Tuesday, February 07, 2012

On the 2012 Hall of Fame Class

On Saturday, the Hall of Fame class for Canton in 2012 was announced, and great news was delivered to Curtis Martin, Chris Doleman, Cortez Kennedy, Dermontti Dawson, Willie Roaf, and veteran's committee candidate Jack Butler.

These 6 men will be proudly inducted in the late summer in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and be honored along side the greatest who have ever played the game.

It is atypical Hall of Fame class, because there is not a particularly huge "superstar" in this class, and yet all are quite deserving. A brief look at the bios of each player reveal that there is a strong case to be made here with the induction of each of the 5 modern players, and in the case of the Jack Butler, if the veteran's committee feels strongly, that is usually enough to earn the trust of the public given how few of us would have seen Butler play.

The problems exist based on who doesn't make it each year. There are calls of injustice and a flawed system. 17 players are declared finalists before the committee meets in the Super Bowl city the day before the game, and give that between 5-7 are going to get the green light, there will always be those on the outside looking in.

This happens every year and honestly, the reasons are quite justified. Locally, there are 3 names of players that seem assured to be Hall of Fame players some day, but did not get the call on Saturday. We will touch on each of the 3 in a few moments, but first, allow us to examine the credentials of each player that is going into the hall.

Dermontti Dawson: Dawson was largely regarded as the center of the 1990's across the NFL. Anchoring the Pittsburgh Steelers line from 1988 until 2000, he was the All-Pro Center (which means he was voted the #1 player at his position across the entire NFL) for 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, and 1998. Any time you play a position and those who observe the game closely suggest you were the single best player at your position for 6 consecutive seasons, there is going to be a rather quick not of approval into the Hall. Not many were thought of as locks from this class of 2012, but Dawson was the exception. 170 consecutive games at the position certainly did not hurt his case either and he blocked for some pretty potent running games along the way.

Chris Doleman: Doleman enters the hall after a 15 year career in which he started as a linebacker before being moved to a defensive end edge rusher who would always get to the QB. He was one of the elite pass rushers of his era, with a 21 sack season in 1989, and 8 seasons in all where he achieved double-digits. Further, he had another 5 seasons with between 7 and 9. What may be his most impressive resume point (aside from 150 career sacks) is that he played for the team that led the league in sacks in '87, '88, '89, '90, '92, '93, '95, and '98. His 15 sacks at the age of 37 in San Francisco was one of his best accomplishments and had a slew of forced fumbles (44), fumble recoveries (24, and interceptions (8) to go with his sack totals to push his "big plays" well over 200 in his career.

Cortez Kennedy: Kennedy came into the league in 1990 as the #3 pick and instantly became one of the most dominant players in the interior of the defensive line in the entire league. In 1992, he won the defensive player of the year honors while playing for a 2-14 Seahawks team, something that is an extreme rarity. First Team NFL in 1992, 1993, and 1994, and a member of the all-decade team, Kennedy never had the benefit of playing on a team that ever won anything nor played in a high profile situation. His best Seattle teams were in 1990 and 1999 when they had 9-7 records, but otherwise, he offered his excellence on poor teams. Consistently a focus of double teams, he was durable and excelled, and becomes the 4th member of the All-Decade defensive line to be inducted with his fellow DT John Randle, and DEs Reggie White and Bruce Smith.

Curtis Martin: Only Barry Sanders can duplicate Martin's mark of 10 consecutive 1,000 yard seasons to start a career. By the end of his 11 years, he had amassed 14,000 rushing yards and trails only Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, and Sanders in the books. He had the 3rd most carries in the history of pro football (3,518) and added nearly another 500 receptions and 3,300 yards through the air. He scored 100 touchdowns over his career and is basically among the greats at his position based on any metric. And yet, while he was playing, he seemed to anonymously go about his business for the most part, being a soldier of many Bill Parcells teams along the way.

Willie Roaf: If ever there was a fixture on the annual All-Pro teams that feature the best player in the league at his position, it is Willie Roaf. Playing tackle for the Saints for 9 seasons and the Chiefs for 4 more, Roaf was a player who was thought of as one of the very best to play the game. There were but 2 years in which he did not receive league honors, after his rookie season and after his injury plagued final year in New Orleans in 2001. Playing left tackle for 12 of his 13 seasons, he was yet another member of the 1990's all-decade team and another sure-thing member of this Hall of Fame class.

These are the 5 players who will fill the maximum number of slots for modern-day players going through the traditional process. As we mentioned earlier, Butler was on the seniors-committee, and therefore, did not occupy a spot that someone else would have taken. Butler was added on without keeping anyone else off.

Which brings us back to the outrage from Saturday. My personal, very unofficial ballot contained Dawson, Martin, Cris Carter, Bill Parcells, and Charles Haley. And based on the feedback from many locals, the absence of Haley, Tim Brown, and Parcells seemed to really annoy many locals in North Texas who have local ties to one or all three of those left out in 2012.

All of the names left off can have a compelling case for inclusion, or they wouldn't be on the list to begin with. I made a case last week for Drew Pearson, who joins Harvey Martin as one of the more convincing cases of any Dallas Cowboys not in Canton.

The fact is that I believe Bill Parcells and Charles Haley are sure Hall of Famers. Just not this year. Parcells is an accomplished and iconic coach in this league and it would seem foolish to make him wait. On the other hand, many on the committee might still anticipate him accepting a GM job at some point soon. Haley belongs in with his contemporaries, and his 5 Super Bowl rings and 100 sacks seem to make a rather strong case. However, it would seem a bit of a stretch to suggest that he was wronged by Doleman getting the nod. Doleman individually has statistics that dwarf many of Haley's, so if we put Haley in first, it is all based on Super Bowls. While that is not a bad way to break ties, I am not sure this is a tie.

As for the Brown, Carter, Andre Reed log jam at wide receiver, it seems that we have the committee trying to figure out how to calibrate the new receiving yard totals that are rushing into the record books with the era. They were all wonderful players, and I personally found Carter to have the most singular ability set, but to measure one against the others seems like a difficult task.

It always comes down to the following. If you want Player A in, which of the 5 are you pulling out? If honesty is included, then it is tough to say those in are undeserving in exchange for your guy who was not included.

A few things are clear: The hall of fame voters are concerned about the under-representation of linemen in the hall, and this class seems to look to address that with 2 OL and 2 DL players. Also, they seem concerned about the Hall honoring just those who were a part of dynasties, so this class has 6 players who were not part of dynasties at all. A member of the Seahawks, Saints, Vikings, and Jets reveals this initiative. In fact, the 6 players going in have 0 rings among them. This will upset fans of the heavyweights, but we should be careful to honor those who were not lucky enough to be a part of the super powers, too.

Next year, Larry Allen, Warren Sapp, Jonathan Ogden, Morten Anderson, and Michael Strahan will be among the 2013 1st-year eligibles, and we will begin the process all over again.

It is an event that I love and one that should be televised, but every year there is plenty of debate to follow the results.

Congrats to those who made this year's cut. And best wishes to those who must continue to wait.

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