Sports Outside the Beltway

Hall of Fame Wide Receivers a Dying Breed?

Hall of Fame sportswriter Rick Gosselin argues a lot of great wide receivers are being left out of Canton for no good reason.

As a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee, we seem to collectively have decided no wide receiver is worthy of Canton until Jerry Rice becomes eligible. We’ve lost sight of what greatness is. The Pro Football Hall of Fame needs to define what a Hall of Fame wide receiver is for us. Is it the statistics? Is it the championships? Is it big plays in big games? Is it longevity? Is it consistency? Is it sizzle? What? The selection committee needs some guidance here.

If it’s statistics, Monk would be in. He set NFL records for most catches in a season (106) and career (940) before retiring after the 1995 season. He also played on three Super Bowl championship teams. He’s been a finalist for the Hall of Fame each of the last six years but has been voted down by the committee every time.

If it’s championships, Irvin would be in. He won three Super Bowls with the Cowboys in the 1990s as Troy Aikman’s go-to guy. He also has the stats. Despite a career shortened by a neck injury after 12 seasons, Irvin still ranks 13th on the all-time receiving list with 750 receptions. Irvin has been a finalist for the Hall the last two years but has been voted down both times.

If it’s big plays in big games, Pearson belongs. Remember the Hail Mary? Yet he’s never been a finalist.

If it’s longevity, Irving Fryar with 851 catches in 17 seasons ought to be in. He’s another guy who can’t get to the finals.

If it’s consistency, Reed belongs in. He played for the Buffalo Bills for 15 years and caught at least 50 passes in 13 of those seasons. He went to four Super Bowls and ranks fourth on the all-time receiving list with 951. But he’s another guy who has never been to the finals.

If it’s sizzle, Bob Hayes belongs. The nickname says it all – Bullet. But Hayes was voted down by the committee in his only appearance as a finalist in 2004.

The committee elected Lynn Swann in 2001, John Stallworth in 2002 and James Lofton in 2003. Now, for whatever reason, the tap has been turned off. I’m not sure any of those three would be re-elected if they returned to the 2007 ballot. If 1990s inductees Tommy McDonald, Charlie Joiner and Steve Largent had to repeat the process in today’s climate, I doubt any of them would get in, either.

It’s a fair point. Indeed, aside from being spectacular in two Super Bowls against my Cowboys, it’s not at all clear that Swann was one of the great wide receivers of all time. But, certainly, Monk, Hayes, and Irvin belong. Probably Reed and Pearson, too. They were all great players for teams that went to multiple Super Bowls. That should be enough.

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