Pro Football Hall of Fame: NFL 2020-2021 enshrinement predictions
LOS ANGELES — On Sunday, Super Bowl LV (55) in Tampa will conclude by crowning the champion of the 2020 National Football League season. The winning team has bragging rights to having the best football players on the field this season. But one day earlier, on Saturday, several retired NFL players and contributors will join the greatest team ever for all eternity. They will join the roster of all-time gridiron greats in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (HOF) in Canton, Ohio.
To decide this year’s winners, forty-six sportswriters will meet in a secret location in New York. In the football equivalent of an underground bunker, vigorous debates will take place. At the conclusion of their deliberations, America will have seven or eight new Hall of Fame nominees.
The winnowing process
The forty-six voting sportswriters began with a list of 100 names. They later chopped it down to 25. Recently, they whittled it down to 15 player finalists plus one senior nominee, one contributor nominee, and one head coaching nominee.
Lists of any kind are always controversial because, in the end, they are subjective. Once again, some individuals who absolutely deserve to be in the HOF immediately continue to be shunned. The separate categories for contributors allows more nominees to get in. Thankfully, the Hall of Fame finally listened to reason and put coaches in a separate category from players.
Currently, the Pro Football Hall of Fame designates no category at all for assistant coaches. This must change in future years. Also, it is ludicrous that former San Diego Chargers coach Don “Air” Coryell is still waiting to get into the Hall of Fame. Another injustice was righted last year when former Commissioner Tagliabue made the final cut and was enshrined.
Most if not all of the current 18 remaining Hall of Fame nominees genuinely deserve to get in. The real issue becomes who deserves to get in right now.
That said, every year produces one or two no-brainers. When sportswriters nominated Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith and Ray Lewis, those discussions probably took 60 seconds.
And so, without further ado, here is the list of the 18 Pro Football Hall of Fame finalists and what should happen this year if any justice remains in this world.
Peyton Manning, QB. 1998-2011 Indianapolis Colts (injured reserved 2011), 2012-15 Denver Broncos
Let’s debate this one. Ok, debate over. Of course he gets in on the first ballot. When he retired, he held all the major passing records. Although Drew Brees and Tom Brady have passed him for the all time touchdown mark, Manning still holds the record for most touchdowns in a season with 55. That is five touchdowns ahead of second place. Manning had 5,477 passing yards that season, also a record. He won two Super Bowls, one for each of the two teams he played for. Peyton Manning IS football. Future Hall of Fame voters should consult with him before deciding who else gets in.
Calvin Johnson, WR. 2007-2015 Detroit Lions
Nicknamed Megatron, Johnson was the most feared and dominating receiver of his time. He continued a Detroit Lions tradition started by Barry Sanders of retiring in frustration rather than continuing to play for a losing organization. Had Johnson stayed longer, he would own plenty of records. He size and strength were unmatched at the position. He could beat you with speed or with power. Despite only two playoff appearances and zero playoff victories, Johnson was the lone bright spot on an organization that has been terrible since Bobby Layne cursed them in 1957. Johnson absolutely gets in on the first ballot.
Charles Woodson, CB/S. 1998-2005, 2013-15 Oakland Raiders, 2006-2012 Green Bay Packers
Woodson took the Raiders to a Super Bowl appearance and finally got a ring with the Packers. His second stint with the Raiders brought emotional leadership to a young team on the cusp of returning to the playoffs. The NFL story cannot be told without Woodson. If not for the infamous Tuck Rule, Woodson would have been a bigger story at the time than Tom Brady. He was a lockdown corner who transitioned to safety while keeping his ball-hawking skills high. Woodson finished with 65 interceptions, tied for fifth all time. He gets in on the first ballot.
Sam Mills, LB. 1983-1985 Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars, 1986-1994 New Orleans Saints, 1995-97 Carolina Panthers
Yes, his three years with the Stars of the United States Football League count. It’s not the NFL Hall of Fame. It’s the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The USFL only lasted three years, but it was a professional football league. Mills made the championship game all three years, with he and his team winning the last two of them. When Jim Mora Sr. took over the Saints, Mills joined him.
Along with Rickey Jackson, Pat Swilling and Vaughan Johnson, Mills was the fourth member of the feared “Dome Patrol” that terrorized opposing offensive lines. They may have been the best linebacking core ever. In his second year with the expansion Carolina Panthers, he led them to the NFC Title Game. Carolinas Stadium (now Bank of America Stadium) displays two statues outside: One of a giant Panther, and one of Mills. Nicknamed the “Field Mouse” due to being only 5 ft 9, he beat bigger players with strength, smarts and heart. Mora, who also coached Peyton Manning, called Mills the greatest player he has ever coached. Mills gets in.
John Lynch, FS. 1993-2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers; 2004-07 Denver Broncos
Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks are in. Now the third member of the 2002 Buccaneers defensive triumvirate gets in. He stands as the hard-hitting safety that all teams running the Tampa 2 defensive scheme try to emulate. He has waited too long. His wait is over, avoiding an injustice.
Clay Matthews, Linebacker – 1978-1993 Cleveland Browns, 1994-96 Atlanta Falcons
This iron man on the defensive line played 19 seasons. Most people think that he is already in Canton. But it’s actually his brother Bruce who was enshrined. Matthews went to three AFC Title Games, but the Drive, the Fumble, and the general heartbreak that has routinely tortured the Dawg Pound kept him out of the Super Bowl. In a normal year Matthews would absolutely get in. This year he gets crowded out due to an unprecedented plethora of first ballot Hall of Famers this year. He has been held out for far too long. But he may have to make it in as a Seniors nominee.
Reggie Wayne, Wide Receiver – 2001-2014 Indianapolis Colts
Wayne caught a lot of passes from Peyton Manning, but so did many other receivers. Wayne was a reliable receiver, but he was not the top receiver on those Colts teams. That was Marvin Harrison, who is already in. Those Colts teams dominated the regular season but only won one Super Bowl. Reggie Wayne was not Calvin Johnson, which means Wayne waits.
Torry Holt, WR. 1999-2008 St. Louis Rams; 2009 Jacksonville Jaguars
Holt was a key receiver on the “Greatest Show on Turf.” His quarterback Kurt Warner is in. Running back Marshall Faulk is in. Left tackle Orlando Pace is in. Receiver Isaac Bruce got in last year. From 1999 through 2001, the Rams offense scored at will. It was right to put Bruce in to the HOF before Holt. Like Reggie Wayne, Holt was the number two receiver on his team. Calvin Johnson was the top receiver on his team. Holt waits.
Ronde Barber, CB/S. 1997-2012 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sapp, Brooks, and Lynch are the big three, but if a fourth member of the 2002 Buccaneers defense gets in, it should be Barber. If one play defines the greatness of a team, it has to be Barber’s 92 yard interception return that locked up the 2002 NFC Title Game and sent the Pirates of Pewter Power to their first Super Bowl. As great as Barber was, the hard-hitting Lynch deserves to get in first.
Tony Boselli, T. 1995-2001 Jacksonville Jaguars; 2002 Houston Texans (injured reserve)
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 will likely wait for now.
Alan Faneca, G. 1998-2007 Pittsburgh Steelers; 2008-09 New York Jets; 2010 Arizona Cardinals
Faneca was named a first-team All-Pro six times. He is in his sixth year of eligibility. He will get in to the Football Hall of Fame at some point. His wait will have to continue. The Steelers won the Super Bowl the year after he was traded to the Jets. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is a tough hombre.
Zach Thomas, LB. 1996-2007 Miami Dolphins, 2008 Dallas Cowboys
Thomas was the lead anchor on a solid Miami defense that lacked offensive firepower after Dan Marino retired in 1999. Thomas never got to a Super Bowl or even an AFC Title Game, but the offense was not his responsibility. His teammate Jason Taylor got in, and Thomas was better than Taylor. Thomas is a classic case of someone deserving to get in but who gets crowded out by those who must get in immediately.
Jared Allen, DE. 2004-07 Kansas City Chiefs, 2008-2013 Minnesota Vikings, 2014-15 Chicago Bears, 2015 Carolina Panthers
Cruel misfortune denied Allen a Super Bowl ring. In the 2009 NFC Title Game, Brett Favre threw an interception rather than run out of bounds and let his kicker try a game winning field goal. The Vikings lost in overtime on a field goal without ever touching the ball, leading to the overtime rule change giving each team one chance with the ball (barring a touchdown on the opening drive). In his final game, the 15-1 Panthers lost the Super Bowl. Von Miller suffocated Cam Newton, allowing Peyton Manning to retire on top rather than Allen. In 2011, Allen had 22 sacks, only 1/2 a sack shy of the single season record. He will get in at some point, but too many players crowd him out this year.
LeRoy Butler, S. 1990-2001 Green Bay Packers
Outside of Green Bay, most leatherheads only remember the 1990s Packers as Brett Favre, Reggie White and maybe Walrus Mike Holmgren. Butler made four Pro Bowls. He led or tied the team lead for interceptions in a season five times. He had 38 interceptions and recovered 12 fumbles. In a crowded field, Butler does not get in before Charles Woodson.
Richard Seymour, DE/DT. 2001-08 New England Patriots; 2009-2012 Oakland Raiders
Seymour won three Super Bowls with the Patriots. But he became another example of the trains rolling after he left. The Patriots defense was the weak link that kept them from winning a Super Bowl from 2005 through 2008. Seymour did nothing with the Raiders, although many players suffered in Oakland during those lean years. Seymour waits.
Tom Flores, Coach. 1979-1987 Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders; 1992-94 Seattle Seahawks
Flores is one of only two head coaches with two Super Bowl wins who is not already in the Football Hall of Fame (Tom Coughlin just became eligible). Even though Flores beat Coryell en route to his first Super Bowl win, you can make a strong argument that Coryell still deserves it more. Flores inherited a great team from John Madden. Flores failed miserably in Seattle. Coryell succeeded in both his coaching stops by turning losers into winners. Nevertheless, Coryell missed the cut so Flores deserves serious consideration only on his own merits. He was far more than merely a caretaker of great players. Coaching the various crazies on the Raiders required a steady hand, and he was that.
Bill Nunn, Contributor
He did not play Radio Raheem in Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing.” That was a different Bill Nunn. This Bill Nunn joined the Steelers in 1970 as an Assistant Personnel Director. He stayed with the organization for 44 years, the last 27 as a Scout. Only death separated him from his beloved black and gold. He arrived one year after Chuck Noll and played a vital role in drafting the players that would form a dynasty. He arrived before Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann, Mean Joe Greene and a ton of other Steelers in the Hall of Fame. The Steel Curtain exists because Nunn helped get them drafted. Nunn’s work with Historically Black Colleges and Universities gave him access to talent that other teams never knew about. The Steelers are tied for the most Super Bowls with six. Nunn’s contribution to the organizational success merits his inclusion. He gets in.
Drew Pearson, Senior Finalist
Many fans thought he was already enshrined. Now it is time to correct this significant oversight. Writers and historians cannot tell the story of the NFL without him. The original 1975 “Hail Mary pass” made Roger Staubach a legend. But, lest we forget, someone had to catch it. Vikings fans still insist that Pearson pushed off on Nate Wright, but the officials saw it differently. With Staubach at QB, Pearson went to three Super Bowls, winning it all in 1977.
Subsequently, with Danny White replacing the retired Staubach, Pearson went on to three straight NFC Title Games. Unfortunately for the self-described America’s Team, all three games were on the road and the Cowboys lost all three of them. The most gut-wrenching loss was the 1981 NFC Title Game. Football fans everywhere remember “The Catch” from Joe Montana to Dwight Clark, but the Cowboys still had one minute left to win that game. They had reached midfield and stood one completion away from a winning field goal try, but White got hit and fumbled.
Staubach is in the Hall of Fame. So is running back Tony Dorsett. So is “Bullet” Bob Hayes. So is offensive lineman Rayfield Wright. So is their head coach, the late Tom Landry. It is beyond time for Pearson to join them. He should be a lock.
— Headline image: Old entrance to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. GNU license 1.2.