As the Pro Football Hall of Fame inducts its class of 2015 this weekend, we look ahead to next year's class and the long list of names expected to be up for serious consideration. In this week's Cover Two, SI.com's Doug Farrar and Chris Burke lay out the Hall of Fame cases for six NFL greats who are still waiting on that bust in Canton.
Doug Farrar: Don Coryell. With the exception of Sid Gillman, no one person in NFL history did more to push the vertical passing game forward than Coryell, and it's still a shock to me that he isn't in Canton. Coryell developed his passing game principles over 12 years at San Diego State out of necessity because his school couldn't recruit with bigger schools for the best running backs and offensive linemen. So, he decided to, in his own words, “throw the hell out of the ball.” Coryell took that principle to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1973 and immediately made a formerly dormant team into a force to be reckoned with.
Over his five years in St. Louis, the Cardinals always ranked in the top 10 in total yards and never lower than 11th in total points. Coryell's 42-27-1 record was marred by an inability to win a playoff game. He left the Cardinals in 1977 and took his high-flying offense back to San Diego, where he would create the NFL's most dynamic offense over the next few years with the Chargers. With quarterback Dan Fouts and a stacked offense, Coryell was the perfect fit in San Diego. From '78 through '86, Coryell's Chargers finished first in yards five times and first in points three times.
The Chargers won playoff games under Coryell but could never reach the Super Bowl. It shouldn't matter for a man who was a Hall of Fame finalist in 2015 and passed away in 2010 without ever knowing induction into the sport's greatest fraternity. The NFL should remedy this slight as soon as possible for one of its greatest innovators and strategists.
Chris Burke: Brett Favre. Favre will be a first-ballot entry, so there's not much use diving deeper into his qualifications. For the moment he still holds the NFL records for most completions, attempts and passing yards (and interceptions and fumbles). Favre played for 20 years and won three MVPs, multiple Super Bowls ... the list goes on and on.
The record-setting QB might be the only newly eligible candidate to earn a Canton trip in 2016, though, because of the quality of holdovers.
Kurt Warner: If not for his middling stint with the Giants, Warner would have an airtight Hall of Fame case, but few players have enjoyed a more unusual journey to the top—and a more unbelievable reclamation journey back to the top after falling off the ledge. A former Packers camp washout, Arena League star and night-time grocery store stock boy, Warner was signed by the Rams as a fourth quarterback in 1998 and served an apprenticeship as the Amsterdam Admirals' quarterback. When starting quarterback Trent Green suffered a torn ACL in the 1999 preseason, Warner was thrown into the fire, and never looked back with one of the more remarkable periods of sustained excellence at the position.
He was the consensus NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP in 1999, and drove the “Greatest Show on Turf” over the next three seasons with amazing stats. Injuries and fumbles ended his tenure in St. Louis in 2004, and he spent one unremarkable season with the Giants as Eli Manning's mentor and understudy. Warner signed with the Cardinals in '05 and had two more so-so seasons before Ken Whisenhunt was hired as the team's coach in 2007. The Whisenhunt-Warner combination led to offensive totals Warner hadn't enjoyed since his salad days in St. Louis, and he came minutes away from winning it all a second time before the Steelers' remarkable comeback in Super Bowl XLIII. Warner retired in 2009 as a statistical marvel, but more importantly, as a testament to the power of perseverance. Fittingly, he probably won't make the Hall on his first go-round, but he'll get there eventually.
Burke: Tony Dungy. This is an interesting case because the external perception of Dungy as a virtual shoo-in may not match reality. It certainly was not a shock to see him left out this year in his first time on the ballot.
We hear every year how the voters are not supposed to consider anything other than on-field performance, but Dungy's reputation as one of the game's most respected personalities without question plays to his advantage. So, too, will his title as the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl, which he accomplished with the 2006 Colts.
Speaking of which, Dungy was a ridiculous 85–27 in Indianapolis and also helped establish an iconic modern-era defense in Tampa Bay. That the Buccaneers hit their peak in 2002, one year after Dungy left, should not detract from his case much. They won the Super Bowl after firing Dungy, but Dungy laid the groundwork for the championship run.
Farrar: Terrell Owens. In the “bold type” stats department, Owens would seem to be a sure-fire Hall of Famer. He currently ranks sixth in career receptions with 1,078, second in receiving yards with 15,934 and fifth in career touchdowns with 156. Even in a era in which the expanded passing game rendered the statistical accomplishments of receivers somewhat unremarkable in comparison to previous eras, these are undoubtedly Hall of Fame numbers.
Owens is a six-time Pro Bowler and a five-time First-Team All-Pro who was far more than a stat collector—in his healthy prime, he was the primary weapon of every passing game he was a part of. The only question regarding his candidacy, really, is how much his well-deserved reputation as a difficult individual and locker-room cancer will show up in the voting process. In a hypothetical vacuum, and even with the recent logjam of top players at the receiver position up for consideration, Owens should be in Canton ... someday.
Burke: Kevin Greene: Greene is a four-time finalist who keeps falling just short. His time could arrive in 2016.
Even if his game was rather one-dimensional, Greene was downright dominant at his specific skill: pass rushing. His 160 career sacks rank behind only Reggie White (198) and Bruce Smith (200). On the other hand, having his career coincide with those players' NFL runs might be part of what has held Greene back—Lawrence Taylor was destroying offenses when Greene broke into the league; the likes of White, Smith and Michael Strahan all thrived while Green was active.
He was a phenomenal pass rusher, but was he ever the best pass rusher in the league? Even if some voters would argue that he was not, the overall résumé is too good to ignore.
All of those other players mentioned are now in the Hall. With Charles Haley also entering, as part of the 2015 class, there are minimal roadblocks left in Greene's way.