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Pro Football Hall of Fame: NFL 2021-2022 enshrinement predictions

Written By | Feb 10, 2022
Pro Football Hall of Fame, NFL, 2021

Old entrance to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. GNU license 1.2.

LOS ANGELES, February 10, 2022 — On Sunday, Super Bowl LVI (56) in Los Angeles will conclude by crowning the champion of the 2021 National Football League season. The winning team has bragging rights to having the best football players on the field this season. On the Thursday before the game, 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.

Forty-six sportswriters will meet in a secret location, either in person or virtually, to discuss each nominee. Then, in the football equivalent of an underground bunker, vigorous debates will occur. After their deliberations, America will have seven or eight new Hall of Fame nominees.

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 deserve to be in the HOF immediately continue to be ignored. The separate categories for contributors allow more nominees to get in. Thankfully, the Hall of Fame finally listened to reason and put coaches in a different category from players.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame currently 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.

Most of the current 18 remaining Hall of Fame nominees genuinely deserve to get in. So the real issue becomes who deserves to get in right now.

That said, every year produces one or two no-brainers. For example, 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.

Devin Hester, PR/KR/WR — 2006-2013 Chicago Bears, 2014-2015 Atlanta Falcons, 2016 Baltimore Ravens, 2016 Seattle Seahawks

As a wide receiver, Hester was, at best mediocre. However, Hester was the very best return man the NFL has ever seen. Football games are won and lost because of turnovers and field position. Hester affected field position. He is the only player in Super Bowl history to return the opening kickoff for a touchdown. He has the most touchdown returns in NFL history, but his impact goes beyond that. Opposing coaches feared Hester. “Do not kick the ball to Devin Hester” became a popular exclamation. Attempts at avoiding kicking to Hester caused kickers to send the ball out of bounds, setting up offenses at their 40-yard line.

Hester is a first-ballot Hall of Fame because he caused the entire league to alter their special teams in a way not seen since he retired. Hester immediately gets in.

Andre Johnson, WR — 2003-2014 Houston Texans, 2015 Indianapolis Colts, 2016 Tennessee Titans

Andre Johnson never made it to an AFC Title Game, much less a Super Bowl. On the other hand, try to remember who was throwing him the football. The best of the bunch was Matt Schaub, who managed to throw a pick-six in four straight games. Johnson also caught passes from David Carr and Sage Rosenfels. In Johnson’s final season in Houston, he caught passes from Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Mallett, and Case Keenum. Johnson made seven Pro Bowls and held every meaningful Texans franchise receiving record. He was the first player ever inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor.

Johnson has more receiving yards than James Lofton and Cris Carter, both in the Hall of Fame. Lofton and Carter also had better quarterbacks throwing them the ball. So Johnson gets in now 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 him 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 was denied enshrinement during his life. Cancer took him at age 45. The Panthers motto “keep pounding” is dedicated to him. This is not a sympathy vote. His exclusion is wrong that the Hall of Fame needs to correct now. Mills finally gets in this year.

Ronde Barber, CB/S. 1997-2012 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, and John Lynch were 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. The history of the NFL cannot be told without that play that turned the laughingstock of the league into World champions.

Teams regularly employ the Tampa 2 defense. When an entire defensive strategy is named after the team you played on; you are a Hall of Famer.

The hard-hitting Lynch deserved to get in first as great as Barber was. Lynch was enshrined last year. Now Barber deserves to get in and will get in.

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. Instead, 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. That logjam has finally been broken. Thomas finally gets in.

Tony Boselli, T. 1995-2001 Jacksonville Jaguars; 2002 Houston Texans (injured reserve)

This is the toughest of the tough calls and 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 deserved consideration, but this is his final year of eligibility. He does deserve to get in, but unfortunately, he is the sixth-best nominee this year, and only five get in.

Boselli will have to wait until he becomes a Senior nominee, where he will absolutely merit inclusion.

DeMarcus Ware, LB — 2005-2013 Dallas Cowboys, 2014-2016 Denver Broncos

DeMarcus Ware is a nominee because he deserves to be. All of the nominees deserve to be. The issue is whether Ware deserves to be in now. This is his first year on the ballot. In the 1970s, the Cowboys were known for having the Doomsday Defense. Try remembering something distinguishing about the Dallas defense while Ware was there. People remember the offense in those years, led by Tony Romo. Ware did win a Super Bowl with the 2015 Broncos, but that team was led by Von Miller and coordinated by one of the greatest defensive coordinators in league history in Wade Phillips.

Ware does hold the Cowboys franchise record for sacks, but nothing about his career says he must be enshrined right now. He waits.

Reggie Wayne, Wide Receiver – 2001-2014 Indianapolis Colts

Wayne caught many 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 the Hall of Fame. Those Colts teams dominated the regular season but only won one Super Bowl. Reggie Wayne was not Calvin Johnson, which explains why Wayne has waited. Johnson got in last year.

Yet this year, another Johnson (Andre) beats him out. So Wayne will continue to wait.

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. So it was right to put Bruce into the HOF before Holt. Like Reggie Wayne, Holt was the number two receiver on his team. Holt also got crowded out last year by Calvin Johnson and got bumped aside this year by Andre Johnson. Holt waits.

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. Brett Favre threw an interception in the 2009 NFC Title Game rather than run out of bounds and let his kicker try a game-winning field goal. As a result, 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). The 15-1 Panthers lost the Super Bowl in his final game. 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 leads for interceptions in a season five times. He had 38 interceptions and recovered 12 fumbles. But, in a crowded field, Butler did not get in before Charles Woodson.

Woodson was enshrined last year. Nevertheless, Butler still waits.

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.

Patrick Willis, LB — 2007-2014 San Francisco 49ers

Willis was part of a nasty 49ers defense that went to three straight NFC Title Games. The 49ers won ugly, with the defense leading the team. Willis made the Pro Bowl seven straight years to start his career. His injury-plagued eighth season was his last. Like Boselli, Willis would have benefitted from a longer body of work. Terrell Davis and Gale Sayers only played six seasons apiece. Yet they were indispensable to the success of their teams, particularly Davis. Willis was on a team loaded with defensive talent that did not win a Super Bowl.

After a couple of lean years, the 49ers soon returned to tough defense with other players. But unfortunately, Willis does not stand out enough, so he waits.

Bryant Young, DE/DT — 1994-2007 San Francisco 49ers —

Young won a Super Bowl in his rookie year, but that was due to the presence of all-world greats Steve Young, Jerry Rice, and Deion Sanders. Young was not nominated until 2019, 12 years after he retired. This is his first year as a finalist. He did show courage in recovering from a gruesome leg injury. While he is in the 49ers Hall of Fame, he only made four Pro Bowls in 14 seasons. He made the NFL 1990s all-decade team, but it was his teammate Dana Stubblefield who was the defensive player of the year, not Young. Young waits.

Willie Anderson, OT — 1996-2007 Cincinnati Bengals, 2008 Baltimore Ravens

In his favor is that he only allowed 16 total sacks in his 13 seasons. He faced off against nine of the top 11 sack leaders of all time and only allowed one total sack from them. That came in his rookie season against Bruce Smith, another example of a worthy player who has faced stiff competition. Anderson was not the best tackle in Bengals’ history. That would be Anthony Munoz, who is in the Hall of Fame.

Anderson was not an equal to his contemporaries Walter Jones, Jonathan Ogden, or Orlando Pace. They are all in. Anderson never reached a Super Bowl or even an AFC Title Game, but he played on a team that for years was known as the Bungles.

It would be a feel-good story if Anderson got in the HOF when the Bengals reached the Super Bowl, but Anderson will have to wait.

Dick Vermeil, Coach Finalist

It is one thing to take over a really good team and get them to the next level. Vermeil took over losers and turned them into winners. Under Vermeil, the Eagles made it to a Super Bowl. He won a Super Bowl with the Rams. He turned around a bad Chiefs team and got them to a division title and playoff berth. His offenses were unstoppable. Yes, Vermeil lucked into Kurt Warner when Trent Green went down. Yes, he had Mad Scientist Mike Martz as his offensive coordinator during the “Greatest Show on Turf” years. The 2001 Rams with Martz but without Vermeil lost the Super Bowl despite being heavy favorites. Forget his working his players to death. He adapted. Forget his constant crying. Football is an emotional game, and there are far worse qualities than truly loving and caring about people.

Vermeil got the Eagles to the Super Bowl by beating the Cowboys when the Cowboys were dominating almost everyone else. Vermeil got three different teams to the playoffs in three different decades. He gets in.

Art McNally, Contributor

He was a referee. Does a referee deserve to get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame? McNally was a referee for 23 years (1968 through 1991). He oversaw the first instant replay system, but he did not create it. Former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue created the Art McNally Award to honor an official who is the consummate professional. Try remembering a single game where Art McNally made a difference. Unfortunately, officials who affect games usually do so for the worst reasons. So this creates a double-edged sword. McNally did not commit a blunder that angered fans, but what is not remembered is a tough sell for enshrinement.

As of now, there is not a single official in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. So the first question is if this deserves to change.

Even if one decided that it should, can we say that the story of the NFL cannot be told without Art McNally? That is a very tough sell. He will probably get in because contributor nominees always get in. However, that does not mean he should. There are more significant contributors.

Cliff Branch, 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 1970s Raiders had an entire team of Hall of Famers, but Branch was the speed demon who lit up Al Davis’s beloved vertical passing game. Branch caught bombs from Ken Stabler and Jim Plunkett, including an NFL-best 99-yard touchdown reception from Plunkett.

Branch was so fast that he pulled a hamstring on that play and still outran everyone.

Branch went to five straight AFC Title Games from 1973 through 1977 and seven overall AFC Title Games to three Super Bowls. He was an integral part in winning all three, catching two touchdown passes in the 1980 Super Bowl. And another one in the 1983 Super Bowl. In addition, he went to four straight Pro Bowls from 1974 through 1977. He held the NFL record for playoff receptions and receiving yards when he retired.

Jerry Rice eventually broke those records, but Branch was among the best of his era. Unfortunately, he died in 2019, and it is a disgrace that he did not get enshrined during his lifetime. This wrong needs to be corrected now. Cliff Branch gets in.


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Eric Golub

Brooklyn born, Long Island raised and now living in Los Angeles, Eric Golub is a politically conservative columnist, blogger, author, public speaker, satirist and comedian. Read more from Eric at his TYGRRRR EXPRESS blog. Eric is the author of the book trilogy “Ideological Bigotry, “Ideological Violence,” and “Ideological Idiocy.”