Since the NFL Hall of Fame Class of 2009 was announced I thought I’d make a few brief observations about the inductees.
Bruce Smith, Defensive End
Buffalo Bills 1985-1999 and Washington Redskins 2000-2003
Bruce Smith was a shoe in to make the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He was that rare defensive lineman who could literally dominate a game from the defensive side of the ball. You simply do not see many defensive linemen who have such a monumental impact on a game as Bruce Smith. He fits right in with the late, great Reggie White.
Bruce Smith was selected as NFL Defensive Player of the Year twice, in 1990 and 1996. He also holds the NFL sack record with 200 (although Deacon Jones may quibble with that since they didn’t count sacks during his career).
My greatest memories of Bruce Smith were watching him literally take games over from his defensive end spot. At times it was simply amazing to see what a force he was on the defensive side of the ball. He made the entire talented Buffalo defense better than what it otherwise would have been. It is a shame the Buffalo Bills, losers of four Super Bowls, didn’t snag at least one given the talent they put on the field. Bruce Smith definitely deserves the honor of being selected to the Hall of Fame.
Rod Woodson, Cornerback and Free Safety
Pittsburgh Steelers 1987-1996, San Francisco 49’ers 1997, Baltimore Ravens 1008-2001, Oakland Raiders 2002-2003
I love Rod Woodson and he is another fabulous defensive player who absolutely was going to make it in his first year of eligibility. Rod was a cornerback who could cover a receiver AND make big hits and tackles. He was also a damn fine kick returner earlier in his career. He was the 1993 Defensive Player of the Year.
When I think back to my life watching football, which goes back from 1978 to present, four names come to mind as cornerbacks and safeties as being all time greats. Mike Haynes, Ronnie Lott, Darrell Green, and Rod Woodson. These guys were tough, physical corners who could cover AND tackle, something that is rare in the NFL today. These were not just speedy “cover corners” like Deion Sanders who never saw a tackle he wanted to make. These were real, tough football players.
What makes Rod Woodson even more special is his intelligence. He suffered an ACL injury that would have forced most cornerbacks out of the game. Rod adapted and become a safety, much like Ronnie Lott did late in his career, and was a dominant force at that position as well.
Ralph Wilson, Owner, Buffalo Bills
Why it took so long for Ralph Wilson to be elected into Hall of Fame baffles me. He was an original owner and an integral part of the founding of the American Football League. He was also an important player in the eventual merger of the AFL and NFL. Ralph Wilson not only belongs in the Hall of Fame, he should have been selected for the honor long ago.
Derrick Thomas, Linebacker
Kansas City Chiefs, 1989-1999
Derrick Thomas recorded the most of sacks of any linebacker in the 1990’s with 116.5 (he had a career total of 126.5) and was named to the 1990’s All Decade Team. While no Lawrence Taylor (who is?) Thomas was a beast of a pass rusher and solid against the run during his entire career. I recall watching the game where he sacked Dave Krieg of the Seattle Seahawks seven times to set the single game sack record. In general, what I remember most about Thomas is his coming up with big sacks at critical moments and leading the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense from woeful to wonderful.
Unfortunately, Thomas died a few months after being paralyzed in a car accident after the 1999 season. He was heading to the Super Bowl, running late, and speeding over icy roads in Kansas City, and of course lost control of the car and crashed.
Randall McDaniel, Guard
Minnesota Vikings 1988-1998, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2000-2001
Randall McDaniel was one of the most dominant offensive linemen during his career and anchored a line of one the highest scoring offenses. I watch a lot offensive and defensive line play and he was one of those rare offensive lineman that once you locked in on him, you didn’t want to quit watching him play because he was such an excellent blocker. While the quarterback position is the most important single player on a team, especially in the pass oriented game of the 2000’s, the game is really won at the line of scrimmage. Having a player like McDaniel anchoring the line and being both an excellent run and pass blocker is critical to the success of the offense.
Bullet Bob Hayes, Wide Receiver
Dallas Cowboys 1965-1974, San Francisco 49’ers 1975
Bob Hayes played before my time so I have less to say about him. He was obviously a speedy, game breaking receiver that was integral in the Cowboys early success. It took him this long to get into the Hall of Fame because after his career he spent time in jail for dealing drugs.
DESERVING PEOPLE LEFT OUT
Chris Carter, Wide Receiver
Someone asked me one day if I thought Chris Carter belonged in the Hall of Fame. My gut, subjective feeling was simply he didn’t seem like a Hall of Fame caliber receiver to me, so my answer was an unequivocal no.
But, being a little curious I went back to look at Chris Carter’s career statistics and read a little bit about his accomplishments. I have unequivocally changed my mind.
Granted statistics are not the best way to evaluate the receiver position because a player like Randy Moss can catch no passes but have a profound impact o the game. That said, Chris Carter’s statistics and career accomplishments clearly places him as not only deserving of the Hall of Fame, but it would be a travesty of justice if he doesn’t make it.
First, he his third all time in career receptions behind Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison with 1,101 catches. He is second all time in touchdown receptions behind, who else, Jerry Rice, with 130 (although if Harrison doesn’t retire he’ll likely pass that mark easily). He recorded two consecutive 122 catch seasons. And he was the lynchpin in one of the highest scoring offensive teams, the Minnesota Vikings, during his tenure there.
I also went back to look at two other receivers who made the Hall of Fame by comparison – Art Monk and James Lofton. Interestingly all three careers are very similar in terms of longevity and statistics. I definitely think Monk and Lofton belong in the Hall of Fame, but if they belong, then Chris Carter undoubtedly does too.
Andre Reed, Wide Receiver
Andre Reed is another receiver that I think deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. Like Carter, if you stack his career statistics up against Lofton, Monk, and Carter, he may lag just slightly behind but not by much. When I think back to the careers of receivers during the general timeframe that Carter played, from roughly 1985-2000, there were only a handful of truly dominant receivers – Jerry Rice, Chris Carter, Andre Reed, Michael Irvin, and maybe Tim Brown if you consider his longevity. Andre Reed belongs in the Hall of Fame too.
Shannon Sharpe, Tight End
I personally never could stand Shannon Sharpe when he played or as announcer. His big mouth and stupid antics annoy me. On a purely personal gut feeling level, I would never vote for this loudmouth to be in the Hall of Fame. But he absolutely belongs there. He retired as the top pass catching tight end in history and was simply a phenomenal player. Other than Kellen Winslow, Sr. and Ozzie Newsome, Sharpe is the best tight end in my lifetime, including Tony Gonzalez (who I am a huge fan of) and Antonio Gates.
Paul Tagliabue, Commissioner
I heard Peter King say that there is sentiment against Tagliabue getting into the Hall of Fame, and that he may never get in because he failed to get a final labor deal and maybe some other reasons I missed. Maybe you don’t put Tagliabue in immediately with so many worthy players waiting to get in but Tagliabue shepherded the NFL to the most popular, highest revenue sport in America and absolutely, positively, belongs in the Hall Fame. It would be ridiculously embarrassing if he doesn’t get in. He undoubtedly deserves it.