Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ask Sports Me: Hall of Famers Undrafted

Given the fact that I am actually broadcasting this morning during “White Elephant Day”, it will be up to you to find any and all relevant sports stories that you might be curious about today. Please accept my sincere apologies, the whole time knowing that it isn’t very sincere….

Regardless, I have been asked to bring some of the “Ask Sports Sturm” episodes to the blog as a written record of some of the research…So here is today’s:

The email for the latest episode is this:

“Dear Sports Sturm-

At the risk of being way too presumptuous on Tony Romo, how many Pro Football Hall of Fame began their NFL career undrafted?

John in Dallas”

Presumptuous would be one way to describe the idea of Tony Romo being a Hall of Fame caliber player, but for the sake of the segment, let us assume he can play at this level for at least another 8 years and he is ready to go to Canton. What players are currently there who never were draft like Mr. Romo?

Here is your list of 12. Most of these players go back to the AAFC era (the All-American Football Conference was the NFL’s competitor from the mid 1940’s to the mid 1950’s) and were not drafted because they were going to that other league. But, there are a few names of interest that just flat out were missed in the draft.

Emlen Tunnell DB NY/GB ’48-61
Joe Perry FB SF ’48-63
Bill Willis NT Clev ‘46-53
Marion Motley FB Clev ’46-53
Lou Groza T/K Clev ’46-67
Bill Gatski C Clev ’46-57
Dick “Night Train” Lane DB LA/Chi/Det ’52-65
Willie Brown CB Oak ’63-78
Willie Wood DB GB ‘60-71
Larry Little G Mia ’69-80
Jim Langer C Mia ’70-79
Warren Moon QB Hou/Minn ’84-00

Obviously, Warren Moon is the best example of a Romo-like player, given he is the only QB and also the only player who played past 1980.
Here is a Gil Brandt story on Moon that references the short list of players in Canton

And although many of these players are not in the Hall (yet), here is another list of great undrafted players

1. Warren Moon- Despite leading the University of Washington to a Rose Bowl victory over the Michigan Wolverines in 1978, quarterback Warren Moon went undrafted. Moon took his talents to the Canadian Football League where he excelled, leading the Edmonton Eskimos to five consecutive Grey Gup victories. As a result of his success north of the border, Moon drew much interest from the NFL. He joined the Houston Oilers in 1984 and proceeded to perform at a remarkably high level. Moon was elected to nine Pro Bowls and ranks fourth in career passing yards with 49,325. Moon was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006, making him both the first undrafted quarterback and the first African-American quarterback to receive such an honor.

2. Emlen Tunnell- An undrafted defensive back from the University of Iowa, Emlen Tunnell is the first African-American to be inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He spent the majority of his distinguished career with the New York Giants, making nine Pro Bowls. He won an NFL championship with the Giants in 1956 and with the Green Bay Packers in 1961. Tunnell ended his career with 79 interceptions.

3. Dick “Night Train” Lane- The pride of Scottsbluff Junior College, Lane joined the Los Angeles Rams in 1952 as a 24 year old rookie. In his first season, Lane pulled down 14 interceptions, an NFL record that has yet to be broken. Nicknamed “Night Train,” Lane was named to seven Pro Bowls throughout his career. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1974 and is widely considered one of the best defensive backs to ever play the game.

4. Willie Brown- Undrafted from Grambling University, Brown began his pro career with the Denver Broncos in 1963. Brown made a name for himself as a member of the Oakland Raiders. His 39 interceptions are a franchise record. He was named to the Pro Bowl four straight seasons from 1970-1974 and was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1984.

5. John Randle- An undrafted defensive tackle from Texas A&I, John Randle began his career with the Minnesota Vikings in 1990. Over the course of the decade, Randle was one of the most productive defensive linemen in the league. He made seven Pro Bowls and concluded his career with 137.5 sacks, tying him for fifth all-time with Richard Dent. Randle will become eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2009 and will likely be inducted shortly there after.

6. Antonio Gates- An undrafted tight end from Kent State, Antonio Gates didn’t even play football in college. He played college basketball and was an integral part of Kent State’s Cinderella run to the Elite Eight in 2002. At 6-4, Gates was not tall enough to be an NBA power forward, so he decided to give football a try. He had not played football since his senior year in high school. The San Diego Chargers signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2003. After a decent rookie season, Gates quickly established himself as the premier tight end in football. He has been named to three consecutive Pro Bowls and is destined for many more.

7. Adam Vinatieri- The New England Patriots signed Vinatieri as an undrafted free agent out of South Dakota St. in 1996. That turned out to be a great decision. Vinatieri was instrumental in leading New England to three Super Bowl victories. Throughout his career, Vinatieri has made a countless number of clutch kicks and has been the deciding factor in the outcome of many important games. He signed with the Indianapolis Colts in 2006 and won a Super Bowl in his first season with the club. To this point, Vinatieri is the only placekicker to win four Super Bowl rings.

8. Kurt Warner- Undrafted out of Northern Iowa, Kurt Warner signed with the St. Louis Rams in 1998. After starting quarterback Trent Green blew out his knee in the 1999 preseason, Warner suddenly became the Rams quarterback. Warner went on to have an incredible season, being named league MVP. The Rams won the Super Bowl and Warner was named Super Bowl MVP. He was also named league MVP in 2001, but the Rams lost to New England in the Super Bowl that year. Even though his career has declined rather rapidly, Warner will always be remembered for his meteoric rise to glory with the Rams.

9. Rod Smith- An undrafted wide receiver from Missouri Southern State, Rod Smith was a key member of the Denver Broncos championship teams in 1997 and 1998. Smith has quietly established himself as the most prolific undrafted receiver in league history. Smith is the first undrafted receiver to accumulate more than 10,000 yards receiving. Smith is the Broncos all-time leader in receptions, touchdown receptions, and receiving yards. He has also made three Pro Bowls throughout his illustrious career.

10. Priest Holmes- The Baltimore Ravens signed Holmes as an undrafted free agent in 1997. The former Texas Longhorn enjoyed incredible success after joining the Kansas City Chiefs in 2001. That year, Holmes led the NFL in rushing yards (1555) and was named to his first Pro Bowl. Holmes continued his productive play the next two seasons, scoring 48 touchdowns. His career has been derailed by injury but Holmes is attempting to make a comeback in 2007.

There you have it. Enjoy.

1 comment:

Jay said...

That list is pretty short but not too terrible. Certainly Warren Moon is the most notable.

I don't think Romo will be a Kurt Warner type that faces after a few years bc the Cowboys don't operate in 5 WR sets all the time that kill their QB.

Some pretty nice players there, Priest Holmes and Antonio Gates are pretty nice.

Give me Romo though. I think he will be a multi-year Pro Bowl guy, certainly he'd have to get a ring too to be in the hall of fame mix but being a high profile Cowboy QB doesn't hurt his chances.

Obv that's assuming ALOT but the thing ab Romo is that his instincts are fantastic. He uses his legs to get out of trouble and so long term he won't have that as much (tho Favre does a bit) but his pocket presence is great so I think he is the real deal and will be so for the next several years.

Certainly it would be premature to say that he's the next great undrafted hall of famer but you can't rule it out. He stepped into a situation with zero game experience and has been a dominant playmaker. I would think that more experience will only make him better.