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Hall of Fame game

Why Carson finally made it; NFL-wide news and notes

Posted: Monday February 13, 2006 10:34AM; Updated: Monday February 13, 2006 2:00PM
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After being a finalist six times, Harry Carson was finally elected into the Hall of Fame on the Saturday before the Super Bowl.
After being a finalist six times, Harry Carson was finally elected into the Hall of Fame on the Saturday before the Super Bowl.
Mike Powell/Getty Images
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Of all the questions I've gotten since the Super Bowl, not even the ones about officiating match the volume I've gotten about Hall of Fame voting.

Like: How does Harry Carson get in this year, in the toughest class in a long time, when he couldn't make it the last few years against lesser competition?

Good question. In fact, this was an odd class to me. A very good class, but an odd one. Each year when I go into the room the day before the Super Bowl to vote on the Hall of Fame class -- I'm one of 39 selectors; this was my 14th year doing it -- I have a notion of how the voting will go. And invariably I'm wrong. This year, for instance, I was sure Warren Moon wouldn't get in. I said so on HBO. Just proves you never know what's going to happen until you get in the room. And I was sure Thurman Thomas would get in. I had him third on my list of 15. And he didn't make it. The way the system works is that we vote for 10 of the original 15. Then the field is narrowed to 10. Then we vote for six of the 10. Then the field is narrowed to six. Then we vote yes or no, individually, on the six.

"What happened with Thurman?'' former Bills GM Bill Polian, now with the Colts, asked me last Friday. I gave him a long answer about how Troy Aikman and Reggie White were locks, and John Madden and Rayfield Wright, the senior candidates, were either going to get in now or perhaps never because seniors come up one year and then not again for a long time. Then, after those four, there was a big morass with Thurman, Moon, Carson, Bob Kuechenberg, Russ Grimm, Art MonkDerrick Thomas and others. The short answer was: I don't know. I still don't, other than this was a tremendous class of candidates, 13 of whom I would have voted yes had they made it to the final six.

My theory on Carson: A few guys in the room changed their minds. One of them, Cliff Christl of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, talked to me about his reservations, which I appreciated. He felt Carson was a good player but not an outstanding one. I've told Christl how I feel about Carson. Having covered the Giants for four years in the Bill Parcells glory years, I have always believed Carson deserved a spot in Canton, and I spoke up for him in each Hall of Fame meeting. 

Carson did the one thing no defensive player ever gets enough credit for, even though it's the first thing every defensive coach talks about with his team every week: He defended the run. You've heard it a hundred times: If we don't stop the run, we can't win. And when the Giants contended consistently, the hallmark of that team was not the running game or Lawrence Taylor terrorizing quarterbacks. It was having opponents in second-and-9. And that was Carson's job. From 1981 to 1987, the peak of his career, when he was making the Pro Bowl every year as a run-stuffing inside linebacker, the Giants averaged 3.59 yards per opponents' rushing attempt.

Consider these three stats about that 3.59 over the seven-year period that Carson was at his peak:

1. The great Chicago Bears defense of 1985, one of the best of all time, with defensive tackles Steve McMichael and Dan Hampton and middle linebacker Mike Singletary, gave up an average of 3.64 yards per rush. The Giants beat that ... over a seven-year period.

2. Only three teams in 2005 were better than 3.59 yards per opponents' rush, for a single season.

3. Mike Shanahan said the Patriots had one of the best run defenses he'd ever seen before he faced them in the playoffs. New England allowed 3.62 per opponents' rush.

And consider that none of Carson's run-stopping 'mates over a seven-year period -- good but not star players like Erik Howard, Jim Burt, Gary Reasons, Kenny Hill, Byron Hunt, Greg Lasker, Herb Welch, Terry Kinard -- will ever be discussed for the Hall of Fame. And you think: if Carson was the on- and off-field leader of this group, if Bill Belichick considered Carson the best all-around linebacker he ever coached, and given the way that Carson stopped the run, shouldn't the guy make the Hall of Fame?