These guys should be in the Hall
Aug 5, 2017Kevin SeifertNFL Nation CloseESPN.com national NFL writerESPN.com NFC North reporter, 2008-2013Covered Vikings for Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1999-2008Debate over the Pro Football Hall of Fame follows a reliable cycle of who, why, how, why
Debate over the Pro Football Hall of Fame follows a reliable cycle of who, why, how, why not and who’s next.
Terrell Owens defended himself against Hall of Fame voters’ assertions that he was a bad teammate, saying in an interview Wednesday that he isn’t going to allow the critics to “step over me.”
We’ll enter that final stage after Saturday’s induction ceremonies for the Class of 2017. So let’s get a head start on the discussion by revisiting and updating our list of candidates who are currently eligible. This is not dissimilar to the way the voting committee itself views the process, perpetually addressing the waiting list while fending off all but the obvious first-ballot shoo-ins moving forward.
Two members of last year’s list, quarterback Kurt Warner and running back Terrell Davis, will be enshrined Saturday. I haven’t changed my mind on the other eight, so we’ll add two new names to the list to restore our list of 10 candidates.
1. Terrell Owens, wide receiver | First eligible: 2016
The argument for: Owens finished his career in 2010 with the second-most yards (15,934), second-most touchdowns (153) and fifth-most receptions (1,078) among receivers in NFL history. He was one of the best of his generation.
The holdup: Deserving receivers sometimes find themselves at the end of the line. (See: Cris Carter.) But some voters also have been swayed by accounts of intense disruption Owens brought upon the teams he played for, suggesting that his antics caused tangible outcomes. Read: fewer wins.
The outlook: The impact of a player’s behavior on the health of a team is an awfully subjective criteria. If it holds back Owens, will it do the same to Randy Moss, another game-changing receiver? Either the objecting voters will drop their opposition, their fingers wagged and their point made, or Owens and perhaps Moss will be waiting for a while.
2. John Lynch, safety | First eligible: 2013
The argument for: At a time when safeties were either run-supporters or cover men, Lynch demonstrated the value of a multitool safety. He could do it all, with power and intelligence. His career was so dominant that two teams — the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Denver Broncos — have enshrined him in their Ring of Honor/Fame.
The holdup: Safety is a rarely rewarded position — only eight who played the position exclusively in their careers have been enshrined — and favors players with high interception totals. Lynch picked off 26 passes in 16 seasons. There has also been a logjam of other credible candidates, from Kenny Easley (2017 class) to Steve Atwater.
The outlook: Lynch has been a finalist in four consecutive years, which suggests continued interest — or the end of a long argument.
3. Jerry Kramer, guard | First eligible: 1974
The argument for: In 1969, at the end of his career, Kramer was voted the best guard in the history of the NFL. Incidentally, he is also responsible for the most famous block in NFL history, having paved the way for Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr to score the winning touchdown in the 1967 NFL Championship Game. Kramer is a 10-time Hall finalist.
The holdup: Among other reasons, there are 11 Packers teammates from the Packers’ Vince Lombardi era.
The outlook: Kramer would have to be nominated by the seniors committee, which last happened in 1997. He did not receive the required votes to be enshrined then and faces a backlog of other qualified candidates. Frankly, if it were going to happen, it probably would have happened by now.
4. Don Coryell, coach | First eligible: 1986
The argument for: As the architect of the San Diego Chargers’ offense in the late 1970s and 1980s, Coryell changed the game and was largely responsible for spurring today’s pass-happy schemes. His “three-digit” downfield passing offense still influences most coaches, as does his creative use of pass-catching tight end Kellen Winslow. By splitting Winslow outside, Coryell forced defenses to create the nickel and dime schemes we now see every play.
The holdup: His win-loss record doesn’t fit traditional Hall standards. Coryell never reached the Super Bowl in 14 years as the head coach of the Chargers and St. Louis Cardinals. When his career ended, his 111 victories ranked No. 14 in the NFL.
The outlook: It’s a long shot but fortunately there is no time limit on the eligibility of coaches.
5. Alan Faneca, offensive lineman | First eligible: 2016
The argument for: Named to the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 2000s, Faneca was one of the best linemen of his generation. That is arguably the most important component of any candidacy. He was named to nine Pro Bowls and six All-Pro teams in 13 seasons, mostly with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The holdup: Offensive line is by far the most difficult position to judge given its lack of objective statistics.
The outlook: To miss out on a first and second ballot isn’t exactly a snub. Faneca seems likely to get in eventually.
6. George Young, executive | First eligible: N/A
The argument for: After taking over a struggling Giants franchise in 1979, Young spurred a 30-year run of four Super Bowl victories. He promoted Bill Parcells to head coach, drafted quarterback Phil Simms and linebacker Lawrence Taylor and hired his successor (Ernie Accorsi). Young even hired the Giants’ current general manager, Jerry Reese, as a scout.
The holdup: There haven’t been many enshrinees who were solely executives. The short list includes Jim Finks, Bill Polian and Ron Wolf.
The outlook: The 2014 decision to create a “contributors” committee gives Young and people like him a better chance. Nominations from the committee count separately toward the maximum annual class size.
7. Paul Tagliabue, commissioner | First eligible: N/A
The argument for: Tagliabue presided over a rare 17-year run of labor peace, no small task given the league’s history and what has happened since he retired. He saw to an expansion from 28 to 32 teams, recognized the game’s growing place in American culture and applied humane and dignified treatment to aggrieved communities from New Orleans to Cleveland and elsewhere.
The holdup: Serving for a nearly two decades is in itself not a qualification. And it’s difficult to reconcile the league’s subversive dismissal of the growing concussion crisis under his watch.
The outlook: There are many people in league circles who credit Tagliabue with the NFL’s current economic and civic status. They compare his tenure increasingly favorable relative to his successors. But at least some voters consider the concussion response a disqualifying event. This will be a tough one to see though.
8. L.C Greenwood, defensive end | First eligible: 1986
The argument for: Greenwood, who died in 2013, was a critical part of the Steelers’ historic Steel Curtain defense. The team credited him with 73.5 sacks in 13 seasons, though sacks were not an official statistic during his career. Four of those came in Super Bowl X, one of four championships he won with the team.
The holdup: Much like Kramer, he has been overshadowed by a long list of teammates who were also worthy of enshrinement.
The outlook: Greenwood has been a finalist six times, most recently in 2006. His future eligibility is in the hands of the seniors committee, which perpetually deals with a backlog.
9. Isaac Bruce, wide receiver | First eligible: 2014
The argument for: When he retired in 2009, Bruce ranked as one of the most proficient receivers in NFL history. He ranked second in yards (15,208), fifth in catches (1024) and eighth in touchdowns (91). And he did it despite sharing the stage for nine seasons with teammate Torry Holt, another credible Hall candidate.
The holdup: As we’ve noted, it can take some time for receivers to get to the front of the line. And the Holt factor could work both ways. It’s true they had to share the ball. But they also spread out defenses and minimized double coverage against each other.
The outlook: He was a finalist for the first time this year, suggesting progress along the path. He’ll get there.
10. Kevin Mawae, center | First eligible: 2015
The argument for: Like Faneca, Mawae was a member of the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 2000s. He earned eight Pro Bowl bids and was a seven-time All-Pro. That’s the profile of an offensive lineman who qualifies as among the best of his generation.
The holdup: Only seven centers have been enshrined in the history of the Hall, the most recent being Dermontti Dawson — who retired in 2000 and was enshrined 12 years later.
The outlook: Mawae was a finalist this year, a good sign about where things might be heading. He’ll continue to be in the conversation for the next few years at least.
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