Why Atwater, Butler deserve more from Hall-of-Fame voters


It took former Dallas cornerback Everson Walls 20 years to become a Pro Football Hall-of-Fame finalist, and that's both good and bad. Good in that Walls will finally ... mercifully ... have his case discussed by voters for the Class of 2018; bad in that it took a qualified candidate two decades -- or until the last year of his eligibility -- to get there.

But at least he made it.

Unfortunately, neither Steve Atwater or LeRoy Butler did ... not this year they didn't ... and that's as troubling as it is puzzling. Yeah, I know, Atwater was a finalist in 2016, but he never made it past the first cut to 10, and he hasn't been back since. And Butler? He hadn't been a semifinalist until this year when he was one of 27.

Now, of course, he's like Atwater -- a spectator for the Class of 2018.

And that's what I don't get. It's not simply that these guys are qualified; it's that their resumes demand the attention they didn't receive. Each was a Super Bowl winner. In fact, Atwater won twice. Each was a multiple All-Pro and Pro Bowler. Each was a team leader. Each was inducted into his team's Ring of Honor or Hall of Fame. And, best of all, each was an all-decade choice.

But not just any all-decade choice. Each was chosen to the first-team of the 1990s' all-decade team by the very board of Hall-of-Fame selectors that now chooses to overlook them.

OK, you say, it happens. Not really. Butler and Atwater are the only two members of the first-team 1990s' all-decade defense not be enshrined in Canton, and two of only three first-teamers from that squad not inducted.

I find that odd, especially when you consider that five second-team choices -- including both cornerbacks -- are in the Hall. That's not to knock the guys who made it. They belong. Heck, Darrell Green was a second-team choice. So were Ronnie Lott (also a first-team choice in the 1980s) and Chris Doleman. And, yeah, you could field a pretty good defense starting with those three.

But you could ... and should ... add Butler and Atwater, too. I mean, if they were considered the best at their position for a decade, why isn't there more of a push for either for the Pro Football Hall of Fame today?

"For a decade ... if you're the best at your position ... I just think you should be talked about a little bit more," Butler said on last week's Talk of Fame Network broadcast. "I'm going to tell you something: I was elated to make the all-decade team because it makes me feel good that, for ten years, I was one of the best at my position."

Couldn't agree more.

Look, I know voters have been blind to safeties for years, but that's beginning to change ... basically because it must. Kenny Easley was inducted last summer as a senior nominee, four safeties were among the 27 semifinalists for the Class of 2018 and John Lynch and Brian Dawkins now are finalists -- with the smart money on one of them making it when voters sit down in Feb. 3.

But that's not all. Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu are just around the bend, with Reed a candidate in 2019 and Polamalu in 2020.

And that's why I find this week's results discouraging for Butler and Atwater. The competition will only get stiffer, which means they could ... and probably will ... get lost in a wave of qualified safeties lining up for induction to 2121 Halas Avenue.

And that shouldn't happen to a couple of first-team all-decade choices.

It won't with Dawkins. He was a first-team all-decade choice for the 2000s' team and could be elected in his second year as a finalist. Reed was a first-team all-decade choice, too, and he not only makes the Hall; he probably makes it on his first try. Lott and Easley were first-team choices from the 1980s' all-decade team, and both are in Canton, though Easley made it only after the senior committee resurrected his candidacy.

I don't want that to happen to Atwater or Butler. I'd like to see both of these guys discussed (again, in Atwater's case) before they disappear in the senior pool ... and not because I want to hear why they belong. But because I want to hear why they do not.


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