Who was the biggest Centennial Class snub? We asked these four NFL historians
By now, you should know all about the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Centennial Class for 2020 -- mostly because it was announced last week. There are 15 members -- including 10 seniors -- and they'll be inducted when the Hall celebrates the NFL's 100th anniversary in September.
Coaches Jimmy Johnson and Bill Cowher will be there. So will former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue. And safeties Donnie Shell and Cliff Harris, wide receiver Harold Carmichael and tackle Jim Covert.
But Drew Pearson won't. The former Dallas wide receiver was one of 23 finalists who didn't make the final cut. The same goes for Denver linebacker Randy Gradishar, who admitted he was reduced to tears when he didn't hear his name called.
“It’s very difficult, very discouraging and very hard to accept,” Gradishar told the Denver Post’s Mark Kizla.
It was hard to accept, not just for Gradishar but for too many others.
And that got me to thinking: Who was the biggest snub among the Hall’s finalists? We know what the Hall got right. But where did it detour and miss its target? For that answer I consulted four NFL historians who weren’t part of the panel that chose the Centennial Class and asked each to name the biggest oversight. Here are their responses:
JOHN TURNEY, Pro Football Journal
“My snub and error are related. Not sure how the committee could include Ed Sprinkle, who made All-Pro twice and second team twice, over Al Wistert. He was first-team All-Pro six times and second team twice and was a key figure in two championships and the best blocker for the NFL’s leading rusher (Steve Van Buren) at the time. Pro Football Journal’s writers have reviewed lots of film on both, and, while Sprinkle was good, Wister was great – not only as a tackle but as a defensive pass rusher. Sprinkle had one testimonial: That of his own coach, Hall-of-Famer George Halas, who said he was the best pass rusher he ever saw (what … he didn’t see Len Ford, Gino Marchetti or Norm Willey?). Wistert’s testimonials include coach George Allen who, in his book, “Pro Football’s 100 Greatest Football Players, said Wistert “was as fine a blocker as you could want. He didn’t have the size to overpower people on the pass block, but he was a master of every kind of block.” As a defender, Wistert “always played in perfect position,” Allen said, “and was seldom off his feet. He was a superb pursuit man and seemed somehow to get in on every play. He was a sure tackler. He was maybe best against the run, but he was among the good early pass rushers.” Some may say there’s a case for Sprinkle, and that’s fine. But in a head-to-head comparison, there really is no comparison. Wistert’s career was superior to Sprinkle’s by quite a margin.
KEN CRIPPEN, president of the Pro Football Researchers Association
“To me, the biggest snub of the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s Centennial Class was Lavvie Dilweg. During his time in the league he helped the Green Bay Packers win three consecutive NFL championships, an accomplishment that only the Lombardi Packers of the 1960s have been able to match. He was named All-Pro every year of his career except for his final year. He was a consensus All-Pro six consecutive years. He was named to the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s all-decade team of the 1920s. Those are just the honors. If you look at the statistics that are available from that era, Dilweg had 27 interceptions … and think about that. Twenty-seven 27 interceptions from someone who lined up at the defensive-end position. He had more receiving yards than (Wayne) Millner, (Red) Badgro and (Bill) Hewitt, and he had more yards per catch than Millner, Badgro and Hewitt. When you statistically rank him among the other ends of his time, he led the league in overall ranking five consecutive years. Hall of Famers recognized his greatness. Red Grange stated, “I have always rated Dilweg as the greatest end who ever brought me down.” Both Bronko Nagurski and Cal Hubbard named Dilweg to their All-Time All-Star teams. There is no doubt that Lavvie Dilweg belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.”
TODD TOBIAS, Tales from the American Football League
“I had a problem with Bill Cowher and Jimmy Johnson selected for the Hall of Fame this year instead of Don Coryell and Tom Flores. The issue I have is not with their credentials, but, rather, with the timing of their recognition. I was of the understanding that the Class of 2020 was expanded to help clear up a logjam with many long-overlooked candidates. “It’s an opportunity to catch up perhaps on some injustices,” said Hall-of-Fame president David Baker in an Aug. 3, 2019, article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. I don’t doubt Johnson’s and Cowher’s credentials, but to select them in this particular year felt wrong. Neither can be considered long overlooked or thus far an injustice. Johnson’s last season on a sideline was 1999. Cowher, and Bill Cowher retired after 2006. That makes them two of the most recent three retirees of the finalists in the coaches’ category. I am sure that th live announcements of their selections were excellent for TV ratings, but I also thought it lent an opportunistic feeling to their honors. I would love to see the Pro Football Hall of Fame make the effort to really study the long-retired individuals who are the true foundations of the modern NFL, help educate the voting panels if necessary and then honor the deserving candidates from the early NFL, the AAFC and the AFL. Give those men their due and help to enlighten the modern fan on the history of this great game. It is certainly a challenge, but who is better equipped for such a task than the keepers of the history of professional football?”
T.J. TROUP, historian, published author and football coordinator/consultant for the film "Leatherheads"
“By far the biggest snub is Randy Gradishar. Look at what he accomplished in his career. His ability to pursue on the proper angle with quickness and speed … and then tackle and NOT miss … is the best ever for an inside 3-4 linebacker. Yet, what separates him from all the rest was the coverage responsibilities that (former Denver defensive coordinator) Joe Collier demanded and received. Covering backs and tight ends aligned away from him – plus his zone drops on underneath routes – are simply the best ever for a 3-4 inside linebacker. I still will keep hope that someday he gets in.”
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