What does it take to get into the Hall of Fame?
That question is asked every year by a group of some of the best football minds on the planet. While the Pro Football Hall of Fame doesn't televise the voting process, all accounts point to it being a sober and arduous process.
The voters hem and haw about Pro Bowl appearances, records and how a player was perceived amongst his peers. Some voters come with an open mind, and others come with agendas. Regardless, they all come with the purpose of immortalizing a select few former players as the best of the very best.
This weekend, the 2013 Hall of Fame class will be inducted in Canton. Dallas Cowboys offensive lineman Larry Allen, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Cris Carter, Kansas City Chiefs lineman Curley Culp, Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman Jonathan Ogden, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive lineman Warren Sapp, Green Bay Packers linebacker Dave Robinson and longtime head coach Bill Parcells will all be forever enshrined in football lore.
A star-studded bunch indeed, but (as with every year) it leaves a lot of great players on the outside looking in. Plus, every year, more and more join the ranks of eligible candidates to be added to the ballot. So, we at Bleacher Report decided to preview what the 2014 class will look like.
To that end, we enlisted the help of some of the football media's most informed. Each was instructed to vote for four-to-seven of the best football players of all time that should hypothetically be inducted into Canton next year.
The Voting Panel
*All quotes were gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted.
**All stats and biographical information were obtained from Pro Football Reference.
Tony Dungy (Five Votes)
Tony Dungy coached for both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts, winning a Super Bowl with the latter. Perhaps more importantly, he helped revolutionize the way defense was played in the NFL for over a decade, and his Tampa 2 scheme helped bring down the West Coast Offense. Members of his coaching tree dot the NFL landscape, and Dungy is still known to offer guidance to troubled players to this day.
Charles Haley (Five Votes)
As far as Charles Haley goes, Brad Gagnon opined that when one "combines his production with his five rings, he's a must." It's a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with. As we look at pro football in the late '80s through the '90s, it's difficult to think of a more impactful player on the big stage than Haley. While he may not have been the best pass-rusher of his generation, he was consistently toward the top of the list, as his five Pro Bowls and two All-Pro selections can attest.
Don Coryell (Four Votes)
Whereas Tony Dungy helped revolutionize defense, Don Coryell's "Air Coryell" scheme has planted roots in every NFL offensive playbook. Sam Monson wrote alongside his vote that it's time to stop trying to "tell the story of pro football" without mentioning Coryell. While he never won a Super Bowl in his career, not many offenses were as feared in league history as the Dan Fouts-quarterbacked San Diego Chargers squad with Coryell on the sideline.
Aeneas Williams (Four Votes)
Aeneas Williams spent most of his career with the Arizona Cardinals before finishing with the St. Louis Rams. The defensive back went to eight Pro Bowls and was named to four first-team All-Pro teams. Playing for the Cardinals didn't equate to a lot of postseason chances for Williams, but he went to a Super Bowl with St. Louis during the 2001 season, eventually losing to the New England Patriots. His 55 career interceptions rank 19th all-time, and he leads the NFL record books with 268 fumble return yards.
Ken Anderson (Two Votes)
Ken Anderson was not on the "official" ballot that I sent out, but he was written in by both Erik Frenz and Brad Gagnon. He was a four-time Pro Bowler and led the NFL in passing yards twice. He has also been a Hall of Fame finalist twice—in 1996 and 1998.
Jerome Bettis (Three Votes)
Too often, fans think of Jerome Bettis as the plodding goal-line back that he became late in his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yet, earlier in his Steelers career, and certainly with the Los Angeles Rams before that, he was the epitome of the perfect mixture of size, speed, force and grace. "The Bus" is a Super Bowl champion, six-time Pro Bowler and the sixth-leading rusher of all time.
Terrell Davis (Two Votes)
Mike Tanier called Terrell Davis' Hall candidacy a "pet project" and realizes that his short career could keep him from Canton's hallowed halls. Still, being a three-time Pro Bowler and All-Pro, an MVP and a Super Bowl MVP along with completing a 2,000-yard-rushing season make for one heck of a resume.
Eddie DeBartolo Jr. (Two Votes)
Eddie DeBartolo Jr. is already in the San Francisco 49ers Hall of Fame, as well as the Bay Area Hall of Fame, as the owner of five Super Bowl-winning teams and the winningest team of its era. Tom Mantzouranis and Mike Silver both cast votes for him.
Marvin Harrison (Two Votes)
Ty Schalter admits that he is trying to clear the wide receiver logjam once and for all with the selection of Marvin Harrison, but other votes didn't go as far along that train of thought. Harrison has a great shot of getting in down the road, though, as eight straight Pro Bowls, a Super Bowl trophy and twice leading the league in receptions will make a heck of a case for him.
Position: Wide Receiver
Years Played: 1988-2004
Teams: Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Pro Bowls: Nine (1988, 1991, 1993-1997, 1999, 2001)
First-Team All-Pro: Zero
Notable Records/Rankings: Fifth in receiving yards and receptions; fifth in all-purpose yards.
Tim Brown is, without question, one of the most talented players that I have ever had the pleasure of watching and interviewing in my young lifetime. While he was often overshadowed in his era (and in the Bay Area) by Jerry Rice, Brown did more with less than any receiver waiting to get into the Hall. Chris Burke had this to say about him:
I wavered between Brown and Jerome Bettis as my seventh pick on a full ballot. I chose Brown because he still stands out in my mind as one of the most electrifying players I've ever watched, and his resume as both a reliable receiver and dynamic return man should push him over the top. Cris Carter got the nod last year, and I think Brown's up next—ahead of Andre Reed.
Coming out of college as the first receiver to ever win the Heisman Trophy, Brown hit the ground running and made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season. Honestly, he never looked back. Between 1993 and 2002, he had multiple receptions in every single game he played in. He also had at least 75 receptions in 10 consecutive seasons.
Brown is one of the victims of the dreaded logjam of receivers waiting to get into the Hall of Fame. He needs to get in next season, because the longer he waits just makes a mockery of the entire process.
Position: Wide Receiver
Years Played: 1985-2000
Teams: Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins
Pro Bowls: Seven (1988-1994)
First-Team All-Pro: Zero
Notable Records/Rankings: 11th in receptions; 12th in receiving yards; 12th in receiving touchdowns.
Andre Reed has waited long enough.
A finalist the past seven seasons, Reed is the poster boy for the backlog of receivers waiting to get into the Hall. He had to wait for San Francisco 49ers legend Jerry Rice and Minnesota Vikings icon Cris Carter to get in first, but 2014 should be the year that his career is recognized with the respect it deserves. As Mike Tanier explains:
Reed and Tim Brown are the last of the backlog 80s-90s receivers who need to get in, the guys who ushered in the modern age of passing offense. Reed should go first, then Brown, and then we can close the door on that (very important) generation and position.
Reed went to four Super Bowls. If not for some well-known kicking mishaps—seriously, Scott Norwood?—Reed probably would have won at least one of those games and be in the Hall already. That's a theory that is too close to reality to be comfortable with—that a player's measured individual greatness depends on his kicker in the minds of Hall of Fame voters.
It isn't as if Reed didn't play well in those Super Bowls. In fact, his 27 Super Bowl receptions rank second behind Rice's all-time record of 33, and his 323 receiving yards rank third behind Rice and Pittsburgh Steelers great Lynn Swann.
Just put Reed in the Hall already!
Position: Offensive Guard
Years Played: 1993-2006
Teams: Kansas City Chiefs
Pro Bowls: 12 (1995-2006)
First-Team All-Pro: Two (2002, 2003)
Will Shields was a finalist this year. The fact that he did not make it is: 1) a travesty and 2) a testament to the wonderful offensive linemen who are members of the 2013 class—Jonathan Ogden and Larry Allen.
Still, keeping Shields out because two other linemen went in seems silly, no? He'll get in eventually, but there's no reason why he shouldn't have been a first-ballot guy. As Mike Tanier explains:
Shields and Larry Allen were the greatest guards of their era. Allen is in. Let's get Shields in before he becomes a backlog guy.
Line play is often overlooked, and that was even more evident a decade ago. As a football culture, we made a lot of assumptions about line play—that sacks were the left tackle's fault (regardless of a stunt or a ball being held too long), that good linemen on great teams were better than they actually were and that good linemen in front of great backs were more dominant than their tape actually showed.
Yet, above all of that, Shields still stands as one of the best interior linemen in history, and he played 14 straight seasons without missing a game. He was a big component of the success that the Chiefs had in his era, and he was the main guy responsible for giving Priest Holmes so much room to run. He is also tied with Minnesota Vikings lineman Randall McDaniel and Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey for the most Pro Bowls played in a career.
A model of both consistency and dominance, Shields should get into Canton next year.
Years Played: 1995-2008
Teams: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Pro Bowls: 11 (1997-2006, 2008)
First-Team All-Pro: Five (1999, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005)
Notable Records/Rankings: None
Derrick Brooks has one of the most underrated Hall of Fame resumes of his generation. If one is putting together an All-Decade team, Brooks should probably make the 2000s squad. But because his career spanned two decades, it's more than likely that he would be left off the list in favor of guys like Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis or Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.
Yet, as Sam Monson explains, Brooks had a greater impact than he is often given credit for:
People talk about players re-defining a position a lot—too much—with Brooks as much as anyone drawing that line a lot. I’m not sure that’s true, but he was certainly the best prototype for his position maybe ever, and certainly in the past couple of decades.
To watch Brooks play linebacker was, at times, like watching car crashes set to classical music. It was ridiculously violent, yet graceful and beautiful at the same time. "Body control" is an attribute often given to receivers, but Brooks always astounded with his ability to contort his frame in order to get through the line, through blockers or across the field to the ball-carrier.
Eric Edholm isn't overstating the case when he says:
The best playmaking 4-3 LB of a generation. First ballot: put him in.
Nothing I say will make the case quite as succinctly as Aaron Schatz:
10 straight Pro Bowls, 5 All-Pros, one of the two players who anchored one of the best defenses ever. We have a stat called Defeats which combines turnovers, tackles for loss, and tackles or PDs that prevent a third-down conversion. We have the stat going back to 1996. Brooks in 1999 had the third-highest total ever (42). He also led the league in 2000.
Well said. Look forward to Brooks' Hall of Fame speech in one year.
Position: Defensive End
Years Played: 1993-2007
Teams: New York Giants
Pro Bowls: Seven (1997-1999, 2001-2003, 2005)
First-Team All-Pro: Four (1997, 1998, 2001, 2003)
Notable Records/Rankings: Single-season sack record; fifth all-time in sacks.
How much flak do you think Michael Strahan gets for the oft-disputed record-breaking "sack" of Brett Favre? Seriously, there's no way to honestly call it a "sack" without putting quotation marks around it. Much like the asterisk on Barry Bonds' home-run record, it's a haunting character that could be a big reason why Strahan wasn't put in the Hall on his first ballot.
Interestingly enough, Mike Tanier has Strahan waiting another year in his Hall of Fame predictions—writing what he thinks will happen, not what should happen. Aaron Schatz calls the Hall voters' failure to induct Strahan "silly," while Brad Gagnon calls it a "joke." (Gagnon has also written about this subject before.)
With names like Charles Haley, Los Angeles Rams great Kevin Greene and others waiting to get into the Hall as well, we could be talking about a pass-rusher backlog if Strahan doesn't get in soon. Yet, Sam Monson took a look at something other than rushing the quarterback and came away with a good reason for his induction:
I’ve been doing a horde of 2007 games recently, and there is nobody in the game today that defends the run the way Strahan used to from his DE spot. He would rag-doll TEs and RTs alike, caving in intended run lanes and making plays. He told us over twitter that he loved playing the run more than he ever did rushing the passer. And his sack total suggests he liked that quite a bit too.
Forget the "sack" of Favre. Forget Kelly Ripa. Forget the nonsense and over-the-top shenanigans of the FOX pregame show. Just remember the effort Strahan put forth on the field, and there's no reason why he shouldn't headline the 2014 Hall of Fame class.
Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff at The Go Route.