EYE ON THE PRIZE A MERE 155 PLAYERS HAVE BEEN SELECTED FOR THE PRO FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME IN CANTON SINCE THE FIRST ONE WAS ENSHRINED, IN 1963, AND THE LIKELY INDUCTEES AMONG THIS YEAR'S STARS ARE SURPRISINGLY FEW

September 03, 1995

Long after the end zone dances are done and the body parts have
been pieced back together, all NFL stars have their sights set
on the same destination. The club they seek to join is elite,
and membership is for life.

Before anyone can gain admittance to the Pro Football Hall of
Fame in Canton, Ohio, he must get past a panel of judges that,
like the Hall of Fame itself, includes men who are steeped in
football history. They approach their craft with passion and are
not afraid to battle for their candidates. Among the group of 34
(soon to be 36) writers and broadcasters, chosen by the Hall of
Fame Board of Trustees, are legends, old-timers--and at least a
few who probably don't belong.

Each year on the Saturday morning before the Super Bowl the
selectors gather in a meeting room, down coffee, juice and
pastries and decide on the players, coaches, officials and
front-office people--no fewer than four, no more than seven--who
will be enshrined the following summer. (Officials at the Hall
do a preliminary screening.) The debates over who is worthy can
be provincial, political, personal, petty and downright nasty.
When all the selling and yelling is done, a candidate needs a
yes vote from at least 80% of the voters in attendance to gain
admittance.

In the interest of determining which active players have the best
chance of satisfying this rigorous standard, SI polled 33 of the
34 voters (including SI senior writers Peter King and Paul
Zimmerman; Furman Bisher of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
could not be reached) and asked them who they would vote into
the Hall if they were voting today. The survey turned up seven
players who should waltz into Canton, as well as one coach, the
Miami Dolphins' Don Shula, who almost certainly will be
enshrined the year after he retires. Players must wait five
years before they are eligible for induction. But, if you're
impatient, read on.

THE SHOO-INS Two superstars will high-step into the Hall without
so much as a hand being laid on them. San Francisco 49er
receiver Jerry Rice and cannon-armed quarterback Dan Marino of
the Dolphins are the only two players who got every single vote.
Besides playing on the last three Niner championship teams, Rice
holds the NFL record for touchdowns, with 139. Marino will hold
virtually every significant passing record by the time he is done.

Close behind them are quarterback John Elway of the Denver
Broncos; fearsome pass rushers Reggie White of the Green Bay
Packers and Bruce Smith of the Buffalo Bills; Kansas City Chief
safety Ronnie Lott, who helped the 49ers win four Super Bowls
between 1982 and '90; and Detroit Lion running back Barry Sanders.

In six NFL seasons Sanders has gained 8,672 yards and run for at
least 100 yards in a game 40 times. "He's the most unusual
running back ever," says former Los Angeles Times pro football
writer Bob Oates of Sanders and his pinball style of running.

The Buffalo teams that won four consecutive AFC titles, from
1990 to '93, were known for their high-powered offenses, but a
defensive end, Smith, is the only Bill who is assured of making
the Hall. Since the Hall of Fame was founded, in 1963, only four
quarterbacks--Clarence (Ace) Parker, Y.A. Tittle, Fran Tarkenton
and Dan Fouts--have been enshrined without winning either a Super
Bowl or, in the pre-Super Bowl era, an NFL championship. Elway
is 0-3 in the big game, but his record 33 fourth-quarter
comeback victories and his ability to prevail despite the lack
of enduring talent around him make him a lock for Canton.

"John Elway is the greatest quarterback I've ever seen," says
Will McDonough, the NBC-TV analyst and Boston Globe columnist.
"To me he's beyond John Unitas. You'd be hard pressed to name
the receivers he has played with, or the running backs or the
linemen."

ON THE BUBBLE Running backs Marcus Allen, who is finishing his
career with the Chiefs after having spent 11 seasons with the
Los Angeles Raiders, and Emmitt Smith of the Dallas Cowboys
appear to have enough votes to ensure induction, while
Pittsburgh Steeler cornerback Rod Woodson is a near miss at this
point. Allen, 35, ranks fourth on the alltime touchdown list,
with 120, and needs only seven more to move into second place,
behind Rice and ahead of Jim Brown, the Hall of Famer against
whom all running backs are measured. Allen was MVP of Super Bowl
XVIII and was the regular-season MVP in 1985. He also has the
record for consecutive 100-yard games on the ground, with 11.
While McDonough dismisses Allen as no better than former
Baltimore Colt and Washington Redskin runner Joe Washington, a
good player who received no serious Hall of Fame consideration,
San Diego Union-Tribune football writer Jerry Magee calls Allen
"the best player who ever played for the Raiders."

With only five NFL seasons in his ledger, Emmitt Smith's
candidacy is even less developed than that of Sanders. However,
he may have accomplished enough: three straight rushing titles,
two Super Bowl rings, and Super Bowl and regular-season MVP
honors during the 1993 campaign. An early career-ending injury
seems to be his only threat to enshrinement.

Last year Woodson, now 30, was voted to the NFL's alltime 75th
anniversary team--some Hall of Fame selectors were on that
panel--but our poll results show he is not yet a sure thing for
Canton. Says one voter, who did not want to be identified, "I
don't share everybody else's idea that Woodson is the best
defensive back in football. He makes a lot of big plays, but he
gets beat a lot, too."

Niner quarterback Steve Young has two regular-season MVP awards
and has won an unprecedented four consecutive league passing
titles, all with ratings of 100 or better. His Super Bowl MVP
performance last January vaulted him ahead of his Cowboy
counterpart, Troy Aikman, a two-time Super Bowl winner. The
33-year-old Young got a late start--he spent two years in the
USFL, another two with a dreadful Tampa Bay Buccaneer team and
four as Joe Montana's backup in San Francisco--but one more big
year should be enough to cement his induction.

While not as solid a choice as Sanders or Smith, Thurman Thomas,
an all-around threat with 8,724 rushing yards and 3,402
receiving yards in seven seasons, is on the verge of earning
Hall of Fame status. As for Jim Kelly, some voters won't even
consider his two seasons of stardom with the Houston Gamblers of
the USFL, during which he threw for a remarkable 9,842 yards.
Then again, some will. "It's the Pro Football Hall of Fame,"
says Fox Sports editorial director Frank Cooney. "Those two
years he was the best quarterback in football."

Jackie Slater, now entering his 20th season, is a prime example
of the importance of longevity to the voters, and his seven Pro
Bowl appearances are a significant factor. The road looks
tougher for Bruce Matthews, a versatile 12-year veteran who
also has seven Pro Bowls on his resume. Incidentally, Atlanta
Falcon Clay Matthews, Bruce's older brother, who owns the record
for most games played at linebacker (247), was rejected as a
Hall of Famer by more than two thirds of the voters.

THE FUTURE Of the long shots in our poll, the players most
likely to enhance their chances are Aikman, Dallas wideout
Michael Irvin, San Diego Charger linebacker Junior Seau and
itinerant cornerback Deion Sanders. Offensive linemen Randall
McDaniel of the Minnesota Vikings and Dermontti Dawson of
Pittsburgh will have to grow on voters, as Slater has. Chief
linebacker Derrick Thomas and Cleveland wideout Andre Rison,
both 28, probably need to stay at the All-Pro level well into
their 30's.

If you think two Super Bowl victories should be enough to get
Aikman inducted, there is a simple, two-word rebuttal: Jim
Plunkett--the quarterback who led the Raiders to two league
titles, in 1981 and '84, but who, observes McDonough, "can't
even get close to Canton." Aikman's career could be cut short by
the concussions he has suffered, but he is willing to play
through that physical trauma. "He took his lumps and stayed in
there," says Zimmerman. "I equate him with [Hall of Famer] Roger
Staubach."

The same attributes apply to Seau, whose heroic effort last
January in San Diego's AFC Championship Game victory over
Pittsburgh, while playing with a damaged shoulder nerve, lifted
him to a new level. Still, 24 voters believe Seau is not yet
ready for enshrinement. As for Sanders, his receiving only two
yes votes speaks to the selectors' unease about his flashy
style, his marketing himself as an expensive bauble and, above
all, his reluctance to stick his nose in and make tackles. A
similar charge has kept former Viking safety Paul Krause out of
the Hall, even though Krause holds the NFL record for career
interceptions, with 81.

THE KICKERS Only three placekickers--Lou (the Toe) Groza, George
Blanda and Jan Stenerud--have earned induction, but two of them
were accomplished position players: Blanda at quarterback and
Groza at tackle. The next kicker-only who could make it to
Canton is Morten Andersen, who recently signed with Atlanta
after 13 seasons with the New Orleans Saints. "He's the best
kicker that ever lived," says Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist
Sid Hartman of Andersen. Some voters complain that many of
Andersen's kicks were attempted in the calm, controlled environs
of the Superdome, while other selectors simply don't like men of
his trade.

EXCESS BAGGAGE Charles Haley, the Cowboy defensive end, has
four Super Bowl rings, is one of the premier sack artists of his
generation and plays through pain. Yet only nine voters would
support him if his nine-year career were to end today. While the
voters say that the idea is to keep their debates about players
between the lines on the field, Haley's notoriously surly
dealings with reporters could be an issue. "Personality isn't
supposed to be a factor," says Dave Goldberg of the Associated
Press, "but Haley goes over the line."

There are voters who liken Haley's dilemma to that of former
All-Pro Dan Dierdorf, a St. Louis Cardinal tackle for 13 seasons
who, say some voters, may have lost a few votes for having irked
too many people as a TV commentator. Sweet-voiced broadcaster
Jack Buck is known for his persuasive presentations--"When you
listen to him," says Denver Post columnist Woody Paige, "you'd
vote for Jeffrey Dahmer"--but even he couldn't sway voters in
Dierdorf's favor.

THE HONCHOS Among coaches, Bill Parcells of the New England
Patriots, who won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants, and
Dan Reeves of the Giants, who lost three with the Broncos,
probably need to reach the Super Bowl with their new teams to
join such legends as Paul Brown, Vince Lombardi and Bill Walsh
in the Hall. San Francisco's George Seifert, with two Super Bowl
victories and five NFC Championship Game appearances in six
seasons, is the alltime leader in victory percentage (.781), but
that achievement has been devalued by the fact that his
predecessor, Walsh, is credited with building the 49ers into a
dynasty.

Marv Levy bears the stigma of the Bills' four straight Super
Bowl defeats, but he can take comfort in the knowledge that
former Viking coach Bud Grant, another four-time Super Bowl
loser, was enshrined in 1994. Shula, whose 338 career victories
are the most in history, will be ushered into the Hall
immediately, of course. But, notes Buffalo News columnist Larry
Felser, "Levy is 15-6 lifetime against Shula. And that drives
Shula crazy."

THE DAMNED Some outstanding players, for a variety of often
flimsy reasons, just don't make it to Canton. Lynn Swann, a
balletic receiver for the Steeler dynasty of the '70s, and
former Raider cornerback Lester Hayes are prime examples. Swann
may suffer simply by comparison with his teammates, six of whom
are already in the Hall. And Hayes may be unfairly tarnished by
the cheap-shot reputation affixed to past Raider secondaries.

Viking quarterback Warren Moon is likely to be the next great
player to miss enshrinement. He is a well-liked 17-year veteran,
but in July he was charged with assaulting his wife. What impact
that allegation will have on the voters six or seven years from
now is unclear. What is clear is that disagreement exists over
how much consideration his career in Canada should receive. Moon
spent his first six seasons in the Canadian Football League,
leading the Edmonton Eskimos to five Grey Cup crowns, before
enjoying 10 productive years with the Houston Oilers. Some
voters believe Moon's success in Canada should carry weight,
while others disregard it altogether. Detractors note that Moon,
despite 37,949 passing yards in 11 NFL seasons (59,177 including
Canada), has never won a game beyond the wild-card round of the
playoffs.

Another player who hopes non-NFL gridiron pursuits are
acknowledged is 33-year-old running back Herschel Walker, who
signed a three-year contract with the Giants before this season.
Walker was the centerpiece of the USFL in the mid-1980s, gaining
5,562 yards in three years with the New York Generals before
starring for the Cowboys. Walker, however, was traded to
Minnesota for five players and a slew of draft choices in 1989
in what may have been the most lopsided swap in the history of
sports, and since that time he has been more of a dependable
jack-of-all-trades than a rushing king. Support for Walker is
thin so far, but SI's King notes that even discarding Walker's
USFL numbers, he is 19th on the NFL rushing list; 10 of those
ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame, and the other eight are
not yet eligible.

THE ERA At first glance the '90s would appear to be a golden
age of pro football. The 49ers and the Cowboys are classic
powers, and all the aforementioned players are complemented by
young stars like Patriot quarterback Drew Bledsoe, Indianapolis
Colt running back Marshall Faulk, Dallas safety Darren Woodson
and Cardinal cornerback Aeneas Williams. Still, 30 years ago, at
the start of the 1965 season, NFL and AFL rosters included 63
players, coaches and owners who have been voted into the Hall.

The dominant teams of recent years will have much sparser
representation in the Hall than the juggernauts of previous
eras. The Packer teams that dominated the '60s sent 10 players
to the Hall, while five players from the undefeated Dolphin team
of 1972 are in Canton. Although individual statistics may
continue to soar and records will continue to fall, that may not
indicate an overall elevation of the game, especially when it
comes to quarterbacks and receivers. "These guys will have
numbers that a generation ago would have been mind-boggling, so
they'll be very tough to judge," says Philadelphia Daily News
columnist Ray Didinger. "You realize how much easier it is now
to get the ball to the wideouts."

This era is rich in quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, sack
specialists and defensive backs but relatively weak in offensive
linemen, interior defensive linemen and linebackers. Check back
in another decade and the picture will be clearer.

COLOR PHOTO: COVER PHOTOGRAPH BY WALTER IOOSS JR. COVER PHOTO NFL PREVIEW 1995 Which of today's stars are locks for the Hall of Fame? Dan Marino for sure. But who else? To find out, we polled the men who do the voting [Dan Marino] COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER In Barry Sanders's case, it's not just how far he has run but also the artistry in each attempt.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN IACONO Though the Bills are known for offense, Smith has risen the highest among them in the voters' minds. [Bruce Smith] COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON Allen (above) is on the way out, while Young is at his peak, but both are at the gates of the Hall. [Marcus Allen] COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO [see caption above--Steve Young] COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Despite averaging more than 80 catches since 1991, Irvin must persevere. [Michael Irvin] COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Seau (55) moved the voters by playing hurt, and Lachey is still a force at left tackle. [Junior Seau] COLOR PHOTO: MITCHELL LAYTON [see caption above--Jim Lachey] COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON While Deion's talent is undeniable, many view him as an egotist and a dilettante. [Deion Sanders] COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Levy's record four straight Super Bowls may not outweigh his inability to win one. [Marv Levy]

SHOO-INS
[text not available--list of selected football players from
today and the results of a poll asking whether or not they
should eventually be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame]

ON THE BUBBLE
[text not available--list of selected football players from
today and the results of a poll asking whether or not they
should eventually be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame]

LONG SHOTS
[text not available--list of selected football players from
today and the results of a poll asking whether or not they
should eventually be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame]

LONGER SHOTS
[text not available--list of selected football players from
today and the results of a poll asking whether or not they
should eventually be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame]

COACHES
[text not available--list of selected football coaches from
today and the results of a poll asking whether or not they
should eventually be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)