LOS ANGELES, February 1, 2017 — On Sunday, Super Bowl (51) LI in Houston will crown the champion of the 2016 National Football League season. On Saturday, several retired NFL players and contributors will join the greatest team for all eternity. 46 sportswriters will meet in a secret location in New York metropolitan. In the football equivalent of an underground bunker, vigorous debates will take place. Some of them will see their shadows right 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 one Senior nominee and two Contributors.
Lists are always controversial, and again some individuals who absolutely deserve to be in the HOF immediately continue to be shunned. The separate categories for contributors will allow for more nominees to get in. However, coaches are still in the same category as players. There is no category at all for assistant coaches. This must 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. Former New York Giants general manager George Young did not even make the final 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.
Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue: One of the great wrongs needs to get corrected promptly. Tagliabue presided over nearly two decades of Labor Peace. He expanded the television contracts that took millionaire owners and turned them into billionaires. He took players making six figures and turned them into players making seven figures. He inherited an empire from Pete Rozelle and expanded it significantly. When a Commissioner is respected by players and owners alike, he is doing his job very well. Tagliabue must get in right now.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones: This is a very tough call. Jones made the owners wealthy beyond belief. His leadership and willingness to take big bold action increased the value of all 32 franchises. However, it is hard to say the NFL story can’t be told without him. The Cowboys made him, not the other way around. He bought them because they were already a marquee brand. He was not an original founder, but a guy who jumped onboard an already successful business and helped make it bigger. Other owners deserve enshrinement sooner. Jones should wait.
Senior nominee: Seattle Seahawks safety Kenny Easley: Along with Jacob Green and Joe Nash, Easley was part of a nasty Seattle defense that had the misfortune of playing in the brutal AFC West. Despite facing off against Dan Fouts, Jim Plunkett and John Elway, Easley always came ready to hit hard. Easley deserves to get in.
Players and coaches who should get in:
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. His omission may be the biggest oversight in all of professional football. Enshrine him immediately.
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 fellow nominee Isaac Bruce 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. Warner must get in.
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.
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 years ago, but Jacoby can settle for getting in now.
Brian Dawkins, Eagles and Broncos safety — Not only was Dawkins a physical, hard-hitting safety, but he was also an emotional leader who transitioned gracefully from star player to locker room elder statesman. With all due respect to Andy Reid and the Eagles offense, it was the defense that powered this team to five NFC Title games. Nine Pro Bowls in 13 seasons with the Eagles gets him in.
Players and coaches: The also-rans:
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 second year of eligibility. He will get in, but will have to wait. The Steelers won the Super Bowl the year after he was traded to the Jets. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is a tough hombre.
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.
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.
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.
Kevin Mawae, Seahawks, Jets and Titans center and guard —Mawae absolutely deserves some credit for helping pave the way for the Jets Curtis Martin running his way into Canton. Mawae blocked for four different quarterbacks with Gang Green alone. He made eight Pro Bowls in 16 seasons, but there is a backlog of guards. Will Shields got in and Alan Faneca is still waiting. Mawae will also have to wait.
Ty Law, Patriots, Jets, Chiefs and Broncos cornerback — Law is that rare case of an underrated nominee. Tom Brady fans may not like to hear it, but it was Law and not Brady who deserved to be the MVP when the 2001 Patriots won their first Super Bowl. The case against Law is that the 2004 Patriots team won it all with Law on the bench injured. They did not miss a beat after he was released. Law is worthy of consideration at some point, but he was one piece of a dynasty that had so many other parts.
Isaac Bruce, Rams and 49ers wide receiver — The Minister was the top target of Kurt Warner on the Greatest Show on Turf. Running back Marshall Faulk and left tackle Orlando Pace are already in. Bruce deserves to get in, but not before Warner. If Warner gets in this year as he should, Bruce can follow him next year.
Tony Boselli, Jacksonville Jaguars tackle — This is another case of what might have been. Boselli was dominant when healthy, but injuries cut short his career after only seven years. He never got the chance to be a Walter Jones or Jonathan Ogden. Boselli deserves consideration at some point but should wait for now.
Jayson Taylor, Dolphins, Jets and Redskins defensive end — At the risk of enraging his fans, Taylor is overrated. He was a good player on a good Dolphins defense that never got the job done in big games.
LaDanian Tomlinson, Chargers and Jets running back — This is the one nominee that many experts say is a lock to get in. The experts are wrong. Tomlinson is the epitome of gaudy statistics over successful wins. despite playing with Philip Rivers and racking up many regular season victories, Tomlinson often disappeared in the playoffs. His Chargers rarely ever even came close to a Super Bowl trip.