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Hall monitoring

Three great years don't earn Davis a ticket to Canton

Posted: Tuesday May 24, 2005 2:37PM; Updated: Tuesday May 24, 2005 3:04PM
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Terrell Davis
Terrell Davis was terrific -- and prolific -- for three seasons, but not transcendent.
John Iacono/SI

ON TERRELL DAVIS' CANDIDACY, WE'RE GOING TO HAVE TO AGREE TO DISAGREE. From Rick Friedland of New York City: "Since you brought up the Broncos' lack of Hall of Famers, and mentioned Gary Zimmerman, Shannon Sharpe and Steve Atwater as deserving [to be in the Hall], I thought I'd touch on your conspicuous omission of Terrell Davis. Now, I know the respective successes of Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, Clinton Portis and Reuben Droughns might mitigate Davis' accomplishments, but let's examine those accomplishments more closely. He became the fourth of the now five-member 2,000-yard club, won the league MVP and two rings, and was named Super Bowl MVP. In eight career postseason games, Davis ran 204 times for 1,140 yards (a 5.6 per-carry average) and 12 touchdowns. Prorate those numbers over a 16-game regular season and you have the best rushing campaign in the history of the sport. Denver has had a lot of great backs during the Mike Shanahan era, but the best of those backs is worthy of a spot in Canton.''

Not in my book. Unless he was transcendent, I can't vote for a player who had only three great rushing seasons (1,538, 1,750 and 2,008 yards rushing, respectively) and played the equivalent of five seasons (78 games). It's just not long enough. The only way I'd vote for a 78-game player during the modern era is if he was clearly the best at his position, or he possessed a talent that few players in history have had. The best running back example I can give you is Gale Sayers, who also played the equivalent of five full seasons (68 games, when NFL teams played a 14-game season). Sayers is the most amazing cutback runner I've ever seen, and the most impressive return specialist I've ever seen. He once scored six touchdowns in a game. How about his per-carry averages during his first four seasons: 5.2, 5.4, 4.7, 6.2? These days, guys lead the league in kickoff returns with averages of 27, 28, 29 yards per return. In Sayers' first three years, he averaged 31.4, 31.2 and 37.7. Sayers is one of the best backs who ever played, even though knee injuries killed his career. Davis was an excellent player, but you can't say he's one of the top six or eight backs ever. At least I can't.

ELWAY WAS ONE AMAZING DUDE. From Mike Sullivan (of Octagon Football) of Walnut Creek, Calif.: "Loved your analysis of the Hall of Fame players and teams. I really get tired of people making claims with no factual support. The most interesting point I took from your article is that John Elway was amazing. He got his team to the final four six times in 13 years without a single other clear Hall of Famer on his team. It is fair to say that Terrell Davis had spectacular years during Denver's two Super Bowl championship seasons, but that still leaves a lot of success that is almost totally attributable to Elway. And while people complain Elway didn't win a Super Bowl until Davis came along, how many other quarterbacks won without at least several other great players (the Cowboys triplets, for example)? Your research really seems to support just how amazing Elway was.''

Thanks, Mike. I didn't think of it in those terms until I read your words. But you're right. It's amazing -- especially knowing the vagaries of the selection process -- that Elway may be the only Bronco to get in for a while, and he's the only slam-dunk of all the Denver players. Over the same number of years, for instance, the Sonny Jurgensen Redskins had five Hall of Famers and never won a championship. Just goes to show, as you say, how great Elway was, and how strange the Hall voting is sometimes.