SI Vault
The Class of 2006
Peter King
July 26, 2006
It is a very good year indeed when six of the best the game has ever seen--Troy Aikman, Harry Carson, John Madden, Warren Moon, Reggie White and Rayfield Wright--all are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
July 26, 2006

The Class Of 2006

It is a very good year indeed when six of the best the game has ever seen--Troy Aikman, Harry Carson, John Madden, Warren Moon, Reggie White and Rayfield Wright--all are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame

View CoverRead All Articles

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.

Harry Carson. 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 in Canton.

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 millions.

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 ground."

"Huh?" I said. "What do you mean?"

"Troy did not throw one incompletion in two hours," Turner said.

Aikman never 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 for me.

Continue Story
1 2