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Fame Game, Part II

Upcoming classes and current players cause several HOF conundrums

Posted: Thursday August 5, 2004 1:07PM; Updated: Thursday August 5, 2004 5:23PM
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In Fame Game Part I, Dr. Z evaluated the Hall of Fame prospects for several retired players who have been on the ballot in the past but have not yet been selected.

My man Andrew did the research on which of the recent retirees will come up for Hall of Fame candidacy in what year. If a name has been left off, complain to him, not me. Waddya mean, complain to him? It's your column, isn't it? Yeah, right, but believe me, I had my hands full, going through each roster and trying to find possible HOF material without subjecting myself to ridicule.

Here's the way it works for the Enshrinement Class. If a guy quit after the 1999 season, then he's class of 2005, which is the one coming up. (January, '05, is when the players are selected). You wait five seasons after retirement, in this case '00 through '04, then he's eligible. So a player who retired after last season becomes eligible in '09 ('04 through '08, which is the five-year waiting period, then the enshrinement in January, '09, get it?)

Some of these are tricky, because you never know when someone might return. Is Rod Woodson gone for good, thereby eligible for the Class of '09, or could he make still another miraculous comeback next season? I'm betting this is it for him, that he's finished.

The Next Five Classes

2005 -- Dan Marino and Steve Young are chalk, although there might be some arguing about Young. Michael Irvin and Derrick Thomas are second tier. They'll have trouble fighting off finalists from previous years. Right now Irvin would get my vote. Charles Haley is a long shot, although he really deserves a hard look because he was a unique player who had an immediate positive effect on each of his teams. Chris Doleman and Steve Atwater have almost no chance, and Kevin Greene will have to wait, even though he's the No. 3 sacker of all time.

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2006 -- This will be brutal. Here are six names, all of whom are eminently qualified. Troy Aikman, Warren Moon, Andre Reed, Deion Sanders, Thurman Thomas, Reggie White. If both senior candidates get in, then only four of the above six can be chosen. So who do you leave off? Certainly not Sanders nor White, who are, arguably, the best ever to play their positions. Pick a QB: Aikman vs. Moon. Pick a Buffalo Bill: Thomas vs. Reed. Right now I'd have to go with Aikman and Thomas. No wait a minute, I can't leave Warren Moon off. But how can I leave off Thomas, the heart and soul of the Bills' K-Gun offense? I told you, brutal! Andrew dropped six more names into this mix, most notable of which was Cortez Kennedy, but these guys will have to wait.

2007 -- Terrell Davis, Jamal Anderson, Randall Cunningham, Eric Allen, Carnell Lake, Bruce Matthews, Ricky Watters and Tony Boselli were the names I was presented with. I'd say that Matthews is the strongest candidate of the bunch. Davis will be the most perplexing. Just how long does a career have to be? His lasted seven years, three of which were a wash, four of which were productive, with three of them accounting for 5,296 yards. No runner has ever gained more in three consecutive seasons. OK, so if we're approving Davis' seven-year career, then how about Boselli's seven-year career? Five Pro Bowls in seven years. Right now I'm inclined to say yes to Davis, no to Boselli, and this might be a good year to get in the leftovers from 2006.

2008 -- Cris Carter, Lomas Brown, Jumbo Elliott, Darrell Green, Richmond Webb. Believe me, I'm not anti-lineman. I've always been in their corner. I just don't think this is a representative list. Sure, they were good players, but Hall of Fame? Uh uh. As for Carter and Green, it'll be a crime if they're not first ballot choices.

2009 -- Shannon Sharpe, John Randle, Bruce Smith, Rod Woodson, Gary Anderson, Larry Centers. I added the last three myself. Sharpe, Smith and Woodson, yes, yes and yes. Randle, no. Lots of sacks, but just too unsound against the run. Sorry, but they haven't yet ruled out that part of the game. Anderson? Well, he's the leading field-goal producer and scorer of all time, although by '09 he'll probably be second to Morten Andersen, which will take him out of commission in the HOF voting. Centers is the most prolific pass-catching back. Is this enough? I don't think it will be.

Current Possibilities

This will be done team by team, division by division, and it took me forever to come up with the 101 names I've got on my nice yellow legal pad. A hundred and one? Waddya kidding or something? That's for the next 25 enshrinements. Well, you see, these aren't necessarily people I'm backing. I'm just suggesting names other people might suggest, and then ... you'll see.

AFC EAST

BUFFALO -- Drew Bledsoe, Eric Moulds, Troy Vincent, Lawyer Milloy, Travis Henry. Stop yelling, these are just possibles. I'd say Vincent is the strongest of these candidates, but don't turn your nose up at Henry as a long shot, provided Willis McGahee doesn't usurp too many of his carries. Henry is 25 and has averaged almost 1,200 yards for the last three seasons. Project that over a career and you've got something special. He's a terrific little back. Bledsoe will have to have one or two more hot years. The selectors like comeback stories.

Junior Seau
Junior Seau is likely a first-ballot selection.
Bill Frakes/SI

MIAMI -- Junior Seau, David Boston, Patrick Surtain, Sam Madison. Zach Thomas, Jason Taylor. Seau probably will go in on the first ballot. Surtain and Madison will be somewhere in the cornerback mix that'll include Vincent and then Chris McAlister, Ty Law and possibly Champ Bailey. I like Thomas, but first I want to see Sam Mills make it. Taylor will be 30 in September and I don't think he'll put together enough career sacks to get the nod. Now we get to Boston, whose name I'm sure has drawn its share of tee-hees. He's had only one year you'd call Hall of Fame caliber out of his five in the league, but here's the thing about him. He's only 25. What if he really gets it together in Miami, as he has sworn to do, and puts together a terrific run? Granted, it's only a what-if, but it can't be ignored.

NEW ENGLAND -- Tom Brady, Corey Dillon, Ty Law, Richard Seymour, Rodney Harrison, Willie McGinest, Bill Belichick. Not a super-star lineup, but that's New England for you. Role players, including Brady, who won't have a career filled with gaudy numbers, but already has two Super Bowl rings ... and he's only 27. Dillon needs around 600 yards to climb into the all-time top 20, and once he starts going up that ladder, the selectors will take notice. He's 29. Oh yes, the coach. There will be few arguments when his name comes up.

NY JETS -- Chad Pennington. It's all ahead of him. Curtis Martin. Eleventh, all-time, rushing and eight of the 10 guys ahead of him are already in. Kevin Mawae, center. I get the feeling his name will come up. "Leadership" will be the phrase we'll hear. I don't think he has much of a chance.

AFC NORTH

BALTIMORE -- Ray Lewis will make it first ballot. Jonathan Ogden might. Chris McAlister will have to compete against too many corners. OK, here's a sleeper. Ed Reed, strong safety. Two years in the league and already a dominant player, a dynamo, 25-years-old.

CINCINNATI -- Eric Steinbach, guard. He's 24, with one season in the league and that was near-Pro Bowl caliber. Could be a great player for many years.

CLEVELAND -- Andra Davis, MLB. Another youngster who caught my tired old eye. Twenty five years old and on the rise. You realize I'm touching all bases here and I could be significantly wrong, but if I manage to hit on one of these sleepers, I'll want it on the record that I saw something very early on.

PITTSBURGH -- Hines Ward. Yes, indeed. I don't care what his numbers are, this competitive wild man will get my vote. Jerome Bettis. The No. 6 rusher of all time and still chugging along, just barely. Alan Faneca, guard. Made the last three Pro Bowls, played some tackle, 27-years-old, will get his name penciled in as a Pro Bowler for many years, and that's a strong argument in the selection meetings.

AFC SOUTH

HOUSTON -- Sorry, not yet.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Peyton Manning. Should be a solid choice unless he comes up with too many other QB's. Marvin Harrison. An easy enshrinement choice. Edgerrin James. I don't think so. He's 26, but he's getting hurt now. Mike Vanderjagt. Well, we've already mentioned a kicker, haven't we? Gary Anderson, and when we get to KC we're going to mention another, Morten Andersen. But what's it worth to be the most accurate field goaler of all time by a very wide margin? His lifetime percentage is 87.9. David Akers, the runner-up, is at 83 percent. Finally Tony Dungy. Everybody loves this guy, and all we need is one Super Bowl victory and he can write his own ticket.

TENNESSEE -- Steve McNair. These are the arguments I'll hear when I stand up and talk on his behalf. He was only picked to two Pro Bowls. I don't care. Those guys don't always know what they're doing. He never won a championship. A lot of great QBs didn't, through no fault of their own. The only time he was in one, he drove his team one yard away from a possible victory. Keith Bulluck, OLB. He's just starting to taste stardom, but I think he's a terrific open-side backer.

AFC WEST

DENVER -- Rod Smith. Sorry, not enough numbers. Trevor Pryce. Oh, his name will come up, but I think other guys are better. Champ Bailey. Some people will mount a campaign, but he's not my choice. Too inconsistent. Tom Nalen, C. Yes. Anchored many fine lines. Has been there during the great times. My No. 1 center of this era, and where's the sign that says centers can't make it? John Lynch. Body's about worn out now, but what a fine career he's had. I'll bet he makes it, if not on the first ballot, then sometime.

p1_tomlinson.jpg
LaDainian Tomlinson has averaged 1,521 rushing yards the past three seasons.
Peter Read Miller/SI

KANSAS CITY -- Priest Holmes. I'm afraid it all came just a wee bit too late for him. He needs more numbers and it looks like he's starting to slow down a bit. Willie Roaf, T, and Will Shields, G. Nine Pro Bowl selections apiece. Must be taken seriously. Tony Gonzalez. He'll have to get in line behind Sharpe and Todd Christensen. Dick Vermeil. A long, distinguished career that cries out for enshrinement. Morten Andersen. He'll have all the kicking numbers, unless he doesn't make it through this season. Only one kicker in history has been enshrined, Jan Stenerud. It'll depend on what Morten's competition is.

OAKLAND -- Jerry Rice and Tim Brown, who won't be a Raider, but I didn't know where to put him. No discussion for the former. The latter will present huge numbers, and he's certainly been a durable warrior, but what has worried me through the years has been the number of drops. I honestly don't know how I'll vote here, but by the time his name comes up it won't matter because I'll be blowing bubbles in a nursing home somewhere. Charles Woodson. Forgot to mention him in the CB mix I alluded to. A great talent but inconsistent. Warren Sapp. Great moments but not a great career.

SAN DIEGO -- LaDainian Tomlinson. Right now, he's the best back in football, and he's 25. Oh yes, the numbers. An average of 1,521 yards for his three seasons and 100 passes caught last year.

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Sports Illustrated senior writer Paul Zimmerman covers the NFL for the magazine and SI.com. His Power Rankings, "Inside Football" column and Mailbag appear weekly on SI.com.

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