T.O. and Tagliabue, Still on the Outside

On and off the field, Super Bowl weekend solidifies legacies—but contentious Hall of Fame candidates Terrell Owens and Paul Tagliabue will have to wait at least another year for their moment
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HOUSTON — There’s no more important 24-hour span in the NFL for defining legacies: five new Hall of Fame candidates, an NFL MVP and a Super Bowl champion are determined between 8 p.m. Saturday and the end of Super Bowl Sunday.

For Matt Ryan, this has the potential to be the kind of weekend he and the Falcons have envisioned since he was drafted No. 3 overall in 2008. For most of his nine-year career, Ryan has been considered to be just outside of the very upper tier of quarterbacks in the NFL. But a season with 4,944 passing yards and 38 TDs to just seven interceptions earned him the MVP award by a significant margin, with Ryan picking up 15 more votes than runner-up Tom Brady.

The MVP is a regular-season award, voted on by a panel of 50 reporters and broadcasters after Week 17. Having the player who is announced as MVP on the eve of the Super Bowl playing in the game the next day is a hit-or-miss prospect.

Even slimmer of a chance is that player winning both titles in the same year. It’s happened 10 times in NFL history, including in the first Super Bowl, with Packers quarterback Bart Starr, but not since 1999 with Kurt Warner. So Ryan has the chance to pull off a feat that hasn’t happened yet this century, not even by Brady or Peyton Manning.

Brady has four rings. He’s already one of the greatest of all time. With a fifth ring today, there would be more consensus for him being the greatest of all time. Ryan, on the other hand, is trying to claim a stake as one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Ryan has always had the talent; this year is about having the big-game results to go with it.

 “He has, I feel, been slighted for some time,” Matt Ryan’s high school coach, Brian McCloskey, said during The MMQB’s visit to Penn Charter after the NFC Championship Game. “I have always felt Matt Ryan is one of the premier guys in the league, but knowing that if you don’t win Super Bowl you are not going to be in that conversation. We are hoping now, at least—he doesn’t have the ring yet but hoping he gets that ring—he can be part of that conversation.”

Legacies are a funny thing, which is why there has been so much debate over this year’s Hall of Fame class, which was notable especially for who didn’t get in. Terrell Owens was not elected for a second straight year, and Paul Tagliabue, league commissioner for a 17-year period of tremendous growth, was also passed over. Both sparked emotional reactions around the league.

Owens’ on-field contributions are indisputable—second all-time in career receiving yards, and a dominant force at receiver for a full decade and a half—but those Hall of Fame credentials have been offset by the perception that followed him for most of his career as a problematic teammate. The fact that Owens didn’t even make the cut from 15 down to 10 indicates the degree of resistance among the 48-person selection committee. As stunning as it may seem given his dominance as a player, those results indicate he could be waiting quite some time for a gold jacket. Many of his contemporaries privately and publicly expressed outrage, at not only Owens' omission but the fact that it appeared to highlight a highly political selection process.

As for Tagliabue, his waving off of the concussion issue in the ’90s, and the league’s turning a blind eye to head injuries for much of his tenure, no doubt damaged his candidacy for joining in Canton the very men at risk for long-term impacts of brain trauma due to the sport. A New York Times article published the morning of the Hall of Fame vote detailed Tagliabue’s role in diminishing the link between contact on the football field and brain injuries. Some around the league, however, wondered how the owner of a team (Jerry Jones) could gain admission to the Hall before a commissioner who grew the NFL to become the most popular sport in America.

Prediction: Tagliabue gets in the Hall before Owens does.

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