The Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s 48 selectors meet Tuesday to choose the Class of 2021, with Peyton Manning and Charles Woodson first in line.
But you knew that.
What you might not know is that the board of selectors is composed of journalists, broadcasters and Hall of Famers, none of whom is what we’d call historians. And I always thought it odd that a board that deals with history doesn’t include historians.
So I decided to make the change and include them.
I assembled five historians, including two former Hall-of-Fame voters, to see how they see the modern-era Class of 2021. I asked for their choices, along with short explanations, and they delivered. No, they won’t be heard Tuesday, but they will now.
It’s about time.
KEN CRIPPEN, president and former executive director of Pro Football Researchers Association
PEYTON MANNING, QB – A no-brainer. With 14 Pro Bowls, numerous MVP and Player-of-the-Year awards, he led the league in multiple statistical categories multiple times. When he retired, he led the league in passing yards, passing touchdowns and consecutive seasons with at least 25 TDs passing. Finish it off with a couple of Super Bowl rings and a Super Bowl MVP, and not much else needs to be said.
CHARLES WOODSON, DB – Another no-brainer. A nine-time Pro Bowler and member of the 2000s’ all-decade team, he dominated in his 18 years in the league. He had six seasons in the Top 10 in interceptions and eight in the Top-10 pick-sixes, including being a leader at least once in each category. He is Top Five all-time in three different career categories.
ALAN FANECA, G – A nine-time Pro Bowl selection, a six-time first-team All-Pro and a member of the 2000s’ all-decade team. He was also selected to the Steelers’ 75th all-time anniversary team. He showed excellent agility and strength in his game and had great instincts. Finally, the toughness and endurance to play over 200 games as an offensive lineman cannot be overlooked.
JOHN LYNCH, S – A nine-time Pro Bowler, Lynch is a member of the Denver Broncos’ and Tampa Bay Bucs’ Rings of Honor. However, the stats are not what put him in the Hall of Fame (sorry, fantasy players). Neither are the honors. Lynch was a true leader on and off the field. He’s been a finalist eight times, and I think he should go in this year. It would not surprise me if voters look at areas outside his playing career (broadcasting and NFL executive) to push him over the top. They are not to use that making that decision, but we know it happens.
TONY BOSELLI, T – He had a shortened career of only seven years, but that hasn’t stopped 28 players from getting inducted with fewer games played. A five-time Pro Bowler, Boselli made the 1990s’ all-decade second team despite playing half the decade.
JOHN TURNEY, historian for Pro Football Journal
PEYTON MANNING, QB -- Some things are sure: Sun comes up in the East. It always rains after you wash your car. And Peyton Manning is a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
CHARLES WOODSON, DB -- He was special, even among special players. A "man" cover player who could take on the best receivers of his era and shut them down. He picked off passes, sacked the quarterback and when he tackled ballcarriers he forced a lot of fumbles. To me, one of the top five cornerbacks ever.
RICHARD SEYMOUR, DL – One of the best five-techniques (3-4 DE) ever. He could play the run with the best of the “5-techs”, and when he sank into a “3-tech” in passing situations he rushed well and drew double-teams. He was the best defender on the early Patriots’ championship teams.
CLAY MATTHEWS, LB – I’m rooting for him. No need to send him to the “senior swamp.” He’s worthy. Though Matthews was named to just four Pro Bowls, Mike Giddings – the father of NFL analytics, or ProScout, Inc. – had Matthews a “blue” (his term for All-Pro) five seasons and a “red” (Pro Bowl level) three times. He did it all, which didn’t allow him to focus on one thing, like the 1980s’ rush backers who got all the sacks. If Matthews did that full time, as he did in 1984, he’d be a 120-plus- career sack guy.
TONY BOSELLI, T or ALAN FANECA, G – I think at his peak, Boselli was a more dominant player than Alan Faneca. But Faneca had the longevity. To me, it’s a coin flip … and I think it’s Faneca’s year. But a short-career tackle deserves the same consideration as a short-career running back like Terrell Davis or safety, like Kenny Easley. So he should not be overlooked. But Faneca has the goods, too, and if the Hall puts Faneca in now and Boselli in next year, that’s fine.
IRA MILLER, former Hall-of-Fame voter, award-winning journalist and McCann Award recipient
TONY BOSELLI, T – I understand the argument about career length, but I look at it the other way. If these 15 guys were all the same age, and you were starting a team would he be picked in the first five? Absolutely.
ALAN FANECA, G – He’s waited long enough.
PEYTON MANNING, QB – Fairly obvious.
ZACH THOMAS, LB – He tends to get pigeon-holed: Smallish but hard worker. And that misses the point. He was very productive, as well as a leader on the field.
CHARLES WOODSON, DB – Another one who is fairly obvious.
T.J. TROUP, historian, author and football coordinator/consultant for the film “Leatherheads”
PEYTON MANNING, QB – To quote Bill Walsh: “Decisive and accurate.” Leadership and big-game competitor who understood coverage and maximized his receivers’ talents, whether they be Marvin Harrison, Dallas Clark or Reggie Wayne.
CHARLES WOODSON, DB –Durable. Versatile (he played corner and safety). Many times made game-changing plays. Solid tackler. And demonstrated leadership to youngsters he played with.
ALAN FANECA, G – Guess it is his turn? Durable and could make any in-line block, cross, trap and pull when asked. Solid in pass protection and on short-yardage. The Black and Gold ran behind him.
CALVIN JOHNSON, WR – Could play in any era. Excellent speed for a big man. Crisp routes. Reliable hands, durability and CONSISTENCY. His “numbers” and stats … especially in the category of 100-yard receiving games … are ultra impressive.
CLAY MATTHEWS, LB – My favorite Cleveland Brown of all-time. Other than early in his career when he had an injury, he was durable beyond compare. Who played outside linebacker as well for so long? No one. Why? Always had the savvy and ability to adapt and adjust. Played both weak side and strong side. Excellent in both “man” and zone coverage and very capable on the blitz. The complete package. To quote Dr. Z (former Hall-of-Fame voter Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated), and I agreed with him: “He must have sold his should to the devil like Mr. Applegate in “Damn Yankees”’ to play so well for so long.
VITO STELLINO, former Hall-of-Fame voter, award-winning journalist and McCann Award recipient
PEYTON MANNING, QB – The slam-dunk candidate in this class. To start with, he made 14 Pro Bowls and was a league MVP five times. Case closed.
CHARLES WOODSON, DB – I don’t tend to vote for many first-year candidates, but I can’t bypass a player who played 18 years and is tied for fifth in career interceptions with 65.
LeROY BUTLER, S – Safeties tend to get overlooked, but he could cover and come on the blitz. He was the first NFL player to have 20 sacks and 20 picks in his career.
ALAN FANECA, G – He’s due in his sixth year on the ballot. He hasn’t made it because voters tend to pick just one offensive lineman each year, and there has been a logjam at the position. But he made nine Pro Bowls, eight All-Pro teams as a guard … and even played tackle at one point. It’s time for him to make it.
TONY BOSELLI, T – He’s a great example of how a player who played in a small market, never made the Super Bowl and had a short career can be overlooked. But for five years he was the best left tackle in the game and stuffed Bruce Smith in a playoff game. It will be tough for him to make it this time if Faneca does, but he deserves a Gold Jacket.