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Pro Football Hall of Fame: Prepare for Big Stars, Bigger Controversy in Upcoming Voting

Randy Moss, Ray Lewis look like locks after semifinalists announced, plus more thoughts on how the 2018 HOF class might shake out

The Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2018 semifinalists were announced Tuesday night, and I can make this prediction: It’s going to be a year of big stars and big controversy.

The class of 27 semifinalists will be whittled to 15 in a vote by the 48 Hall of Fame selectors in the coming weeks. Of those 15, a maximum of five modern-era players and coaches can be enshrined when the Hall’s Class of 2018 is voted on in Minneapolis on Feb. 3.

The headlines from the release of 27 modern-era finalists:

• Ray Lewis and Randy Moss look like locks for election in 2018. There are no others. Lewis is easy. Some of you will say, Why is Moss a lock and Terrell Owens behind him? I’ll give you my thought—and keep in mind I’m just one voter of the 48 on the Hall panel. Randy Moss is the most consistently electric downfield threat in this wideout-dominating era of pro football. He’ll rightfully get dinged for occasionally dogging it, which is indefensible. But his talent over 14 seasons, and his 166 receiving TDs (regular season and playoffs), are undeniable. His 23-TD season with Tom Brady in 2007 may be the greatest season a wide receiver ever had. I have voted for Owens in the past, and will likely vote for him on the cut from 15 to 10. I think he belongs in the Hall, despite his disruptive team traits. I just like Moss more.


• Knocking on the door … I think an offensive lineman from a quality group will make it, particularly after Terrell Davis with his short career made it last year. Tony Boselli was as good at his position as Davis, and he was as good two years longer. Guard Steve Hutchinson (five-time first-team all-pro in 12 years) has a good shot too, as does guard Alan Faneca. Linebacker Brian Urlacher, Owens, cornerbacks Ty Law and Ronde Barber, safeties Brian Dawkins and John Lynch. I’ve named 11 players in these two paragraphs, and only five can make it.  

• No quarterbacks on the list. Only two modern-era passers (Brett Favre, Kurt Warner) have made the Hall in the past 11 years. It could be that the next three classes will be quarterback-free as well. Odds are that the next quarterback, Peyton Manning, will be enshrined in his first year eligible, 2021. Bypassed this year in his final year of modern-era eligibility: Phil Simms.

• Defensive backs get their due. The Hall has long been light on safeties, and there will be four of them (new: LeRoy Butler) and three corners bidding for a spot in the final 15. Everson Walls is a compelling candidate in his final year of modern-era eligibility. He’s the only cornerback in history to lead the NFL in interceptions three times; he’s got more picks than Deion Sanders and Darrell Green. Ty Law, who could be a big riser this year, and first-timer Barber should be locks for the final 15.

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I’ve long felt we need to hear new cases in the voting room, and I’m rooting for at least one of the four new semifinalists to make it. Walls, most notably. But Butler had an exemplary career, as did the other two newbies, pass-rushers Leslie O’Neal and Simeon Rice. The way the system works—the 15 finalists have their candidacies debated in the room, and the list is cut down to 10, and then to five, and the 48 voters vote yea or nay on those five. So if you aren’t one of the 15, you’re out of luck; your case doesn’t get debated. This is the first time for these four players, and it may be their last. Justice would be one or more making the final 15. O’Neil and Rice, though, could cancel each out. Each had dominant seven-year stretches of play a decade apart: O’Neal with 86 sacks, and Rice with 91.5. With such competition for the final 15, how do you choose one over the other?

My guess at the Class of 2018:

1. Ray Lewis. No debate.

2. Randy Moss. The only knock will be his occasional lack of effort, and it absolutely should be a knock to be questioned. I don’t think it’ll be enough to keep him out.

3. Tony Boselli. Terrell Davis: 78 games. Boselli: 91. One Boselli game that I covered is burned on my brain: Week 2, 1998, Derrick Thomas coming off a six-sack mauling of the Seahawks in Week 1. I covered it for SI, only to see this matchup of one of the game’s two best pass-rushers (along with Bruce Smith) versus the guy I thought was the best left tackle in the game, Boselli, head-to-head. Thomas never touched Jags quarterback Mark Brunell all day. He made one solo tackle--on the other side of the field from left tackle Boselli. Boselli’s got my vote.

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4. Brian Urlacher. Brain center and game-dictator for Chicago.

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5. Flippa Coin. I truly can’t predict. Law wouldn’t surprise me. Dawkins and Barber are worthy.

I say this before and after most meetings: I’d vote for more than five if it were an up or down vote on the final 15. Many more. I look forward to the debates leading up to the cutdown to 15, and then on Feb. 3.

Send me your reasoned and cogent cases, no more than 150 words … to … and I’ll use them in a future column. Thanks. Now for your email...

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Peter, I see your pro-SkyCam point, but in reverse order. The SkyCam is great for a second look, not for the initial one. SkyCam gives me a feeling of vertigo. And it doesn't look real: it looks like a video game, which is about as far for me from the strange beauty of NFL football as you can get. I've been watching normal mode since the 1950s, as well as attending games in several cities. To me, SkyCam is gimmicky.
—Tim B.

I respect your view, Tim. We can disagree on this. The way I feel, basically, is that there are 267 football games in a pro football season, including playoffs, and the occasional experiment is fun. I love to see the game from the quarterback’s perspective, as the play is developing, because I can think, If this is me, I’d throw it over here. Or wherever. The one thing that wasn’t cool: I didn’t like the edge rushers disappearing to the outside of the tackles occasionally; you need to be able to see them all the time if you’re going to judge the way a quarterback feels, and how much time he has to make a decision.

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Stephen Gostkowski nailed a 62-yard field goal at the end of the first half of the Pats-Raiders game in Mexico. The kick hit the back of the netting and seemed like it would have been good from another 10 yards at least. The record for longest field goal in NFL history belongs to Matt Prater who kicked a 64-yarder in Denver in 2013, in a stadium that affords kickers an unfair advantage due to the altitude. Estadio Azteca sits nearly 2,000 feet higher in terms of elevation than Mile High Stadium, providing kickers an even greater advantage. Had Gostkowski broken (or shattered) the record, would there have talk of placing an asterisk next to the record?
—Chris, Stamford, Conn.

Good question, Chris. I doubt it. Plus, I think if the altitude in Denver was such a huge advantage, there would be more than two 60-plus-yard field goals in Denver in the 58-year history of the franchise.

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One of the unfair things about football is that if a decent pass goes off or through a wideout’s hands and the other team catches it, the interception goes against the quarterback. By way of analogy, in baseball, when a ball goes by the catcher, it is ruled by the official scorer as either a wild pitch, which goes against the pitcher, or as a passed ball, which goes against the catcher. Isn’t it time for the NFL to do a similar thing with interceptions, rather than putting them all on the quarterback?
—Lawrence J., Rochester, N.Y.

You’re saying, I take it, that because two of the Nathan Peterman interceptions were tipped by another player before nestling into a Charger’s hands, only three of the interceptions should be assigned to Peterman. (I’m assuming that’s what you think, anyway.) Two reasons why I can’t see the stat changing: Let’s say you change the interception-designation now. Do you draw a line between all interception stats starting now and the years before, because the stats, presumably, would be deflated with fewer quarterback-assigned picks going forward? And then, what of tipped touchdown catches … do you change the assignment of an touchdown if the ball was tipped? If not, why change an interception and not change a touchdown?

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Bueller here. Denver fans have now seen at least two 100-yard interception returns that weren't touchdowns. Both were at home and on the same side of the field. In the 2005 AFC divisional playoff game against the Patriots, the great Champ Bailey intercepted the great Tom Brady in the end zone and raced down the sideline. It looked like an easy score, but Bailey ran out of steam and a steaming Benjamin Watson blasted him out at the 1. Wacky stuff always seems to happen in Denver.
—Chris, Vancouver

Chris, you’re one of six people to tell me what an idiot I am for forgetting that one. My apologies for not recalling a great play by Watson.

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I made the choice last night to mute the game and watch your entire session with Jason Witten and his Monday regimen. I made a great choice and it opened up an unknown world to me. I’m a former marathon runner (thank you, artificial hips!) and I wonder if I would still be putting in the miles or without extra hardware in my body if I had applied similar techniques years ago. You asked the right questions of Witten and the team assisting him and the science and technology available to athletes is a bit mind-boggling. But if I’m an owner and investing cash to insure a player produces over the long term, I better invest as well in this support team and procedures. Witten impressed me; I hit the internet to delve into his background and it’s interesting to say the least. Well-spoken, committed to task family guy who takes his work seriously. Did you ask the question about CTE and I wonder what his response was or could have been?

Also, I was a bit skeptical this year with the expansion of the column and writers as I thought we’d lose the key ingredient that drew me to the column in the first place—your writing. You continue to provide quality pieces of your choice while enabling other competent staff to step up to provide as well.  Please continue the outstanding columns! Thanks.
—Chuck L.

Wow. Thank you, Chuck. And thanks for the nice email. To be clear, this was a story I did for NBC; the network was kind enough to let my send it out from my Twitter account and in my Monday column. I’m lucky that both NBC and SI give me the chance to work on these stories. I did ask about CTE, and he’s concerned. He just loves the game so much and he’s one of those players willing to take the risk while being smart about head trauma. I believe if he thinks he was taking too many head hits that he’d get out.

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I'm shocked by the lack of coverage on the (7-2) Vikings playing the (7-2) Rams by both you and the national media. Obviously the bigger markets make for bigger stories, but that lead in on the (3-6) Chargers beating the (5-4) Bills, who were starting a QB that was in so far over his head that he couldn't see the light of day, was disappointing. If it was the (7-2) Patriots playing the (7-2) Steelers, the NFL news world would have been all over this. We never would have heard the end of the previews, or the post-game analysis. But two NFC juggernauts who both hadn't lost since Canadian Thanksgiving is basically forgotten?

Thanks for the input, Brett. I rarely write two weeks in a row with the same team, and I wrote 775 words the previous Monday on Case Keenum and the win in Washington.

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Situations are rarely the same, but Mike Zimmer should follow Jimmy Johnson’s example. In 1991 with Troy Aikman hurt, the team won their last five with Steve Beurlein and a playoff game even when Aikman was available to play. While Teddy Bridgewater may be the future, the present suggests sticking with what’s working, and that's Case Keenum.​
—Mark P.

I agree. The future is Bridgewater, and it may be Bridgewater before the end of the season. But it's not time to mess with success, with six wins in a row, and a journeyman quarterback playing the best football he's played in the NFL.

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Jay Cutler ... Last-place offense with what on paper looks like a lot of weapons. Brett Hundley ... Can’t even put three points on the board Sunday at home. Blake Bortles ... Struggles to beat the Browns with the best D in the league behind him. When the players you have are this poor, the comment ‘Colin Kaepernick doesn’t fit my scheme’ is either a coach falling on the sword for an owner who wants to uphold the collusion or a coach admitting he is not smart enough or creative enough to effectively use a player with more skill/ability/talent than what he has on his roster.

You get no argument from me on that. Teams are afraid of angering their fan bases if they sign Kaepernick. They should be worried about angering their fan bases by sending out a slew of crappy quarterbacks.

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