Debating Hall of Fame candidates with a true football historian
I have, sent by the Hall of Fame, a gigantic roster of names marked CONFIDENTIAL, which means that I can't wait to tell you about it.
Oh, I've gone through this drill before -- once I believe. It involves sorting through something they call a Preliminary List, which means names that snuck in through leaks in the pipes, cracks in the wall, windows when no one was looking ... all sorts of creative ways ... 113 names, total.
Once upon a time I found it amusing to focus on the more obscure names, but no longer.
I've grown up now. Matured, in other words. So when I tell you that this list of folks in all walks of former NFL life will be further subjected to the addition of any favorites we feel the Hall has missed (actually it's the Hall's VP
Now normally I kind of like all this list-making-and-breaking, but something from the last Selection meeting stayed in my mind and then rang the gong for a Future Column. Green Bay's
It got me thinking, which is a major achievement. Why not run the whole preliminary list by Ron when I get it? The answer is: who has that much time? Well, I do, especially in the offseason, and it turned out that Wolf did, too. It's what happens when a pair of ancients get together and start reminiscing about the great old players they'd seen, great moments, great games -- anything great, as long as it was in the thick mists of long ago.
So as we head into the month that really defines the offseason, June, here is my attempt to get one of the game's most revered chroniclers to cast some light on the current roster of future immortals. I can't list every name, so you're going to trust my judgment on those I consider the stickouts. First a general question to Ron Wolf. What constitutes a Hall of Famer?
"A guy who has made a difference," he said. "A unique performer during his time in the game. A person who dominated."
Let's look at our initial category, First-time eligibles. Forty strong.
"Well, he made the tight end position more of a receiving position," Wolf said. "Performed well in big games. For what he accomplished, I guess you'd have to say he was a game-changer. I think he belongs."
I didn't see any other offensive players who thrilled me, but here's a name, Vikings DT
I've argued this one for almost 15 years. Dynamite inside pass rusher, agreed, but so unsound against the run that he'd cause problems for those around him. I have yet to find one person who agrees with me. "Old-fashioned, leather-helmet thinking,"
Yeah, I've heard already. Let's move on.
"I have no trouble with either defensive back, though. Rod Woodson certainly deserves it. Darren? Played a unique position for the Cowboys. Did everything a safetyman had to do, strongside or weak. Hell of a special teamer, too. Yes, a terrific player, a Hall of Famer."
Wait a minute. Wolf is supposed to be a tough grader, and that's five names he's already approved. And we're not even out of the new entries yet. And two Seniors still must make it. See how tough it is? Every year. Same problem.
On we go to the 38 players who were up in previous years and never made it. QBs are strong.
"It's the grey area," Wolf said. "Good players, all of them good enough to win, but Hall of Famers? I don't think so. You could add
I was on the opposing side of that argument on this one. Yes, but those four years were sensational, and in two of them the Broncos rode his shirttails to Super Bowl triumphs.
"Four good years -- I don't think that's enough," Wolf said. Fine, but I think I have the clinching argument here. It's a two-word argument, a player both Wolf and I respect above almost anyone else.
"Oh, man," Wolf said. "Ran back kicks and punts, passed, ran, punted, and then in his last year played defensive back."
A phenom for the rival All-America Football Conference, which had as many superstars as the NFL did, don't let anyone tell you different (not that anyone who is sane would hold such a conversation 60 years later). Single-wing tailback for the New York Yankees, and many a Sunday did I sit in the Stadium, yelling my lungs out for Spec and little
His knees were shot in 1949, and he was out of the game, but in 1950 the Yankees were absorbed into the NFL and Spec came back as a defensive halfback -- they didn't call them cornerbacks then. His 13 interceptions were a league record, topped only by
"Damn right he was," Wolf said. "Nobody ever did the things he did."
Well, ahem, three years in the AAFC, one in the NFL. Is Terrell Davis a Hall of Famer?
"You've given me something to think about," he said.
We move on, through a strong field of tight ends,
How about the wideouts?
"A lot of catches," Wolf said, "but did he dominate?"
"Monk wouldn't be a choice of mine," Wolf said. "Did people say, when they played the Redskins, 'We've got to stop Art Monk?'
"Same thing with Carter. Who was the guy who worried you on that team? The speed guy on the other side,
A pause for reflection. Cris Carter on the goal line, Carter against coverage on the sideline. Better think it through.
"Yeah, when they got in close, it was Carter you had to worry about," Wolf said. "When they needed the key first down, who did they go to? Moss? No, it was Carter. Plus he was an S.O.B. to cover. Now look what happened. Initially I dinged Carter, but when all is said and done, he really is deserving."
So how many has he put in the Hall already? Seven? Eight? And we still have the linemen who lost out last time, plus the defensive players.
I told him I'd always been in ex-Falcon
The name of Kenn reminded me of
"Of all the names I could have had that would have inspired fear," he used to say. "Rocky. Bruiser. My parents had to name me Winston ... Winnie to everyone. I mean could you see a defensive lineman terrified because he had to go up against a Winnie?"
"So graceful, so beautiful to watch,"
"That's my man, bingo!" Wolf said. "You talk about a guy whose name you never hear now, that's him. I'd love to see the Seniors Committee propose him."
We all have our own favorites, players you could almost consider personal quirks. Hill is one of Ron Wolf's. So is defensive back
"Drove an old jalopy over the mountains after we'd traded with Oakland for him, and arrived in camp in the evening, just as it was getting dark,"
Here's another longshot, ex-49er
"Sometimes one particular talent stays with you," Wolf says. "Take
"He would say to
'And Eugene, who will I be playing against?'
'Joe Greene, George.'
'Thank you, Eugene.' "
From an impressive list of linebackers, Wolf selected
"Every time the Broncos come up, they're always pushing
"Old-time payer, lunch pail guy," Wolf says. Yes, but he also had 20 ½ sacks one year. Unfortunately that was the year before sacks became an official statistic.
Are you counting how many players we have already put in the Hall between us? And Wolf is supposed to be a hard guy, right? I told him to fasten his seat belt because the list of defensive backs from this category -- considered but not enshrined -- would blow him away. And it did.
"My God, what a group" Wolf said. "A stunning group. I can think of seven who deserve it."
Which two don't?
"Atwater and Allen."
How about the others?
"Well, if I were drafting them, this is the order in which I'd pick them. No.1 Easley. The best safety I've ever seen. The crème de la crème. Unfortunately, he got hurt. Plus he played in Vladivostok, where nobody ever heard of him.
"No. 2, Hayes. Why isn't he in the Hall of Fame? Then Lewis, really smooth, almost a perfect cornerback. Then Butler, who I really have a special affinity for. As a strong safety, he and Darren Woodson were players who dominated. Could play the run, play the pass, really good tackler, effective blitzer, could set the defenses. Those Packer teams were really his teams.
"Finally, Wright, Riley and Shell, but they're all such great players."
"All I can tell you is that we went from a team that kept giving up field position, because of our punter, to one that forced the other team to have to go 78 or 80 yards."
Last area, coaches and contributors. I told Wolf that I had tried to get
"Just look at the impact this guy had on the game," Wolf said. "You know he coached the Bears' defense for a while, too. My second year as GM of the Packers, I'm in Minneapolis for the Super Bowl -- Washington against Buffalo.
"In 1962, I was a 23-year-old, working for
Well, we've almost come to the end of the line. How about the person, whose name is on the list as a "contributor," and who had just selected about 40 Hall of Famers for the Class of '09? Wolf has no illusions about being selected for enshrinement, but you never know.
This is the history.
Not a bad way to wrap up a career.