COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA, February 4, 2016 — On Sunday, Super Bowl 50 in California will crown the best team of the 2015 NFL season. On Saturday, several retired NFL players and contributors will join the greatest team of all eternity. 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 four days after 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 two Senior nominees and one Contributor.
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. Neither did New York Giants general manager George Young.
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 but did not make the cut.
While most of 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 the Contributor category is a no-brainer.
Eddie DeBartolo, former San Francisco 49ers owner — He built one of the best dynasties in the history of the NFL. The San Francisco 49ers were a 2-14 mess when he bought the team and hired Bill Walsh. Five Super Bowl rings would have made DeBartolo a lock years ago if not for his getting caught up in an extortion and gambling scandal. DeBartolo was the victim, not the perpetrator. He was one of the best owners in the history of any sport. He deserves to get in right now.
One of the two Seniors nominees outshines the other one.
Ken Stabler, Oakland Raiders quarterback — From 1973 through 1977, the Snake guided the Oakland Raiders to five straight AFC Title Games. That record stood alone until New England matched it last month. From 1974 through 1977, the Raiders won 48 regular season games and lost only eight games. He participated in some of the greatest games in NFL history, including “The Immaculate Reception,” “The Sea of Hands,” “Ghost to the Post,” and “The Holy Roller.” NFL Films is incomplete without him. He gets in.
Dick Stanfel, Detroit Lions and Washington Redskins offensive lineman — He played from 1952 through 1958. He was nominated in 1993 and 2012. While he did make five Pro Bowls and win two championships in seven seasons, his body of work is small. Seniors nominees rarely get rejected, but Stanfel will fall short again.
Five of the fifteen players and coaches will get in.
Brett Favre, Green Bay Packers, New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings quarterback — Do we even have to ask? He is why we have a Hall of Fame. His career contained 20 seasons, 321 straight starts, only two losing seasons, a Super Bowl win, and a pair of NFC Title Games very late in his career for two different teams. He was the greatest Iron Man since the original Iron Man football ended a few decades ago. When he retired, he led the NFL in touchdowns and interceptions. A riverboat gambler in a cautious league, Favre was often rewarded for his boldness. Brett Favre is football.
Tony Dungy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts coach — At the risk of enraging his supporters, Dungy is overrated. He was supposed to be a defensive guru, but the Bucs had defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. The Bucs did not win it all until Dungy was fired and Jon Gruden took over. With the Colts, Dungy had Peyton Manning. Manning has gotten to the Super Bowl with three different coaches. Dungy made history by becoming the first black head coach to win a Super Bowl, but that is irrelevant for this discussion. Dungy was good, not great. He does not get in.
Kevin Greene, Los Angeles Rams, Pittsburgh Steelers and Carolina Panthers linebacker — He has 160 career sacks, and should have already gotten. With Charles Haley now enshrined, the logjam has been broken. Greene was one of the reasons that Pittsburgh turned into Blitzburgh. On merit, he deserves to get in. He is denied this year only because a grinder on the other side of the ball has been waiting longer. Joe Jacoby edges Greene for the final spot, and Greene gets in next year.
Marvin Harrison, Indianapolis Colts wide receiver — Forget his legal troubles after he retired. This is about football. It seems unfair to downgrade Harrison because he caught balls from Peyton Manning, but life is unfair. The year after Harrison retired, the Colts got back to the Super Bowl. Harrison was great, but he will have to wait.
Terrell Owens, San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver — He has the second most receiving yards and third most receiving touchdowns in NFL history. He was also a locker room cancer. The Eagles were very good before he arrived. Football is the ultimate team game, and Owens made his teams worse in the long run everywhere he went. To this day, he still claims to be misunderstood. At some point he will get in, but he could use a good humbling. Make him wait a few years.
Orlando Pace, St. Louis Rams tackle — He is one of the best left tackles of all time. Walter Jones and Jonathan Ogden are already in. There are plenty of reasons to say yes to Pace, but he will have to wait one more year. The quarterback he protected needs to get in now. He gets in the day before Super Bowl 51, not 50.
Kurt Warner, St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals quarterback — Now. Right now. His personal story is compelling, but it is his work on the football field that merits his inclusion. He led the Greatest Show on Turf and turned a 4-12 team into a Super Bowl Champion. Getting the Arizona Cardinals to their only Super Bowl in franchise history is the icing on the cake. He did that without Pace or enshrinee Marshall Faulk or mad scientist play-caller Mike Martz. There should be zero doubt on this one. In his speech he should let everyone know that he had an all-world left tackle.
Don Coryell, St. Louis Cardinals and San Diego Chargers coach — Enough already. It is ridiculous that Coryell still has doubters. He revolutionized the game, learning from the master Sid Gillman. He took the sad sack St. Louis 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.
Terrell Davis, Denver Broncos 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 change. The competition is so fierce, but he deserves to remain in the discussion. He is not there yet.
Morten Andersen, New Orleans Saints, Atlanta Falcons, New York Giants, Kansas City Chiefs and Minnesota Vikings kicker — 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.
Alan Faneca, Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals guard — He was a named a first team All Pro six times, but this is his first year of eligibility. He will get in, but will have to wait one or maybe two more years. The Steelers won the Super Bowl the year after he was traded to the Jets. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is a tough hombre.
John Lynch, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Denver Broncos safety — Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks are in. 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. It’s time. He’s waited long enough.
Steve Atwater, Denver Broncos safety — Atwater was a great safety, but Lynch was a major cog on one of the greatest defenses in NFL history over several years. A great player on a great team comes first because football is the ultimate team game. Atwater will have to wait a bit longer.
Edgerrin James, Indianapolis Colts running back — He was a great player in the regular season, but he, like Dungy and Harrison, are victims of the Peyton Manning curse. At least the others have one Super Bowl win. The Colts won it all the year after they traded James and drafted rookie Joseph Addai. James may be waiting awhile.
Joe Jacoby, Washington Redskins tackle — “The Hogs” made up the greatest offensive line in NFL history, although fans of the 1990s Dallas Cowboys may disagree. Jacoby was the left tackle on that line. The Redskins won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks. Jacoby was the tackle on all three of those teams. That should have ended the discussion myers ago, but Jacoby can settle for getting in now.
The newest Pro Football Hall of Fame class should be Favre, Warner, Jacoby, Lynch, Coryell, Stabler and DeBartolo, with Jacoby delaying Greene one year and Warner doing the same to Pace.