Debating Hall of Fame candidates with a true football historian (cont.)
From an impressive list of linebackers, Wolf selected Clay Matthews, who played for 19 seasons, "with very little dropoff in effectiveness," as his man.
"Every time the Broncos come up, they're always pushing Karl Mecklenburg or Randy Gradishar. Both good players, but to me, Tommy Jackson is the Hall of Famer in that group. Very fast, very productive." Yep, Jackson is right up there, but I have also been in Sam Mills' corner for quite a while, but that's horse racing.
Cortez Kennedy is Wolf's favorite defensive lineman of the six in the group. I've been wearing myself out for years, trying to get Joe Klecko some notice.
"Old-time payer, lunch pail guy," Wolf says. Yes, but he also had 20 ½ sacks one year. Unfortunately that was the year before sacks became an official statistic.
"Tom Sestak, Arnie Weinmeister, great players ... who ever heard of them?" Wolf said.
Are you counting how many players we have already put in the Hall between us? And Wolf is supposed to be a hard guy, right? I told him to fasten his seat belt because the list of defensive backs from this category -- considered but not enshrined -- would blow him away. And it did.
Eric Allen, Eagles. Steve Atwater and Louie Wright, Broncos. LeRoy Butler, Packers. Kenny Easley, Seahawks. Lester Hayes, Raiders. Donnie Shell, Steelers. Albert Lewis, Chiefs and Raiders, Ken Riley ("The Rattler"), Bengals.
"My God, what a group" Wolf said. "A stunning group. I can think of seven who deserve it."
Which two don't?
"Atwater and Allen."
How about the others?
"Well, if I were drafting them, this is the order in which I'd pick them. No.1 Easley. The best safety I've ever seen. The crème de la crème. Unfortunately, he got hurt. Plus he played in Vladivostok, where nobody ever heard of him.
"No. 2, Hayes. Why isn't he in the Hall of Fame? Then Lewis, really smooth, almost a perfect cornerback. Then Butler, who I really have a special affinity for. As a strong safety, he and Darren Woodson were players who dominated. Could play the run, play the pass, really good tackler, effective blitzer, could set the defenses. Those Packer teams were really his teams.
"Finally, Wright, Riley and Shell, but they're all such great players."
Ray Guy is the only punter seriously proposed and he gets dinged every year. Now I know for a fact that as an ex-Raider, he will fit right into Wolf's comfort zone.
"All I can tell you is that we went from a team that kept giving up field position, because of our punter, to one that forced the other team to have to go 78 or 80 yards."
Last area, coaches and contributors. I told Wolf that I had tried to get Shaughnessy, the father of the modern T-formation, nominated by the Seniors Committee and had failed.
"Just look at the impact this guy had on the game," Wolf said. "You know he coached the Bears' defense for a while, too. My second year as GM of the Packers, I'm in Minneapolis for the Super Bowl -- Washington against Buffalo. Richie Petitbon, who played safety for the Bears when Shaughnessy coached the defense, was coaching the Redskins' defense. And what I was looking at in that game was Shaughnessy's defense, 30 years after he'd been at Chicago.
"In 1962, I was a 23-year-old, working for Pro Football Illustrated in Chicago, just a gofer, my first job. Every morning I had to meet with George Allen of the Bears' staff. I'd bring him a prune Danish and coffee. He said that the defense was Shaughnessy's, but George Halas wouldn't let him in the office. That's how jealous he was."
Well, we've almost come to the end of the line. How about the person, whose name is on the list as a "contributor," and who had just selected about 40 Hall of Famers for the Class of '09? Wolf has no illusions about being selected for enshrinement, but you never know.
This is the history. Vince Lombardi never had a losing season. Then there followed 24 seasons with only five winning records. Then Wolf was hired from the Raiders. What he brought to Green Bay in his nine years were nine winning seasons, a Super Bowl victory, and Brett Favre, stolen from Atlanta on a trade.
Not a bad way to wrap up a career.