I only got to go to Super Bowl week once (budget killed my other trip), but my personal highlight was the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection ceremony. The year I went, Steve Young and Ronnie Lott headlined the class. And while I was at Pro Football Weekly, I got to interview a couple of electees. I interviewed Tommy McDonald, a former Eagles wide receiver who got in through the veterans’ committee process. I asked three questions in 45 minutes, and there wasn’t a moment of silence because he talked the rest of the time. He was an old player with great stories. It was quite the experience.
So I thought that during the bye week, we’d play football relativity with this year’s 17 Hall of Fame finalists. We’ll see how close we get to hitting the actual election results, which are announced the day before the Super Bowl. Between 4 and 6 of these 17 people will make it into the Hall this year:
Cris Carter – Wide Receiver – 1987-89 Philadelphia Eagles, 1990-2001 Minnesota Vikings, 2002 Miami Dolphins (repeat finalist)
Dermontti Dawson – Center – 1988-2000 Pittsburgh Steelers (eligible before but first-time finalist)
Richard Dent – Defensive End – 1983-1993, 1995 Chicago Bears, 1994 San Francisco 49ers, 1996 Indianapolis Colts, 1997 Philadelphia Eagles (repeat finalist)
Russ Grimm – Guard – 1981-1991 Washington Redskins (repeat finalist)
Bob Hayes – Wide Receiver – 1965-1974 Dallas Cowboys, 1975 San Francisco 49ers (seniors candidate)
Claude Humphrey – Defensive End – 1968-1978 Atlanta Falcons, 1979-1981 Philadelphia Eagles (seniors candidate)
Cortez Kennedy – Defensive Tackle – 1990-2000 Seattle Seahawks (eligible before but first-time finalist)
Bob Kuechenberg – Guard – 1970-1984 Miami Dolphins (repeat finalist)
Randall McDaniel – Guard – 1988-1999 Minnesota Vikings, 2000-01 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (repeat finalist)
John Randle – Defensive Tackle – 1990-2000 Minnesota Vikings, 2001-03 Seattle Seahawks (first year eligible)
Andre Reed – Wide Receiver – 1985-1999 Buffalo Bills, 2000 Washington Redskins (repeat finalist)
Shannon Sharpe – Tight End – 1990-99, 2002-03 Denver Broncos, 2000-01 Baltimore Ravens (first year eligible)
Bruce Smith – Defensive End – 1985-1999 Buffalo Bills, 2000-03 Washington Redskins (first year eligible)
Paul Tagliabue – Commissioner – 1989-2006 National Football League (repeat finalist)
Derrick Thomas – Linebacker – 1989-1999 Kansas City Chiefs (repeat finalist)
Ralph Wilson – Team Founder/Owner – 1960-Present Buffalo Bills (repeat finalist)
Rod Woodson – Cornerback/Safety – 1987-1996 Pittsburgh Steelers, 1997 San Francisco 49ers, 1998-2001 Baltimore Ravens, 2002-03 Oakland Raiders (first year eligible)
Let’s play relativity. 10 points will be an automatic yes vote, 1 point is someone who should not be a finalist again.
(By the way, all links to players are from the Pro Football Hall of Fame website, which I wish I had discovered before. Consider this a recommendation.)
10- Bruce Smith — Holds the all-time sack record with 200, and was also a sturdy defensive end against the run. Along with Reggie White, Smith was the dominant defensive end of the late 80s and early 90s. If he doesn’t get in as a first-time eligible, it’s a crime.
10 (con’t)- Rod Woodson — He made the NFL’s 75th anniversary team, which says enough about him by itself. Played at cornerback for most of his career, then moved to safety at the end when he was a Raven and a Steeler. Finally won his Super Bowl ring with Baltimore in the 2000 season. Another guy who isn’t even a question.
9 – none
8 – Cris Carter – If you listen to Carter introduced on ESPN, his home network, you’d think Carter is a 10. He’s not, because I still don’t think he’s automatic. That said, he’s the best receiver eligible in this class. (Above Hayes, Reed, and Sharpe, who was a receiving tight end.) The electors will elect at least one receiver – if nothing else to eliminate the backlog – and Carter’s the most likely. He was very good for a long time and made the all-decade team of the 1990s. This should be his year.
7 – Claude Humphrey – Generally, when the seniors committee nominates someone, that person gets in. (One big exception is Bob Hayes, which is why he’s below Humphrey on the relativity list.) Humphrey was outstanding for the Falcons, and he went to a Super Bowl with the Eagles late in his career. A five-time all-pro (which means he was one of the top 2 DEs in the league that year.) But it’s harder to get a grasp on his impact because he’s from the era before sacks were an official statistic. There are a ton of defensive linemen in the class, so it would seem that at least one if not two have to get in. Humphrey will get one of those spots.
7 (con’t) – Shannon Sharpe — Sharpe is another first-time eligible, and a lot of talking heads have put Sharpe on the list of those who will get in. I don’t think that’s a guarantee — more like a 50-50 shot. Sharpe was the best receiving tight end of all time when he played (Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates have arguments now), so he has that going for him. And he was a leader on three Super Bowl teams – he was key in Baltimore’s run, as well as Denver’s double. But Sharpe was not highly respected as a blocker, and tight end is a notoriously tough position for Hall of Fame election. The tiebreaker may be the fact that Sharpe’s on TV every week. That shouldn’t matter, but it has definitely helped recent candidates like Howie Long and John Madden. So figure Sharpe gets in first time around.
7 (con’t) Richard Dent – When I first did this list, I had Dent below Derrick Thomas. Then I looked at the numbers. Dent had more sacks than Thomas, and he also has the edge of having played on a superstar defense with the 1985 Bears. He was MVP of Super Bowl 20 as well. He would be the third Hall of Famer off that Bears defense, joining Mike Singletary and Dan Hampton, and that could work against him. But the fact that Dent was third all-time in sacks when he retired should count for something. The guess here is that Dent joins Humphrey as the defensive ends making it in this year.
6 – Derrick Thomas – Now we’re squarely on the bubble. Thomas was a dominant pass rusher for 11 years, and his career was cut short by his death at age 33. But Thomas wasn’t all that much more than a pass rusher, and his sack total (126.5) doesn’t match up with either Richard Dent or John Randle (both of whom coincidentally finished with 137.5). So Thomas could get edged out by either of those players, or all three could get left out this year. But there is a backlog of quality candidates here, and I’m guessing one gets in (in addition to Humphrey). And if I had to pick the one, I’m guessing Dent.
6 (con’t) – Dermontti Dawson. It seemed like Dawson was the all-pro center forever. Turns out, it was six straight years (1993-98). It’s hard to separate offensive linemen, because there are no universally accepted statistics for them. Dawson was eligible for the Hall last year but didn’t even reach the finalist round, which doesn’t bode well for his chances. I think that it will take a big class (6 or 7) for Dawson or any of these offensive linemen to have a chance. But if an offensive lineman gets in this year, I would take Dawson by a hair over Randall McDaniel and Bob Kuechenberg and by two hairs over Russ Grimm.
5 – Randall McDaniel – I felt like I had to distinguish between the offensive linemen, and so McDaniel falls a rung below Dawson. McDaniel made all-pro nine straight times, from 1990-1998. That means he was voted one of the top 2 guards in the league. But the end of that run happened when I was at Pro Football Weekly, and there was a little bit of a backlash against McDaniel at that point, saying he was getting recognition based more on reputation than performance at that point. He also played in a record 12 straight Pro Bowls. If voters look straight at numbers, McDaniel has a shot. But I would expect Dawson or even Kuechenberg (a long-time finalist) could get the nod instead.
5 (con’t) – John Randle – Even though Randle played defensive tackle, he was best known for his pass rush. (Well, that, and his legendary trash talk backed up by media-guide research.) He had great energy and got a lot of attention, even though the Vikings defenses he led weren’t spectacular. My guess is that, based on his game, Randle will be compared against other pass rushers in the class even though he played inside. It’s an accomplishment for him to make the final 17 in his first year of eligibility, but he’s a guy who will probably have to wait a few years before his chance for election really comes. Humprhey and Dent are above Randle in the pecking order.
5 (con’t) – Bob Hayes – This is the most curious guy on the board. He’s a second-time seniors committee nominee, which probably actually hurts his chances for election. Most of the time, the seniors candidate gets rubber-stamped by the voters, but Hayes didn’t get in. Maybe it’s because his stats pale in comparison to today’s wideouts. Whatever the case, it’s going to be hard for Hayes to surpass Carter and Sharpe to get in this year. If he doesn’t get in, it’ll probably never happen, which means his supporters will be very ardent, but I doubt it will be enough. But if he does get in, then Sharpe or even Carter will be shockingly disappointed.
4 – Andre Reed – For years, Art Monk was the cause celebre among Hall of Fame candidates. His backers said that his numbers didn’t tell the true story, that he deserved election for all he did for great teams. Now that Monk is in, I expect Reed to take over that mantle. But here’s the problem: Reed wasn’t the best receiver of his era — not even close. Jerry Rice was better. Michael Irvin was better. Cris Carter was better. Tim Brown, Isaac Bruce, Marvin Harrison might well have been better. So Reed is a borderline candidate. He might get in eventually, but he’s the last receiver in line this year.
4 (con’t) – Bob Kuechenberg – I can’t tell you how many articles I’ve read where Dr. Z of Sports Illustrated has railed about the fact that Kuechenberg isn’t in the Hall of Fame. Dr. Z won’t be in the election room this year because of health problems, which actually may help Kuechenberg’s chances. (Dr. Z’s impassioned and some would say long-winded defenses of his favorites can actually turn off electors instead of helping.) Kuechenberg has been eligible before, but his honors (only two all-pro nods) don’t help. It’s hard to see him getting in this year, unless electors simply decide he’s been waiting too long and overlook numbers to elect him. That may sound unlikely, but it’s much like what happened to Art Monk last year.
4 (con’t) Ralph Wilson – It’s always weird when owners are compared to players in the Hall of Fame process. If there was simply a contributors wing with one person elected each year, Wilson would deserve it. He was a founding father of the AFL who has been in pro football business for almost 50 years now. So Wilson could get in based on that. But is he more deserving than the players eligible? It’s just too hard to say. It would be ironic if the last spot came down to Reed or Wilson.
3 – Russ Grimm – Grimm was a member of the famous “Hogs” that led the Redskins during their heyday. He played on four Super Bowl teams (with three wins) and was all-pro four times. These are impressive numbers, but they don’t match Dawson or McDaniel. The one thing working in Grimm’s favor is that none of the Hogs have made the Hall. But should Grimm get in before Joe Jacoby? The fact that this question exists hurts Grimm’s chances. All in all, Grimm’s individual accomplishments just can’t match up to Dawson or McDaniel, and that means he’s not getting in this year.
3 (con’t) – Paul Tagliabue – It’s fair to say that every NFL commissioner will be at least nominated for the Hall of Fame, and any commissioner who serves for 18 years as Tagliabue did probably deserves to be a finalist. Tags probably deserves to get in one of these years — he did preside over the period in which the NFL once and for all passed baseball as America’s No. 1 sport. But my sense is that he’ll need to be on the list for another couple of years before he finally gets over the hump. The list of good candidates is too deep this year for him to deserve a spot.
2 – none
1 – Cortez Kennedy – This was the one name that really surprised me on the list of finalists. Kennedy was a very good run-stuffing defensive tackle for the Seahawks, and he was defensive player of the year in 1992. But he made just three all-pro teams, and his Seahawks defenses were never terrific. In my opinion, a different semifinalist such as Chris Doleman, Lester Hayes, or Ray Guy (another cause celebre) probably deserved the finalist spot. Kennedy was a good, sometimes even great, player, but not a Hall of Famer.
So where does that leave us? Here’s my prediction for the class: Smith, Woodson, Carter, Humphrey, Sharpe, and Dent.
If a sixth gets in, it’ll be Dawson over McDaniel.
We’ll see how I do on the 31st.