(Former general manager Bobby Beathard is the contributor nominee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2018. In tribute to Beathard, we reprint Clark Judge's October, 2015, State Your Case, arguing for Beathard's inclusion in the Pro Football Hall of Fame).
Let’s get this out of the way up front: Former general manager Bobby Beathard belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
No, I don’t care that he drafted Ryan Leaf, and I don’t care that he drove Bobby Ross out of San Diego, either. People make mistakes, and Beathard made them. Big deal. Nope, I look at the body of work, and when I do I know one thing’s for certain.
Bobby Beathard belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And his case is easy to make.
He was part of seven Super Bowl teams, starting with Kansas City in 1966. As a first-time GM, he turned the woebegone Washington Redskins into one of the most successful franchises of the 1980s, leading them to three Super Bowls in seven years – two of which they won. They added another in 1991 -- and while Charley Casserly was the GM, it was Bobby’s players that manned the roster.
The Redskins have never been back.
Then it was off to San Diego where he took another bottom feeder – a Chargers team that went nearly a decade without making the playoffs – to its first Super Bowl in 1994. The Bolts have never been back, either.
He was more a scout than general manager, crossing the country in search of players nobody knew. And he would find them. During his 11 years in Washington, where his teams went 105-63, he exercised only three first-round picks … and he used them on Mark May, Art Monk and Darrell Green – with Monk and Green Hall of Famers. And while his methods were unconventional, the results spoke for themselves.
“The smartest man in the NFL,” proclaimed a Sports Illustrated story.
I recently asked a general manager of one Super Bowl champion and the owner of another if that headline was accurate; if, in fact, they considered Beathard the gold standard against which all others were measured. Each nodded.
“No question,” said the GM. “He was the best in the business.”
So why isn’t he in the Hall of Fame? Patience, people. He will be. Of that I’m convinced. With the recent creation of a contributors’ category, Beathard has a straight shot into Canton that, unlike previous years, isn’t cluttered by qualified players and/or coaches serving as road blocks.
That’s how Ron Wolf and Bill Polian made it this year. Both were qualified, and both made it as contributors. Now, former San Francisco 49ers’ owner Ed DeBartolo is the 2016 candidate, and my guess is that Beathard becomes one of the two choices in 2017. Reason: He's too good not to get in.
So why isn’t he there already? Good question. First of all, no personnel man outside of Jim Finks was inducted into the Hall until last year’s creation of a contributor category. So the numbers worked against him.
Second, Wolf and Polian were narrow choices over Beathard as first-time contributor candidates because there was more of a consensus for them, and I don’t care what you think about the move … they deserved to be in.
When the contributors committee met this year I predicted that the Wolf/Polian choices would hurt Beathard, simply because the committee would want to go in a different direction than another GM … and it did. It chose DeBartolo.
So timing conspired against him, too.
Then, of course, there’s the elephant in the room: Leaf. Beathard made him his first choice in 1998, and it was a disaster. Leaf turned out to be one of the biggest busts in draft history and an unforgettable blemish on Beathard’s resume.
But if you haven’t struck out on a high draft pick, a GM once told me, you’re not trying. So Beathard struck out.
He did what he had to do that year, which was find a quarterback for his football team, when the league was divided on Leaf vs. Manning. Unfortunately for Beathard, he didn’t have the first pick of that year’s draft.
I know people believe the Leaf pick keeps him out, but they’re wrong. Look, Willie Mays didn’t hit higher than .211 in two of his last three seasons, and John Unitas was 5-9 his last three years before buring out in San Diego. Both are slam-dunk Hall of Famers, as they should be.
Hall-of-Fame voters know the score, and they know Beathard had far more homers than strikeouts. They also know the Redskins and Chargers wouldn’t have made it to Super Bowls without him. And they know the impact he had on others, with GMs telling me they structured front-offices based on the Beathard model – where GMs made final decisions on rosters.
“With Bobby,” one said, “It was all about the organization. Everything he did was in the best interest of the organization. And it showed.”
When Bobby Beathard was a general manager there was nobody better … and that makes him extraordinary. It also makes him a candidate for the Hall of Fame. And when the best GM of his time wins multiple Super Bowls it not only makes him a candidate; it makes him an ideal choice.
So let’s not wait. Put Bobby Beathard in the next time he’s a candidate, and do it for the right reason: Because he belongs.