Posted: Tuesday June 14, 2005 11:54AM; Updated: Tuesday June 14, 2005 5:05PM
You knew, of course, that once I picked the Patriots to do something history has never seen -- win a fourth NFL championship in a five-season span, which I did in this week's MMQB -- the Hall of Fame question wouldn't be far behind. Nick, thanks for making me put on my Canton thinking cap.
HOW DO YOU DRAW THE LINE BETWEEN TEAM AND INDIVIDUAL WHEN VOTING FOR THE HALL? From Nick of Montreal: "If your crystal ball is accurate, and the Patriots do win their fourth Super Bowl in five years, as a voter for the Hall of Fame, does your criteria change for players like Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison and Deion Branch, to name a few? They would have a combined 10 Super Bowl rings but not many Pro Bowl appearances.''
I did write about this back near the end of the season, Nick, but let me get a little bit expansive. If we've learned anything from past Hall voting, it's to the victors go the spoils. And if the Patriots win a fourth Super Bowl either next year or with this current core of players, they will be honored more than most current fans think.
The Vikings lost four Super Bowls, and they got a coach (Bud Grant), general manager (Jim Finks), defensive back (Paul Krause), quarterback (FranTarkenton), offensive lineman (Ron Yary) and two defensive linemen (AlanPage and Carl Eller) in. That's seven. And the most decorated center ever to play, Mick Tinglehoff, long overdue, may one day make it eight.
I hate simply to equate winning percentage or Super Bowl wins or losses with how many guys a team gets in the Hall of Fame. It appears voters are getting less inclined to vote players and club officials into the Hall just because the team won a lot of games or championships. The 49ers went 5-0 in Super Bowls, and look what they have to show for it: Ronnie Lott, JoeMontana, BillWalsh, Steve Young. Certainly Jerry Rice will make it five, but beyond that, who else? Charles Haley? I hope so. Roger Craig? I hope so. But that might it. Seven Niners, I'd say, max.
With the Patriots, it's important to take the long view. If Tom Brady, who turns 28 in August, plays 11 more years, he'll be eligible in 2021. Bill Belichick is 53. There is no five-year waiting period for coaches. Let's say he coaches another 10 years, which I could see him doing because he shows none of the classic burnout signs. (And I'm not predicting he'll coach all 10 with New England. I don't know that. But I'm guessing he'll be around a few more years.) That would make him a Hall member in about 2016. Those are the only two Patriot automatics as of right now.
Looking at the rest of the field, Hall voters have sometimes favored owners of teams that either lord over great teams or are influential in league matters, like Al Davis, Dan Rooney, Wellington Mara and LamarHunt. So New England owner Bob Kraft, assuming he continues to have a right-hand man role alongside PaulTagliabue, and assuming the Patriots continue to play well, will have a good chance.
Now for the Patriots players. It will be hard for me, having been around the team quite a bit over the past five years, to not support Bruschi, whatever his postseason honors say. He is Jason Varitek. He is Derek Jeter. He's the soul of that team. Heck, he might be the soul of the organization. If Richard Seymour continues to play at a very high level, he'd probably get my vote. If Corey Dillon has three more top years, I'd likely back him. And how can one tell about someone like Matt Light? If he has a long career, makes a few Pro Bowls and the Patriots win another Super Bowl, he'll have a chance. I love Harrison. He'd have a shot with two more very good years, but, like Dillon, it'd be tough to put him in as a Pat with all his years of service with another team. Ty Law will be a borderline candidate, but I will probably look kindly on him because of his dominance, particularly in '03, on two Super Bowl winners. And then who knows? We'll just have to see where time takes us.