Handicapping the HOF field
(Photos courtesy of the San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
Look for at least one … and maybe as many as three … holdover modern-era candidates to cross the finish line when the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday announces its Class of 2015.
That’s the good news. The bad: There are eight all-decade finalists among the final 15, but only five chairs to fill. Pencil in former linebacker Junior Seau for one of those spots, but after that … well, the field is wide-open.
Here’s how we handicap it:
LB Junior Seau. He was a 12-time Pro Bowler and 8-time All-Pro. His record speaks for itself, but his premature death will make this an automatic choice. Seau doesn’t need sympathy votes to get in, but critics will contend he was so undisciplined he created his own scheme. Who cares? He made a gazillion tackles. Seau gets in sooner or later, and voters will make it now. "It has to happen," New England coach Bill Belichick said this week. It will.
MORE YES THAN NO
OT Orlando Pace. I ran into a Hall-of-Fame selector who said he spoke to GMs that strongly believe “The Greatest Show on Turf” wouldn’t have happened without Pace. Forget Kurt Warner or Marshall Faulk or Isaac Bruce, they told him; Pace, a seven-time Pro Bowler, was the critical element. I have a hard time buying that. But the board made left tackles first-ballot choices the past three years. It’s leaning that way now.
DE/LB Charles Haley. He’s a six-time finalist, but he’s been eligible for 11 years. Numerous ex-players line up for Haley’s inclusion in Canton, including Hall-of-Fame safety Ronnie Lott who called his selection a “no brainer.” Haley has five Super Bowl rings and 100 career sacks, but that’s 60 fewer sacks than Kevin Greene. Plus, he didn’t lead the Cowboys in that department in 1992-93, when they won two Super Bowls.
WR Marvin Harrison or Tim Brown. The smart money is on one of these two getting in, and Brown is making a late run to do what he did not a year ago – make it to the final 10. A six-year finalist, he's the only wide receiver from the 1990’s all-decade team not in the Hall of Fame. The others are Cris Carter, Jerry Rice and Michael Irvin, and there’s something else they don’t share with Brown: They had Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks; he did not. Harrison is a two-time finalist and could make it on the strength of more catches (third-best of all time) and touchdowns (28 more than Brown). Like Brown, he, too, is an all-decade choice, but he caught passes from Peyton Manning. Brown caught them from a raft of quarterbacks -- with Rich Gannon the best.
G Will Shields. He may be the most qualified candidate in this class, but he played a position that gets undersold. That’s not Shields’ fault. The guy was a 12-time Pro Bowler and seven-time All-Pro, and he played 14 seasons. Plus, there’s this: Beginning with a Sept. 12, 1993 game, he was in the Chiefs’ lineup for every game of his career – one that spanned 224 games.
ON THE BUBBLE
RB Jerome Bettis. A five-time finalist, Bettis is another candidate waiting at the finish line. He’s the league’s sixth all-time leading rusher, a four-time All-Pro and a member of the Steelers’ all-time team. So why’s he not in? Critics use his 3.9 yards-per-carry average against him, but get this: 77 of his 91 touchdowns were inside the 10. “That’s the guy I want on my team,” said one GM. “Those are the toughest yards to make.”
Coach Tony Dungy. He made a league-record 10 straight playoff appearances and was the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl. Dungy is one of three coaches up for the Hall, and he’s the favorite to make it first. That could be now. It could be later. But it will happen.
LB Kevin Greene. This is one that needs to happen sooner rather than later. Greene may have shuttled among four teams, but look what he did: Produce more sacks (160) than all but Bruce Smith and Reggie White. Greene didn’t make the final 10 two of the past three years, and don’t ask me why.
QB Kurt Warner. Some people have him as a lock. I don’t see it that way. Reason: He had a hole in the middle of his career, serving as a backup with the New York Giants and Arizona. But he did the near-impossible: He raised the Titanic twice, not only putting St. Louis and Arizona in the Super Bowl but winning a Lombardi Trophy. He was a two-time league MVP and a Super Bowl MVP. He should get in, but maybe not as a first-ballot choice.
K Morten Andersen. The game’s all-time leading scorer, he faces an uphill challenge because he’s a kicker. End of story. There’s only one pure kicker in the Hall, and it took over two decades to put the game’s greatest punter in.
Coach Don Coryell. An innovator and coach who resurrected the St. Louis Cardinals and San Diego Chargers, Coryell is knocked for his playoff record. He was 3-6, with no Super Bowl appearances. This is his second time as a finalist. The first time he didn’t make it to the final 10.
Coach Jimmy Johnson. A two-time Super Bowl champion, Johnson rebuilt the Cowboys so that they were THE team of the 1990s, winning three championships in four years. The third Lombardi Trophy was won by Barry Switzer, but he won it with Johnson’s players. This is his first time as a finalist.
S John Lynch. He has the credentials. But he played a position that is undervalued by the Hall. The last safety to be discussed? Try Cliff Harris. That was 2004. The last to be inducted? Paul Krause in 1998. The last to play? Ken Houston in 1980. Check, please.
RB Terrell Davis. For four years there was no better running back. He was a two-time Super Bowl champ. He was a Super Bowl MVP. He was a league MVP. And he ran for 2,008 yards in one season. Moreover, he had seven 100-yard games in eight playoff appearances and scored 12 times. The problem: Longevity. He flashed, but he didn’t flash for long.