1985), 2x 2nd Team All-Pro (1988, 1990), 4x Pro Bowl Selection (1984-85, 1990, 1993)
Dent and Haley are two more candidates who easily could be flipped flopped and I wouldn’t argue. Dent, like Haley, had a heck of a prime recording 34.5 sacks in the 1984 and 1985 seasons. And unlike Haley, he delivered with consistency, reaching double-digit sacks eight times (in ten seasons between 1984 and 1993.) Dent also has the winner factor, as he was a terror on one of the greatest defenses ever with the 1985 Bears. His performance in the Bears’ Super Bowl victory that season was truly dominating as he recorded 2 sacks and 2 forced fumbles on his way to the game’s MVP. However I went with Haley over Dent because, fair or not, Haley did what Dent did (on a smaller scale) five times. Either way both Dent and Haley just don’t qualify for top five consideration in this class, so I don’t like their chances. Dent should have already been inducted, but in a strong class like this he just doesn’t merit consideration. And, like with so many other candidates that really is unfair.
Ed Sabol, Contributor (Founder of NFL Films)
I refused to consider Sabol with the players, another ridiculous aspect of the Hall’s Selection process. Sabol should have been in the Hall the day he captured the Ice Bowl on film and crafted it into the kind of sports immortality that is passed on from generation to generation. The fact that only five players can be selected is frustrating enough, but how do you judge Sabol against them? How do you take away one of their spots for Sabol, or take away Sabol’s spots for one of them (in my ballot it’d be Tim Brown’s HOF spot)? This needs to be changed because either Sabol is going to be punished by the process, or the player whose spot he takes will be. Sabol’s induction should not count towards the limit at all, and with all he did for the league his bust should have been chilling in Canton already. Either way the process is unfair to him.