Del Shofner died last week at the age of 85, and maybe you heard. Then again, maybe you didn’t. It was easy to miss.
Let’s just say that Shofner’s death didn’t gain the attention you’d expect from a professional football player of his caliber.
But his life didn’t gain the attention you’d expect from the body that recognizes professional football players of his caliber, either … and, yes, I’m talking about the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was never elected to it, and he was never considered for it.
Go ahead, and look it up.
Del Shofner, star wide receiver for the Los Angeles Rams and New York Giants, was never a finalist for Canton. Yet he was one of two wide receivers named to the 1960s’ all-decade team, a unit chosen by the same Hall of Fame that kept him out.
So what? Well, so the other split end was Charley Taylor, and he’s in the Hall. Which means that Shofner is one of only two first-team all-decade wide receivers from the 1960s, ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s not chosen for Canton. The other is former Dallas star Drew Pearson, and he was a finalist for the Hall’s Centennial Class of 2020.
Shofner was not.
Puzzling? You bet. The guy was a five-time All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowler. Five times he was in the NFL's top four in receiving yards. Four times he was in the top four in receptions. Four times he was in the top four in receiving yards. And he still ranks 20th all-time in yards per catch.
One of the game’s most dangerous and feared deep receivers, Shofner averaged 18.5 yards per catch for his career – including 21.4 in 1958 and 21.5 in 1962. In fact, for nearly 20 years (1963-81), he was the NFL’s only four-time 1,000-yard receiver before Steve Largent and Charlie Joiner – both of whom are in Canton. Moreover, when Shofner helped the Giants to three consecutive NFL championship games (1961-63), his 185 catches for 3,439 yards and 32 touchdowns were more than any receiver during that time.
Included in that run was an Oct. 28, 1962 defeat of Washington where he had 11 catches for 269 yards, and if that seems like a lot it was. Nearly 60 years later those 269 yards are still a Giants’ record.
“Del Shofner,” said historian T.J. Troup, “was elite. Del’s numbers are very impressive, and he was the whole package – excellent routes, run-after-the-catch, fly-paper hands and toughness to run inside routes.”
Shofner was a complete player. He punted for three years and averaged 42 yards a kick, good enough to put him in the top 10 each season. He played a little defense, too, with three interceptions and a sack. First and foremost, though, he was a receiver who had it all.
When Hall-of-Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle was asked once to evaluate his wide receivers, he said former 49ers’ teammate Billy Wilson had the best hands of anyone and the Giants’ Frank Gifford was the smartest. But “the best and most dangerous of them all,” Tittle said, was Shofner.
Maybe that's because he was more than an elite receiver. He was a pioneer, too, one of the first original deep threats in NFL history -- something that impressed another league historian, Pro Football Journal’s John Turney. As a guest on a Talk of Fame Network broadcast, Turney was asked to name five players he’d enshrine who aren’t in the Hall.
Del Shofner was one of them.
“He was the deep, deep threat who, pre-Bob Hayes, caused defenses to roll the zone to his side,” said Turney. “He was a split end, and, as you know, on the one-receiver side usually they (defenses) don’t roll the zone that way. They did that for Shofner. And they did that for Bob Hayes.”
Oh, yeah, Bob Hayes is in the Hall, too.
Injuries and illness forced Del Shofner from pro football after the 1967 season and, ultimately, caused Hall-of-Fame selectors to forget him. After all, they reasoned, he had five outstanding seasons … which was precisely the point: He had just five outstanding seasons. Yet he was a dominant receiver for those five years, and longevity – as we know now with the elections of Terrell Davis and Kenny Easley – is no longer the factor … and hurdle … it once was for Hall-of-Fame candidates.
Del Shofner deserved more from the Hall, and he didn’t get it. But don’t let his death go unnoticed. He was one of the great wide receivers of the modern era, and he should be remembered as such.
Follow on Twitter @ClarkJudgeTOF