Waiting on that Gold Jacket

All 7 Members of this year's Pro Football Hall of Fame class are deserving but it still feels like somebody's missing.

Every year when a Hall of Fame class is named or inducted in any sport, just as much time is spent talking about those who did not get in as much as it is those who did.   The longer that a potential Hall of Famer is snubbed, the more the event becomes about them than those actually getting inducted.   Baseball’s Hall of Fame induction is never complete every year without some mention of Roger Maris not being enshrined in Cooperstown.  This weekend marks the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction in Canton.  Unlike most years, I can honestly look at this class top to bottom and say that every single person in this year’s class is deserving which is not always the case.   Marshall Faulk, Deion Sanders, Shannon Sharpe, Chris Hanburger, Les Richter, and Richard Dent all had Hall of Fame caliber careers.  My only real complaint about those who make up this year’s class is that Ed Sabol, the founder of NFL Films,  is being inducted.

My complaint is not that Sabol is finding a home in Canton, it’s that Ed Sabol should’ve been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame decades ago!  His ideas about preserving sporting events on film and using that as a marketing tool changed sports forever. It came as a shock to me that he was being inducted because, to be completely frank, I thought he had already been enshrined.

However, like anyone, I find it necessary at Hall of Fame induction time to talk about some of the people not in the Hall of Fame who deserve to be in the hope that if we talk about them enough, like the thirteen years of talk about Bert Blyleven prior to his induction in Baseball’s Hall of Fame this year, these great players will finally get the recognition they deserve.

So below I give you my top 11 Pro Football Hall of Fame Snubs.   Why 11?  Well first off, everyone does a top 10  and I have never been one to do something just because everyone else does (my mom would be proud  that her “If all your friends jumped off a cliff….” logic rubbed off on me).  Secondly, because while the common adage is “less is more”, as you can tell from my previous writings, I am  a proud member of the “more is more” camp.  Third of all, for a variety of reasons, 11 is my favorite number.  I started with a list of 25 guys and after much thought, was able to get it down to 11.  So without further ado from 11 to 1, my top 11 Pro Football Hall of Fame snubs.

11.  Steve Tasker, Wide Receiver/Special Teamer – Houston Oilers (1985 – 1986),  Buffalo Bills (1986 – 1997)

Buffalo Bills Head Coach Marv Levy once called Steve Tasker, “the most important man on the Bills roster.”  On a roster that included greats like Jim Kelly, Andre Reed, and Thurman Thomas that should mean something.   Many are going to be shocked that I have put a a Special Teamer on this list but in my mind, Steve Tasker is, without a doubt, the greatest special teams player of all time.    He had an ability to cover kicks/punts, block kicks/punts, and make plays on the Special Teams side of the ball.  He was so good at what he did, that while he was a capable receiver, Marv Levy rarely used him on offense because he didn’t want to risk injury to Tasker or do anything to that could prevent him from giving 100% to special teams.  Bill Parcells admitted that he had to game plan around Tasker.  There are many who believe that special teams players like coverage guys, kickers, and punters don’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame but many coaches would tell you that “special teams is one-third of the game”.  My question is, if this is the case – why doesn’t Canton reflect that?

10.  Ray Guy, Punter – Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders (1973 – 1986)

Most would concur that Ray Guy is the best punter that the NFL has ever seen.   He is so good in fact that the collegiate award for the best punter is named after Ray Guy.   People usually don’t realize how important it is to have a good punter, until your team has an awful one.  Punters dictate field position throughout the course of a game.  In Guy’s 14 year career, he was named to six straight Pro Bowls, was an All Pro three times, and was named the punter on the 1970’s All-Decade Team and the NFL 75th anniversary team.  He is remembered as a key part of a Raiders team that won three Super Bowls.  He is remembered for being able to not only punt the ball far (average of 42.4 yards over career and had five punts over 60 yards in the 1981 season) but for having a high hang time.  His hang time on his punts was so high that the officials once tested a ball he had punted for helium.   He had 210 career punts inside the 20 yard line, never had a punt returned for a touchdown, and finished his career with a streak of 619 unblocked punts.

Like Steve Tasker and Gary Anderson (maybe the greatest kicker of all-time who just missed my list), Ray Guy is often overlooked because he was a specialist.  While many of his teammates would tell you that he won them games because of how he was able to control field position, many believe that special teamers don’t belong in Canton.   I find it hard to understand why the 29th best quarterback in NFL history is deserving of enshrinement but the best special teams player and punter in NFL history are not.  This exclusion is American professional sports’ version of the Caste System.

9.  Andre Reed, Wide Receiver – Buffalo Bills (1985 – 1999), Washington Redskins (2000)

Of my top five wide receivers of all time that are eligible for enshrinement, three of them still find themselves on the outside looking in.  Many make fun of the Bills inability to win a Super Bowl after winning four straight AFC Championships in the early 1990s but that does not detract from the fact that the Buffalo Bills were a great team.  As a Minnesota Vikings fan (the other 0 – 4 Super Bowl franchise) I have always sympathized with the Bills’ streak of bad luck.  Andre Reed was a big part of that success.   He finished his career with 951 career receptions (8th all time), 13, 198 receiving yards (9th all time), and 87 touchdown receptions (11th all time).   He is third all time in Super Bowl receiving yards and second all time in Super Bowl receptions.  To understand the difference maker that Reed was, you only need to watch the highlights of the Bills/Oilers 1993 playoff game comeback victory where Reed finished with 136 yards receiving and 3 touchdowns.  One thing that I always appreciated about Andre Reed was that he just went out and played ball.   Unlike many receivers today and of the 90s, he did not self promote, he just let his body of work on the field do the talking.

8.  Kenny Stabler, Quarterback – Oakland Raiders (1968 – 1979), Houston Oilers (1980 – 1981), New Orleans Saints (1982 – 1984)

Kenny “The Snake” Stabler found ways to win.  That more than anything sets him apart from many quarterbacks out there.  The ability that Stabler had to bring his team from the jaws of defeat to late comeback victories allowed him to lead the Oakland Raiders past the Minnesota Vikings to their first Super Bowl win (Super Bowl XI) in franchise history.  Hall of Famer Gene Upshaw remarked that, “When we were behind in the fourth quarter, with our backs to our end zone, no matter how he had played up to that point, we could look in his eyes and you knew, you knew, he was going to win it for us. That was an amazing feeling.”  I am continuously dumbfounded that Stabler has been overlooked for enshrinement.  He is the only member of the 1970’s All-Pro team not enshrined and he broke Johnny Unitas’s record for fastest quarterback to reach 100 wins (only Tom Brady and Joe Montana reached 100 wins fasters than Stabler).   He was the 1974 MVP, a 4 time Pro Bowler, and twice led the league in passing touchdowns.   Stabler is one of the all time great quarterbacks and is in my mind, the most worthy Hall of Fame eligible quarterback of enshrinement.

7.  Charles Haley, Defensive End/Linebacker – San Francisco 49ers (1986 – 1991, 1998 – 1999), Dallas Cowboys (1992 – 1996)

The main reason that Charles Haley is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame is because his off-field troubles have distracted from his on-field accomplishments – particularly a physical confrontation with Steve Young that led to Haley being traded to Dallas.   Charles Haley is the only player in NFL history to be a member of five Super Bowl winning teams (2 with the 49ers, 3 with the Cowboys).   Haley was a ferocious defensive player known for his hard work and unmatched ability to rush the pass.   Haley finished his NFL career with 100.5 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 9 fumble recoveries.  He was an All-Pro player twice and named to the NFC Pro-Bowl team five times.

6. Curtis Martin, Running Back – New England Patriots (1995 – 1997), New York Jets (1998 – 2006)

In his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility Curtis Martin was overlooked which I consider a shame.  He is one of the NFL’s all-time great running backs and perhaps, one of the game’s most underrated.  Martin is one of only two running backs all-time (Barry Sanders being the other) to start his career with 10 straight 1,000 yard seasons.   He is one of 16 players all-time to have scored 100 touchdowns (90 rushing, 10 receiving) and his 14, 101 yards rushing are 4th all-time.  Most impressive is that Martin sustained excellence over such a long period of time.  He fell short in his quest to become the first player in NFL history to have 11 straight 1,000 yard seasons when he missed 4 games of his 11th season to injury.  Regardless he still had 735 yards rushing that year.  In 2004, at age 31, Martin rushed for 1,697 yards and beat out Shaun Alexander by only 1 yard to become the oldest NFL rushing title winner ever.   Curtis Martin is a Hall of Fame running back that will one day will find himself in Canton but unfortunately for Martin and Jets fans everywhere, today is not that day.

5. Jim Marshall, Defensive End – Cleveland Browns (1960), Minnesota Vikings (1961 – 1979)

Jim Marshall is the true Iron Man of the NFL.  He finished his career with 282 consecutive games played and 270 consecutive starts.  Brett Favre broke both of these records as a member of Marshall’s old team,  Minnesota Vikings, but what player hasn’t had a record broken by Brett Favre?  Jim Marshall was a part of the famed “Purple People Eaters” defensive line (of which Alan Page and Carl Eller are both Hall of Famers)  and recovered 30 fumbles in his career, an NFL record.   The trade that brought him from Cleveland to Minnesota in the Vikings’ first year of existence is a big part of the reason the Vikings were able to rise so quickly into one of the NFL’s (and later NFC’s) top teams.  While many remember Jim Marshall most for his famous “Wrong Way Run” in which he recovered a fumble and ran 66 yards in the wrong direction for a touchdown (which resulted in a safety), he is one of the all-time great and resilient players and is deserving of a spot in Canton.

4. Tim Brown, Wide Receiver – Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders (1988 – 2003), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2004)

Tim Brown is the second wide receiver to make this list.  I really thought that we would see more wide receivers make the Hall of Fame now that Jerry Rice, the consensus best wide receiver of all time, is now enshrined but it seems that wide receivers that played during the Rice era can hardly catch a break.  Brown is one of the best wideouts to ever play the game.  As a collegiate player, he became the first wide receiver to ever win the Heisman trophy and as a pro he became one of the most prolific receivers of all time.   As a member of the Raiders, he owns the franchise records for games played, receptions, receiving yards, and punt return yards.   He was just as dangerous as return man as he was a receiver and holds the record for being the oldest man to ever return a punt for a touchdown.  He was the third receiver to ever have 1,000 receptions.  He is second all-time in receiving yards, has 19,683 all-purpose yards, and finished his career with 105 touchdowns (100 of which were receiving TDs) which had him tied for 3rd all time when he retired.  He accomplished all of these things in spite of the fact that for most of his career he played with mediocre quarterbacks.

3. Willie Roaf, Offensive Tackle – New Orleans Saints (1993 – 2001), Kansas City Chiefs (2002 – 2005)

While special teams players clearly have the hardest hill to climb to enter Pro Football’s Hall of Fame, offensive linemen are not far behind.   What makes it even more difficult is that there are no real stats (other than pancakes) to really measure how good an offensive lineman really is.   Roaf started out his career with the New Orleans Saints.  He quickly became one of the NFL’s premier linemen because of his combination of size, speed, and strength.   In nine years with the Saints, he was named to 7 Pro Bowls.  After suffering an injury, he was traded to the Kansas City Chiefs where he was a Pro Bowler all 4 of his years in Kansas City.   Roaf was a member of both the 1990’s and 2000’s NFL All-Decade teams.

2. Jerry Kramer, Guard – Green Bay Packers (1958 – 1968)

Jerry Kramer was a key part of the Packers dynasty of the 1960’s.  With Kramer at right guard, the Green Bay Packers won five NFL Championships and two Super Bowls.  Kramer is best remembered for his block that allowed Bart Starr to dive into the endzone and beat the Cowboys in the “Ice Bowl” but there was more to Kramer’s career than that one block.  His agility and strength made him the key component of Lombardi’s “Packer Sweep” that the Green Bay dynasty was built on.   Kramer is one of the all-time great guards.  He was an All-Pro five times and is the only member of the NFL’s 50th Anniversary team not in the Hall of Fame.

The difficulty with offensive linemen is without the stats it is hard to see on paper the caliber of a guard, tackle, or center.  However, all you need to do is watch old Packers highlights to realize that Jerry Kramer belongs in Canton.

1. Cris Carter, Wide Receiver – Philadelphia Eagles (1987 – 1989), Minnesota Vikings (1990 – 2001), Miami Dolphins (2002)

If you were to ask most people who the biggest Hall of Fame snub is they would either answer Jerry Kramer or Cris Carter.  Considering that one of these two is my favorite player of all time, it was pretty easy for me to choose a one and a two.  In the words of famed Eagles’ coach Buddy Ryan, “All he [Carter] does is catch touchdowns.”  Considered by many to have the best hands of any wide receiver ever, Carter is most likely the greatest possession receiver of all time.  He started his career with the Philadelphia Eagles but was cut after two seasons due to problems relating to drug and alcohol abuse.  The Minnesota Vikings decided to take a chance on a wide receiver that was trying to turn his life around, which has since become the team’s M.O. (Randy Moss and Percy Harvin), and that gamble paid dividends in his second season in purple.  Carter was an 8 time Pro-Bowler, 3 time All-Pro, and was the 2nd starting receiver on the 1990’s All-Decade Team behind Jerry Rice.  He was the 2nd receiver to ever pass the 1000 reception plateau and at the time of this retirement was 2nd all-time in receptions (1,101) and receiving touchdowns (130).   He finished his career with 13, 8999 receiving yards and holds the vast majority of the Vikings franchise records for wide receivers.

Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks? Let me hear ’em!

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