LOS ANGELES, January 30, 2015 — On the day before the Super Bowl, 46 sportswriters will meet in an undisclosed location in the New York metropolitan area. In the football equivalent of an underground bunker, vigorous debates will take place. Some of them will see their shadows two days before Groundhog Day, and America will have seven or eight 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 one Senior nominee and two Contributors.
Lists are always controversial, and again some individuals who absolutely deserve to be in the HOF immediately were shunned. The separate categories for contributors will allow for more nominees to get in. However, coaches are still in the same category as players. This needs to change in future years. It is ludicrous that former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and former San Diego Chargers coach Don “Air” Coryell are still waiting. Tagliabue did not even make the final cut this year.
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 18 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 both nominees in the new Contributor category are no-brainers.
Bill Polian, NFL Executive — He is one of the best builders of teams in the history of the NFL. He built the Buffalo Bills roster in the early 1990s that went to four straight Super Bowls. He started th Carolina Panthers forms cratch, and they went to the NFC Title Game in their second year. He drafted Peyton Maning and the Indianapolis Colts became perennial contenders. Polian gets in without question.
Ron Wolf, NFL Executive — He is one of the best talent evaluators of all time that executives still go to for advice. His more than two decades with the Raiders came during their heyday when the Super Bowl was a possibility every year. He then went to the Packers and presided over the Brett Favre era and another Super Bowl. Wolf’s induction should be a guarantee.
The Senior nominee is Mick Tingelhoff. He was the center for the Minnesota Vikings during their run of greatness. Tingelhoof played 16 seasons, made seven Pro Bowls, and helped the Purple People Eaters win ten division titles. He is not a lock, but he should get in.
Now for the players and coaches. Here is who gets in.
Don Coryell, Coach — 1973-1986. He revolutionized the game, learning from the master Sid Gillman. He took the sad sack Arizona Cardinals to their best three-year record in team history. With Dan Fouts at the helm, “Air Coryell” got the Chargers to consecutive AFC Title Games. He did not reach the Super Bowl, but his system was adopted by Mike Martz, producing the Greatest Show on Turf. Coryell should have gotten in years ago. He changed the game from a running league to a passing league.
Tim Brown, WR/KR – 1988-2003 Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders: The induction of Cris Carter two years earlier and Andre Reed last year started to break the wide receiver logjam. Unlike them and Marvin Harrison, Brown had average quarterbacks throwing him the ball for most of his career. He was “Mr. Raider,” and his statistics speak for themselves. His induction is overdue.
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.
Kurt Warner, QB — 1998-2009. His personal story is compelling, but it is his work on the football field that merits his inclusion. He led the St. Louis Rams Greatest Show on Turf that obliterated league records from 1999 through 2001. Marshall Faulk is already in, and Warner led that team. Warner even got the Arizona Cardinals to their only Super Bowl appearance. Warner is a Hall of Fame human being and player.
John Lynch, FS – 1993-2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2004-07 Denver Broncos: Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks are in, and now the third member of the 2002 Buccaneers defensive triumvirate gets in. He was the hard-hitting safety that all teams running the Tampa 2 defensive scheme try to emulate.
Now for the also rans:
Orlando Pace, T — 1997-2009. Warner ran the Rams offense, and Pace kept him standing upright. This dominant left tackle is every bit as good as Jonathan Ogden. With Walter Jones already enshrined, Pace is the best remaining offensive lineman yet to get in. He joins his quarterback in Canton next year.
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. Punter Ray Guy got in, which should be enough for the next decade. Anderson will get in as a Seniors nominee one day.
Marvin Harrison, WR – 1996-2008 Indianapolis Colts: With Tim Brown 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.
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 Orlando Pace, so 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.
Terrell Davis, Running Back — He only played six seasons, but Gale Sayers is enshrined. The Denver Broncos do not win their only two Super Bowls in team history without Davis. The shortness of his career delays his entry, but at some point that can chance.
Jimmy Johnson, Coach — 1989-1999. He won two Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys, but the team won another one without him. His tenure with the Dolphins was average at best. He benefitted from the Herschel Walker trade. Johnson is a great coach and phenomenal motivator, but maybe Jerry Jones had more to do with the Cowboys resurgence than people thought.
Junior Seau, Linebacker — This is a tough call. Seau’s death by suicide was heart wrenching, but it must not factor into whether he deserves inclusion. He played 20 seasons, but in many of those years he made the Pro Bowl based on his reputation. Calling him overrated would be overstating the point, but he belongs in the Hall of Very Good and not the Hall of Fame. Haley and Greene are better.