State Your Case: Why has history ... and the Hall ... forgotten 49ers' Randy Cross?
The San Francisco 49ers dominated the 1980s, winning four Super Bowls in nine years. So how come they don’t dominate the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
I know, I’ve been asking that question for months, but I don’t get it. The 49ers of the 1980s are underrepresented, and look no farther than their storied West Coast offense. Joe Montana and Jerry Rice are the only starters from those teams who’ve been enshrined, and Rice missed half the decade and two of the Super Bowls.
Contrast that with, oh, say, the St. Louis Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf”, and you know something's amiss. The Rams have four offensive starters in Canton, plus a 2020 finalist, from a team that won one Super Bowl.
So let’s get back to San Francisco. I’ve pushed running back Roger Craig before, and at least he made this year’s Centennial Class of 20 finalists. Then again, he didn’t make the Hall. So let’s go in another direction. Let’s try the offensive line.
Let’s try Randy Cross.
He played guard and center and was so good he was named to the all NFC team at both positions. He blocked for Craig and Wendell Tyler. He protected Montana. He played on three Super Bowl winners. And he not only started all 13 years with the 49ers but was named a four-time All Pro, including three as a first-teamer, and six-time all-NFC – including 1980 when the 49ers were 6-10 and 1988, his last year as a pro.
Yet he’s never been a Hall-of-Fame finalist or semifinalist.
“Randy Cross,” said historian John Turney of Pro Football Journal, “was a technician. He wasn’t going to blow people off the ball like (John) Hannah or (Mike) Munchak, but he would make his blocks, pull well and was a better pass blocker than the ‘hit-and-miss’ types because he didn’t whiff going for the ‘kill shot.’ You could win with Randy Cross, and the 49ers did.”
OK, so the guy wasn’t all-decade. Neither was Rams’ wide receiver Isaac Bruce, yet he was just elected to the Hall’s Class of 2020. No question, he’s deserving. But he was never a first-team All-Pro and played on two fewer Super Bowl winners than Cross.
Bruce reached Canton in his sixth year of eligibility. Cross hasn’t gotten a sniff in 27 years as a candidate. Yet he was a critical piece of one of pro football grandest dynasties, a 49ers’ club that won five Super Bowls between 1981-94 and never had fewer than 10 victories for 16 consecutive years.
So what gives?
I’ve heard Denver fans complain about the Hall’s failure to induct more Broncos, and I get it. At one point, they had twice as many Super Bowl appearances (eight) as inductees (4). But that’s been addressed with the elections of six former Broncos, including owner Pat Bowlen, the past four years.
That hasn’t happened with the 49ers of the 1980s. They have two more Lombardi Trophies than offensive starters in Canton, and that seems as egregious. They didn’t just get to the Super Bowl. They never lost when they got there. Granted, Montana was magnificent – one of the game’s greatest ever -- but he didn’t win those championships alone. There were others who deserved recognition.
Yet Canton’s not paying attention.
Craig was a Hall-of-Fame finalist once (2010) as a modern-era candidate. Cross never made the radar. Both were so talented they were named to all-NFC teams at two positions – Craig as a fullback and running back; Cross as a guard and center.
And maybe that's the problem with someone like Cross. Hall voters are slow to act on guards (see Alan Faneca), but they're slower to act on centers. When Kevin Mawae was enshrined in 2019, he became just the second center in 21 years to join Canton.
Yet Cross was so valued, so versatile and so durable that he started 193 of 198 games with San Francisco (including the playoffs) and missed only one start in the last eight non-strike seasons of his career.
Appropriately, his last was one of the 49ers’ best – a 20-16 come-from-behind defeat of Cincinnati in Super Bowl XXIII, clinched with a Montana-to-John Taylor touchdown pass with 34 seconds left.
“It was perfect,” Cross once said. “It’s what you dream of being able to do when you’re a young kid growing up. That was something out of the movies. You didn’t get to go out with a Super Bowl as your final game.”
That was Randy Cross’ reward for a memorable career, but he and his teammates deserve more from Canton. Here’s hoping they get it.