Sports Outside the Beltway

Hall of Fame No Sure Bet

Rick Gosselin notes that we throw around the phrase “future Hall of Famer” way too easily when talking about NFL greats.

Dallas Morning News Columnist Goose GosselinI’m hearing “first-ballot Hall of Famer” plenty these days with the retirements of Brett Favre, Jonathan Ogden, Michael Strahan and Warren Sapp. I’m hearing “future Hall of Famer” with the retirements of Steve McNair and Bryant Young. The Class of 2013 could be pumped up even further if Junior Seau decides he’s through.

The assumption is that the latest is always the greatest, so let’s rush all these guys into Canton.

 AP  	 Packers quarterback Brett Favre and Giants defensive lineman Michael Strahan had strong final seasons in 2007.In Favre’s case, I’ll buy it. He retired as the game’s all-time leading passer with more completions, yards and touchdowns than any other quarterback in NFL history. Five years from now when he becomes eligible for Canton, Favre figures to still be atop all the passing lists.

Those are the true first-ballot guys: Favre, Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith – players who pushed the bar so high it would take years for anyone to catch them statistically.

All other “first-ballot” candidates are matters of opinion, which makes them all subject to debate.

Strahan retired after 15 seasons with 141½ sacks. First ballot? Ask Chris Doleman his definition of a first-ballot Hall of Fame pass rusher. His statistics are better than Strahan’s across the board, but he can’t even get into the room for discussion by the Hall of Fame selection committee. Here’s a comparison:

Player Seasons Games Sacks FF FR Int
Doleman 15 232 150½ 43 23 8
Strahan 15 216 141½ 23 14 4
(FF-Forced fumbles; FR-Fumble recoveries, INT-Interceptions)

The natural argument would be that Strahan played the strong side, where a player generally has to fight through more traffic to get to the quarterback than a weakside pass rusher like Doleman.  But that argument hasn’t helped Kevin Greene. He finished his career with 160 sacks in 228 career games at his strongside linebacker spot and also can’t get into the room for discussion.  Both Doleman and Greene enter their fifth year of eligibility in 2009. Both Doleman and Greene deserve discussion before Strahan. Derrick Thomas, Richard Dent and Charles Haley also belong in the queue ahead of Strahan.

Warren Sapp was an all-decade tackle for the 1990s. So was Bryant Young. But so was Cortez Kennedy. Young went to five Pro Bowls, Sapp eight and Kennedy eight. Sapp was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1999. So was Kennedy in 1992. Yet Kennedy has never been a finalist in his four years of eligibility.

McNair took a team to the Super Bowl and was an NFL MVP. Ken Anderson also took a team to the Super Bowl and was an NFL MVP. Anderson went to twice as many Pro Bowls (four) than McNair (two). He also threw for more yards (32,838) and more touchdowns (197) than McNair (31,304 and 174). Anderson has been a finalist twice and been rejected twice.

Jonathan Ogden went to 11 Pro Bowls. So did guard Randall McDaniel, who was bounced in his first trip to the finals last February.

Junior Seau went to 12 Pro Bowls in his 18 NFL seasons. Les Richter played nine NFL seasons (1954-62) as a linebacker and went to eight Pro Bowls. He was once traded for 11 players. Yet he’s never been discussed by the Hall of Fame selection committee. Maxie Baughan went to nine Pro Bowls in the 1960s. He also has never been discussed.

The latest doesn’t always translate into the greatest. Labeling any player a “future Hall of Famer” or “first-ballot Hall of Famer” is a disservice to those who have already earned their way into Canton with those designations.

He’s right, of course.  Some truly great players are not in the Hall and some of today’s perennial Pro Bowlers will surely fall short.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame is by far the most exclusive of those representing the major sports.  There are some truly mediocre players in Cooperstown.  Basketball’s hall is, frankly, a joke, seeking to include everyone regardless of what level of competition they played at, lumping NBA greats in with women’s hoopstars and international stars.   Golf’s hall is simply matter of “qualifying” by winning the requisite number of tournaments and, again, it includes those who excel on the women’s tour.

Canton has gone, in my view, to the opposite extreme.   A football team has 22 starters, not counting special teams, compared to nine in baseball and five in basketball.  Yet, they let in a maximum of six modern era players each year.  Baseball lets in anyone getting votes from 75 percent of the writers, allowing large classes if several greats retire in short order.  Class sizes vary from year-to-year but typically three make it and as many as seven have in a single year.  Again, in a sport with far fewer players.

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