SOUTH FLORIDA, January 30, 2014 — On the day before Groundhog Day, 46 sportswriters will remain huddled underground in an undisclosed location in the New York metropolitan area. At some point, some of them will see their shadows, and America will have six or seven new nominees to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
The 46 voters began with a list of 100 names, chopped it down to 25, and recently whittled it down to 15, plus two Seniors nominees.
Lists are always controversial, and again some individuals who absolutely deserve to be in the HOF immediately were shunned. Separate categories for coaches and contributors should allow for more nominees to get in, since it is ludicrous that former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and former San Diego Chargers coach Don “Air” Coryell are still waiting.
Former New York Giants general manager George Young should not have to wait much longer. As for players, Washington Redskins offensive tackle Joe Jacoby was a key part of “the hogs.” Los Angeles and Oakland Raiders guard Steve Wisniewski deserves enshrinement.
While the current 17 remaining nominees all deserve to get in, the issue becomes who deserves to get in right now. Every year produces one or two no-brainers, such as when Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith were nominated. Those discussions probably took 60 seconds. This year there are two no-brainers.
Derrick Brooks, LB – 1995-2008 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: His 11 Pro Bowl appearances matter, but this guy more importantly was the heart and soul of the Buccaneers defense. Warren Sapp had the biggest mouth, but Brooks was the leader of the defense and one of the smartest linebackers to ever play the game. His induction on the first ballot is an open and shut case.
Walter Jones, T – 1997-2008 Seattle Seahawks: He was a nine-time Pro Bowler and one of the best left tackles ever. In his era, there was no close second, including recent inductees. He was a block of granite whose induction on the first ballot should be automatic.
After Brooks and Jones, things get complicated. Here is who else deserves enshrinement.
Tim Brown, WR/KR – 1988-2003 Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders: The induction of Cris Carter last year started to break the wide receiver logjam. Unlike Marvin Harrison and Andre Reed, Brown had average quarterbacks throwing him the ball for most of his career. He was “Mr. Raider,” and his statistics speak for themselves.
Charles Haley, DE/LB – 1986-1991, 1999 San Francisco 49ers, 1992-96 Dallas Cowboys: Enough already. He has five Super Bowl rings, and his defection from the 49ers to the Cowboys shifted the balance of power between those teams. The 49ers stole Ken Norton Jr. from Dallas specifically to avenge the loss of Haley. It is long past time for this pass rusher to get in.
Aeneas Williams, CB/S – 1991-2000 Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals, 2001-04 St. Louis Rams: He was a great cornerback on some terrible Cardinals teams. When he joined the Rams in 2001, he gave the “Greatest Show on Turf” a defense to match. Had the Rams not lost that Super Bowl in a shocking upset, Williams might have gotten in sooner.
As for the Seniors nominees:
Ray Guy of the Oakland Raiders was the best punter of all time. There are zero punters and only one kicker, Jan Stenerud, in the HOF. Some voters will never vote for a punter, but as a Senior nominee, it is time to respect Guy’s play. He gets in.
Claude Humphrey was another great player on some bad Atlanta Falcon teams. He was an inspirational leader who merits inclusion. He gets in.
Now for the also rans:
Kevin Greene, LB/DE – 1985-1992 Los Angeles Rams, 1993-95 Pittsburgh Steelers, 1996, 1998-99 Carolina Panthers, 1997 San Francisco 49ers: He turned Pittsburgh into Blitzburgh and was a very key piece of turning the Carolina Panthers from an expansion team to an NFC Title contender in two years. He just misses the cut because Charles Haley needs to get in now.
Jerome Bettis, RB – 1993-95 Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams, 1996-2005 Pittsburgh Steelers: He was known as the Battering Ram with the Rams and then the Bus with the Steelers. He should get in at some point in the near future.
Morten Andersen, K – 1982-1994 New Orleans Saints, 1995-2000, 2006-07 Atlanta Falcons, 2001 New York Giants, 2002-03 Kansas City Chiefs, 2004 Minnesota Vikings: Being perhaps the greatest kicker of all time and a beloved member of the Saints and Falcons will not change the minds of the voters who hate kickers. He will get in as a Seniors nominee one day.
John Lynch, FS – 1993-2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2004-07 Denver Broncos: Sapp is in, Brooks gets in now, and at some point Lynch gets in. He is worthy, but Brooks has to get in first.
Marvin Harrison, WR – 1996-2008 Indianapolis Colts: With Tim Brown and Andre Reed waiting, Harrison will have to wait as well. He had Peyton Manning throwing him the ball, hurting his cause since the Colts offense kept rolling after he retired.
Andre Reed, WR – 1985-1999 Buffalo Bills, 2000 Washington Redskins: Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Kent Hull are all in, and Reed was a key part of going to four straight Super Bowls. He will probably get in next year after Tim Brown.
Will Shields, G – 1993-2006 Kansas City Chiefs: Whether Shields was a better offensive lineman than Wisniewski is debatable. The voters said he was. He is not Walter Jones. Nobody is. He waits.
Tony Dungy, Coach – 1996-2001 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2002-08 Indianapolis Colts: The big knock on Dungy was what kept John Madden out for so long. Dungy “only” won one Super Bowl. With the Buccaneers, the offense was lacking. In Indianapolis, depute being a defensive guy, Dungy never built a defense. He could be waiting for awhile.
Edward DeBartolo, Jr., Owner – 1977-2000 San Francisco 49ers: He presided over one of the great dynasties in sports, but that was before the salary cap era. Also, he has a Pete Rose problem that some voters may not overlook.
Michael Strahan, DE – 1993-2007 New York Giants: Some analysts consider him an automatic induction, but this should not be the case. Like Sapp, Strahan ran his mouth a lot, giving himself more exposure. One knock on Strahan is that after he retired, the Giants defense kept humming along as Justin Tuck became the vocal leader in another Giants Super Bowl win.
At 8:00 p.m. EST on FOX, the NFL 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame class will be announced. Then one day later comes the Super Bowl.