CANTON, Ohio. As noted earlier, the holy city of Canton, Ohio has just added seven grateful people and one spiteful narcissist to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. From Walter Camp and Pudge Heffelfinger to the modern enshrinees, the Pro Football Hall of Fame showcases American football excellence.
Excellence is not perfection, however. Even the hallowed halls of Canton can be improved. The growing list of Hall of Fame enshrinees already includes backlogs at almost every skill position. Unfortunately, some positions fail even to get any consideration at all. To help remedy this situation, we offer two critical ways to improve the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and add a third less crucial proposal just for fun.
FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME IMPROVEMENT 1: SPECIAL TEAMS
When punter Ray Guy joined kicker Jan Stenerud in Canton, he remarked that the Football Hall of Fame finally had a “complete team.” This is not the case. Special teams consist of more than just kickers and punters. Those on the receiving end of those kicks and punts matter. They matter a lot. The key elements that affect football games are turnovers and field position. Nothing affects field position like special teams, yet the Hall does not recognize special teams heroes as a category. This must change.
Hester was the most feared return man in NFL history. He holds the record with 20 returns for touchdowns, most of those on kickoffs and punts. “Do NOT kick the ball to Devon Hester” was a refrain of every football announcer. He is every bit a part of the Chicago Bears as Dick Butkus, Gale Sayers and Mike Ditka. Honorable mentions on the return man front also go to Mike Nelms, Vai Sikahema, and Mel Gray.
Tasker knew how to block punts and break through the line of scrimmage for teammates to block punts. His block of a punt in 1990 was the key difference in the Buffalo Bills getting home field throughout the playoffs. Tasker was a part of the Bills teams that would go to four straight Super Bowls.
Bill was the least glamorous player on the Dallas Cowboys. Only a psycho would want to run downfield at top speed and bust up a wedge. Bates punished kickoff and punt returners for 15 seasons, including three Super Bowl champions. He played for Tex Schramm and Tom Landry, yet maintained his job for a decade with Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson. Most of the players Bates leveled were bigger than he was, but he had the bigger heart.
Billy “White Shoes” Johnson
Johnson made a big impact in a short amount of time. In only six seasons, his moves became the stuff of legend with help from Alcoa’s “Fantastic Finishes.” While other return men would surpass him statistically, he was the original. His returns are his only chance at Canton unless the Pro Football Hall of Fame starts a category for best NFL end zone dancer. Today’s players can sit down. White Shoes and his “funky chicken” were the best without a close second. Even Deion Sanders and Ray Lewis dance in White Shoes’s shadow.
FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME IMPROVEMENT 2: ASSISTANT COACHES
Whenever a player gets enshrined in the Football Hall of Fame, he reminds us that football is a team game. Somehow, only the head coach gets the ultimate respect of the selection committee. This ignores many fantastic assistant coaches who for one reason or another did not succeed as the head coach.
Buddy Ryan was one of the best defensive coordinators of all time. He was slightly better than average as a head coach. He never mastered offense, but he was a defensive mastermind. His 46 defense powered the 1985 Bears to what may be the best single season defense ever. The Philadelphia Eagles teams he coached from 1986 through 1990 terrorized opposing defenses. His sons Rex Ryan and Rob Ryan have continued his legacy on the defensive side of the ball.
Phillips proved an average head coach at best. But as a defensive coordinator, he is a genius. The son of Bum Phillips knows how to bring pressure. Every defense he has ever led has been better with him. His crowning glory came in Super Bowl 50 as the 2015 Denver Broncos smashed the 15-1 Carolina Panthers to bits. Now he has helped drastically turn the Los Angeles Rams from an afterthought into a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
Turner was definitely below average as a head coach. As an offensive coordinator, he is simply Norvelous. He spreads the field, and has opened up every offense he has ever led. In the era of dink and dunk West Coast football, Turner likes the quick strike. Head coaches sing his praises and let him run the offense.
“Buges” proved almost completely unsuccessful as a head coach. As an offensive line coach, he is one of the all time greats. He built the Washington Redskins offensive line known as “the Hogs.” Together, they won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks. Vince Lombardi said that everything about football comes down to blocking and tackling. Bugel is a Jedi master of blocking. The glamorous guys get all of the attention, but the lunch bucket guys in the trenches set up every single play. Bugel is the hero of blue collar football grunters and grinders everywhere.
FOOTBALL HALL OF FAME IMPROVEMENT 3: MEDIA
When it comes to making improvements to the Football Hall of Fame, this proposed category is more of an afterthought than a necessity. With the backlog of players waiting to get in to the shrine, it is hard to justify a new category of non-players. The flip side of this argument is that football is a television sport. Therefore, television personalities who cover football matter. No, this will not lead to a floodgate of requests to get sports agents or video game makers inducted.
But every once in awhile, an individual in the media world contributes so much to the game that they deserve recognition. Had John Madden not been inducted as a head coach, he would deserve consideration as the first broadcaster for entry. Ed Sabol was inducted for his creation and continuation of NFL Films. Michael Irvin and many other standout players hugged Sabol. They recognized his contribution to the game. They were great players. He made them stars and celebrities. And many of them Football Hall of Fame enshrinees.
With Sabol getting in as a contributor, that can justify others. Many of have made the NFL what it is today.
Arledge created Monday Night Football. The ABC executive’s vision of a reward to the working man is still thriving decades later. Since 1970, Monday has gone from the worst day of the week to a football game that rewards a hard day of work. MNF has lost some of its luster since losing the best games to Sunday Night Football, but it still matters.
The colorful Cosell became the main cog in the first Monday Night Football announcing team. His willingness to call it like he saw it made him controversial. He talked big, and backed it up with incisive commentary.
Michaels is the best play-by-play man in the business. He is ultra-professional, and knows the game inside and out. He keeps the game flowing, and has worked with personalities as diverse as John Madden and Cris Collinsworth.
King wrote the Monday Morning Quarterback column for Sports Illustrated until this year. MMQB ran over 10,000 words, and leatherheads read it from cover to cover. He would try to visit as many of the 32 training camps as possible. He is the gold standard for football writers everywhere. His self-deprecating “10 things I think I think” was modesty. He knows football.
Chris “Boomer” Berman
Boomer was the best in-studio football analyst ever. Forget that he came up with hilarious nicknames for players. His 20 years hosting NFL Primetime brought football to a generation of kids who only got to see their local games. Before DirecTV, NFL Primetime was the original NFL package. An honorable mention goes to his sidekick for all of those years, Tom Jackson. Jackson brought the calm, sober analysis that perfectly balanced Berman’s over-the-top enthusiasm. Berman took Warner Wolf and his famous “Let’s go to the videotape” refrain to the next level.