The Way We Were
This week, instead of comparing one current player to an old-timer, I'll set up Saturday's Pro Football Hall of Fame selection meeting by doing something absolutely stupid, something that will make me look like a fool by the middle of Saturday afternoon. I'm going to make a Hall of Fame tote board.
As one of the selectors, I'm always surprised by the vote. So this is a dangerous exercise, and I make it clear that it's one man's opinion, nothing more.
Before you look at these and retch -- or worse -- keep in mind that the 15 regular candidates are judged differently than the two Seniors Committee candidates, Bob Hayes and Claude Humphrey. All 17 candidates for election have their cases heard in front of the 44-member selections committee of veteran new media members. Then the two Senior guys are voted on yes or no, needing 80 percent of the vote to get in. Then the 15 regular candidates get whittled to 10, then to five, and when the final five are chosen, the committee members vote yes or no on their candidacy; an 80-percent vote is needed for election. So it's a much easier road for the senior men, obviously.
The odds for entry to the Hall this weekend:
3:5 -- Bruce Smith, Rod Woodson. I'd be surprised if these weren't the 65th and 66th first-ballot Hall-of-Famers. Smith's a four-time Defensive Player of the Year winner and the all-time-leading sacker. Woodson was one of five active players to make the NFL's 75th Anniversary team, the others being Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott and Reggie White.
Even -- Bob Hayes. There's a lot of momentum for Hayes, and I put his chances this high because he's one of two seniors. Lots of the old players think Hayes should have been in long ago, and I think he'll be sold hard by those in the room on his side. I am unconvinced that he "changed the game,'' as many of his advocates say, but I will be open to his candidacy.
3:2 -- Cris Carter, Shannon Sharpe. Carter, an all-decade player in the '90s, retired in second place on most of the receiving lists. I thought his 1,101 catches and 130 touchdowns would get him in as a rookie last year. Sharpe retired in 2004 as the all-time leader among tight ends in catches, yards and touchdowns, and he won three Super Bowl rings in a four-year span with Denver and Baltimore. He belongs. My only question is whether the voters will look at the gaudy numbers being put up by Tony Gonzalez and those behind him and wonder if Sharpe's totals will be passed by three or four tight ends in the next decade or so.
2:1 -- Derrick Thomas, Claude Humphrey. I felt the tide turning in the room last year for Thomas, and I thought he might make it after selectors heard the presentation for him. I think if voters believe he was even a satisfactory player against the run, he'll get in this time. Humphrey, who played mostly for horrible Falcon teams, gets the bounce from being a Seniors Committee yea-or-nay nominee, which is huge. Imagine being voted All-Pro five times while playing in absolute anonymity. Humphrey should get tremendous credit for leading the Philly D to the Super Bowl in 1980 with his 14.5-sack season.
3:1 -- Richard Dent. Dent, like Thomas, is gaining momentum, and I think at least one pass-rusher other than Smith will make it this year. I think it'll probably come down to Thomas or Dent.
4:1 -- Bob Kuechenberg, Paul Tagliabue, Ralph Wilson, Dermontti Dawson. Kuechenberg's case won't be helped by the fact that his biggest advocate in the room, Paul Zimmerman, won't be there to champion his cause; Zim will be back in New Jersey, recovering from multiple December strokes (more on him later). Kuechenberg always gets solid support in the room, and some think he was a better player than current Hall members Jim Langer and Larry Little from his own Dolphin line, but the support is never enough.
Selectors seem to hold California stadium and franchise failures against Tagliabue, as well as the current uncertain labor situation that stems from his last major decision in office -- even though football was the only sport in his 17-year tenure as commissioner without a work stoppage and the league got 21 new stadiums built in his time.
I'm a big Wilson supporter because of how he propped up the AFL in its struggling days in the early '60s. (I'm not sure the Raiders would have ever reached three years old without Wilson's under-the-table loan to keep them afloat.) I also like him because he has been such a loyal backer of the Buffalo franchise when he's had multiple chances to move and make bazillions. A total league guy all the way. Dawson was a first-team All-Pro center six times in 13 seasons. Mike Webster won the honor seven times in 17 years.
6:1 -- Russ Grimm, Randall McDaniel. Hard to believe there's no Washington Hog in the Hall from maybe the greatest offensive line in history, but I don't sense much traction for Grimm. I hope I'm wrong. I'm no fan of Pro Bowl berths, because they've become so diluted, but making 12 in a row, as McDaniel did, has to count for something.
8:1 -- Andre Reed, Cortez Kennedy, John Randle. The longer Reed waits, the more unlikely his election becomes, because receivers keep passing him. I think the selectors view Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas as the Hall-of-Famers from that era, not Reed. Kennedy is a worthy candidate. But I can't see he and Randle, the energetic and productive Viking and Seahawk, coming very close in their first year when so many others have been close for a while.