THIS might be the
most star-studded Hall of Fame class of all time. Rayfield Wright, the
versatile and reliable offensive lineman for those great Dallas teams of the
1970s, was overshadowed a bit by all those other great Cowboys. But the other
five men who are being enshrined this summer were giants.
Though he played most of his career with Lawrence Taylor and for Bill Parcells,
Carson was the on-field leader and off-field conscience of a Giants team that
for a decade captured the hearts of a lot of New Yorkers. So driven was
Parcells to see Carson get his due in the Hall that he actually broke down and
cried when Carson made it last February. Warren Moon. Well, Dan Marino and John
Elway were surely bigger stars in their day, but 50 years from now Moon will be
remembered more for pioneering than passing. The first black quarterback to
make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the history books will read in 2056, when
there will certainly be another 15 or more African-American passers enshrined
And then there
were three. Troy Aikman, John Madden and Reggie White. Think of those names:
one of the greatest quarterbacks ever and a machine in the clutch; one of the
great coaches, a better broadcaster and the best football salesman who ever
lived; and maybe the greatest defensive lineman of all time, a hero to two of
the great franchises in the sport, Philadelphia and Green Bay.
It is always an
emotional moment in Canton when the acceptance speeches are made, but I
guarantee that this year it will be even more poignant than usual. And my guess
is that the ratings are going to be damn good. These men were beloved by
Aikman was a
standout player for one of the most successful franchises in sports. I think of
him as the perfect marksman who rightfully shares the eternal Dallas stage with
Roger Staubach. He was the most accurate quarterback I've ever seen. It drives
me crazy every year when scouts and coaches and general managers at the NFL
scouting combine talk about attributes they want to see in quarterbacks. They
talk about toughness, intelligence, the ability to move in the pocket and a
rocket arm. Accuracy is usually about sixth on the list. Aikman showed it
should be first.
Once, when Norv
Turner was the Cowboys' offensive coordinator, he walked off the practice field
and said to me, "You see that practice? The ball never hit the
said. "What do you mean?"
"Troy did not
throw one incompletion in two hours," Turner said.
trumpeted himself. I'll always remember the nutty 1994 season, when Jimmy
Johnson and Jerry Jones got divorced in March and the spectacularly ill-suited,
live-it-up Barry Switzer took over as coach. The Cowboys lost two of their last
three in the regular season. Aikman took most of the hits over it. "Troy
Aikman ain't dead," he told me two nights before the team's first playoff
game. He entered that game with the weight of Texas on his shoulders. Either
he'd play well and marshal the team through a tough stretch or the Cowboys
would go home and everyone would say, "See? They can't win without
Jimmy." Against Green Bay, Aikman threw 30 balls. Twenty-eight were
catchable. His receivers hung onto 23 of them. Dallas 35, Green Bay 9.
As understated as
Aikman was, Madden was, and is, 180 degrees the other way. Some of it is
shtick; most of it is real. In 1990 I took the bus with him cross-country
during an NFL game week (he got off airplanes for good in the late '70s, a
victim of claustrophobia), and in 3� days I never heard him raise his voice.
But he can talk. Oh, he can talk. And he can sell. None of us in the Hall of
Fame deliberation room--I'm one of 39 voters on the committee to select each
year's class--knew quite how much stock to put in his being the top color man
in football history and on his getting so many kids interested in football with
his succession of Madden football video games. I have to say it played a part.
But anyone who won three out of every four games ... well, that's good enough