HONOLULU, February 2, 2018 — 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.
Forty-six 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 (HOF) 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 finalists plus two senior nominees and one contributor nominee.
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.
This year they 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 Redskins and Chargers General Manager Bobby Beathard —
This is an easy call. He built the Redskins unit that won three Super Bowls, two under his tenure. He built the Chargers roster that went to its only Super Bowl. He was also the Director of Player personnel when the Dolphins won consecutive Super Bowls, including their 1972 undefeated season. Of course, Beathard gets in.
Hall of Fame Senior nominee category:
Jerry Kramer, Green Bay Packers guard —
For some, this is a no-brainer. Kramer made the most famous wedge block in NFL history against Jethro Pugh lifting the Packers to a win over the Dallas Cowboys in the Ice Bowl. This all en route to their fifth championship in seven years under Coach Vince Lombardi.
Recently, it has been revealed that Kramer only deserved some of the credit for that block. However, one play should not define a career. Kramer was on all five championship teams, and he played a vital role in executing Lombardi’s famous Packer sweep. Kramer gets in.
Robert Brazile, Houston Oilers linebacker —
During the “Luv ya blue” era, Brazile made seven straight Pro Bowls. He is the only linebacker from the 1970s all-decade team not to make the Hall of Fame. That should change. There may be other senior nominees more deserving of enshrinement, but in a straight up or down vote Brazile can justifiably be given the thumbs up.
Brazile gets in.
Hall of Fame Players who should get in:
Ray Lewis, Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker —
Does anyone even need to question this? Ray Lewis is why we have a Hall of Fame. The greatest middle linebacker of his generation destroyed opponents for 17 years. He led the 2000 Super Bowl defense that had to carry an offense that went five straight games without a touchdown. He is the best of his generation, and among the very best ever.
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.
Isaac Bruce, Rams and 49ers wide receiver —
The Minister was the top target of quarterback Kurt Warner on the Greatest Show on Turf. Warner, running back Marshall Faulk and left tackle Orlando Pace are already in. Bruce deserves to get in.
Hall of Fame 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 third year of eligibility. He will get in at some point, but for now 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.
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.
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.
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.
Edgerrin James, Indianapolis Colts and Arizona Cardinals running back —
Along with Peyton Manning and Marvin Harrison, James was part of the Colts triplets that put up gaudy numbers of yards and points for several seasons. There are two legitimate criticisms of James. He repeatedly disappeared during playoff games. More importantly, after he was traded away, The Colts immediately won the Super Bowl without him. Peyton Manning could win with any running back. James waits.
Brian Urlacher, Chicago Bears middle linebacker —
Under normal circumstances, this stalwart gets in on the first ballot. Urlacher was a tough Monster of the Midway on some pretty weak teams. However, Urlacher will have to wait a year until Ray Lewis gets in. Lewis is the best, and the only reason to delay Urlacher.
Randy Moss, Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots wide receiver —
Moss played on the two greatest teams to never win the Super Bowl, the 1998 Vikings and 2007 New England Patriots. While Moss did make the comment “I play when I wanna play,” he clearly elevated his teams to better heights in the vertical game. Moss was a far better teammate than Terrell Owens, but Moss will have to wait until Isaac Bruce gets in.
Steve Hutchinson, Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings and Tennessee Titans guard —
Hutchinson was a good player who played for some nondescript teams. However, when it are time to dole out value money, Seattle paid tackle Walter Jones and let Hutchinson go. Hutchinson could be a guy who belongs in the Hall of Very Good, but perhaps not the Hall of Fame.
Everson Walls, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants and Cleveland Browns cornerback —
This is another example of a guy belonging in the Hall of Very Good. He went to the NFC Championship game in his first two seasons with Dallas and was on the 1990 Giants squad that won it all.
Yet in both cases he was one of many players as opposed to the one player everyone feared. He was not Deion Sanders or Mike Haynes.