The 10 Players Most Deserving of Being in the Pro Football Hall of Fame
After two months of painstakingly looking at each position to determine what players overlooked by the Pro Football Hall of Fame are the most deserving, it is finally time now, on the eve of the 2009 induction ceremonies, to look at the 10 players that I believe are the most deserving of induction into the Hall of Fame, but who are still waiting for that call.
To create the top 10, I again reviewed all 225 players that had earned mention in the top 25 lists for each position. I then narrowed the field based on overall career performance, perception when they retired (were they considered at the time a Hall of Fame caliber player), team performance and accolades received.
What was most obvious is that being in the Hall of Fame is really an amazing honor because the caliber of players who have not yet gained entry is amazing. Of the 225 players that made the initial list, I would venture to say you could make a legitimate Hall of Fame argument for between 30 and 40 of those players.
Overall, I think the Hall of Fame voters have done a pretty good job of selecting deserving players for the Hall. In fact, when I created a top 10 list of players who maybe didn’t belong in the Hall, I could only legitimately find nine selections to question.
However, where I do think the Hall of Fame has been very weak has been in how long it often takes them to finally induct someone who we all know immediately is deserving of being in the Hall of Fame.
2009 Hall of Fame inductee Bob Hayes is just the most recent in a seemingly ever-growing group of all-time NFL greats that wait for many years for their name to be called for Hall of Fame induction, but by the time it does, they are no longer healthy enough to enjoy the full fruits of their accomplishment or, in some cases, they have already passed away.
Hayes last caught an NFL pass in 1975. In the ensuing 34 years he didn’t catch a pass or score a touchdown. Why Hall of Fame voters have to take so long to select players makes no sense to me.
Now, when he finally will get the moment he has deserved for many years, he will not be there to enjoy it.
I know that Hayes had off-the-field issues that probably took him off the radar for a while, but such is not the case for Gene Hickerson or legendary coach Hank Stram. Yet both waited so many years to be inducted that by the time their name was called, they were no longer physically able to participate and enjoy their moment.
It was especially disappointing for me to watch Stram sit there helplessly on the stage and speak only through comments on the video screen. Because anyone who watched his famous sideline performance in Super Bowl IV or listened to him announce NFL games on television and radio for many years knows that he had the gift of gab. Had he still been in good health, I have no doubt that Stram would have given a performance for the ages.
However, he was not inducted into the Hall of Fame until 2003, 26 years after coaching his last game.
But I would argue that due to the fragile nature of life, any wait beyond the mandatory five years should be avoided as much as possible.
Though he was in good health and able to enjoy his moment, Art Monk serves as another recent example of a player whose wait for induction was way longer than warranted. Monk was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame last season after waiting through eight years of eligibility. That made absolutely no sense, as from the day he retired everyone knew that Monk deserved to be in the Hall of Fame and would eventually get in.
What if Monk had been in an accident and passed away four or five years after becoming eligible? Then he would have been denied the opportunity to enjoy his moment in the sun for seemingly no good reason.
It almost seems like the Hall of Fame voters, after years of being beholden to the players for interviews and stories, finally hold the upper hand and want to make sure the players know it.
It is reported that some media members have such a grudge against former players that they will do everything in their power to keep that player from being inducted. Probably the most famous such situation has been between Sports Illustrated writer Paul Zimmerman and former Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler, but there have been others.
Of the players on my top 10 list of players that I believe deserve Hall of Fame induction, seven have been retired for more than 20 years and a couple have waited 35 or more years. Some of these players have been teased by the Hall voters multiple times, while others have never been serious candidates despite watching others with similar credentials receive their ticket to football immortality.
In the future, I would like to see Hall of Fame voters put a special emphasis on getting players into the Hall of Fame as soon after their retirement as possible so they can enjoy many years of coming back to Canton for the annual induction ceremonies.
If I were in charge (which sadly I am not), I would propose that the Hall of Fame hold one big “Catch Up” Hall of Fame ceremony where they induct every player that is determined to be worthy of selection.
After those 30-40 all-time greats are added, then I would propose that after waiting the mandatory five years following retirement, players would be eligible for the Hall for only five years. Then, if the voters really are intent on ensuring the most deserving players are selected, they will stop holding grudges and vote the best players in.
That would eliminate this current system where some deserving players wait their entire lifetime for a call that either never comes or comes too late for them to enjoy it.
Being selected for the Hall of Fame is a great honor and one that all deserving players should have the opportunity to enjoy. Hopefully one day the powers that be will figure it out. However, for now we are left with many all-time greats still waiting for their name to be called.
Here is my opinion of the 10 players most deserving of induction. Hopefully all of them will one day get the thrill of having their bust immortalized in Canton.
I look forward to your comments, discussion, and disagreements.
Best of the Rest
While I am only highlighting the top 10 players deserving of Hall of Fame induction, I actually rated the top 25. Below are choices 11 through 25.
Only players who are currently eligible for the Hall of Fame were considered.
11. Cris Carter
12. Chris Hanburger
13. Cortez Kennedy
14. Randy Gradishar
15. John Brodie
16. Robert Brazile
17. Ottis Anderson
18. Steve Atwater
19. L.C. Greenwood
20. Dave Grayson
21. Dermontti Dawson
22. Donnie Shell
23. Richard Dent
24. Ben Coates
25. Ken Stabler
10. Drew Pearson – Dallas Cowboys – 1973-1983
Perhaps more than any other wide receiver, the explosion of receiving statistics over the last three decades has negatively impacted the Hall of Fame candidacy of Drew Pearson.
Known as “Mr. Clutch” for his uncanny ability to make the big play in game-winning situations, Pearson was a member of the NFL All-Decade team for the 1970s. At the time of his retirement in 1983, Pearson was generally considered a strong candidate for Hall of Fame immortality.
However, that has changed over time as the influx of receivers with huge career statistics have overshadowed the exploits of Pearson and other receivers from his era.
Playing primarily at a time when wide receivers weren’t judged by the number of catches they had, but instead by the productivity associated with those receptions, Pearson ranked in the top 10 in receiving yards five times, including a league-leading 870 yards in 1977, and eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark twice in his career.
He was generally considered the best receiver in the NFC for most of his career as he earned first team All-NFC honors four times and was a first team All-NFL selection on three occasions.
But where Pearson truly distinguished himself was in the postseason.
In 22 career playoff games, Pearson caught 67 passes for 1,105 yards and eight touchdowns. His “Hail Mary” reception to defeat Minnesota in the final minute of a 1975 NFC Playoff Game is one of the most famous catches in NFL history.
He also caught a pair of touchdown passes in the final minutes of a come-from-behind playoff win over the Atlanta Falcons in 1980.
At the time of his retirement, Pearson ranked 13th in NFL history in receptions (489) and 19th in receiving yardage (7,822).
It is hard not to compare Pearson to a member of the Hall of Fame who wore the same number as Pearson, number 88, for another prominent NFL squad of the 1970s.
Both Pearson and Lynn Swann were widely recognized for their postseason greatness. However, when it came to regular season success, Pearson far out-shined Swann.
Pearson’s career statistics are far greater than those of Swann (336 receptions, 5,462 yards).
Swann spent his entire career playing alongside fellow Hall of Fame receiver John Stallworth, while Pearson was always the featured receiver for the Cowboys. That might have meant that Pearson received a few more passes thrown his way than Swann, but it also meant that Pearson often faced defenses specifically geared to stop him, something Swann rarely had to face.
Regardless, it is a mystery how Pearson has never been a finalist for the Hall of Fame while Swann was a finalist for the Hall of Fame 14 times and was inducted in 2001.
9. Ken Anderson – Cincinnati Bengals – 1971-1986
Occasionally overshadowed during his outstanding playing career by other more flamboyant quarterbacks, former Cincinnati Bengals superstar Ken Anderson has also been overlooked in retirement as he has yet to take his rightful place among the all-time greats in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
One of the most consistent quarterbacks of his generation, Anderson spent much of his career playing in the Bill Walsh system that would eventually evolve into the famous West Coast Offense.
He was a four-time Pro Bowl selection and one-time first team All-NFL selection.
He led the NFL in passer rating four times and ranked in the top 10 on 10 occasions. He also led the NFL in passing yardage twice and completion percentage three times.
His 70.6 completion percentage during the 1982 season still ranks as the highest single-season completion percentage in NFL history.
Anderson also had the misfortune of playing in the same division as the Pittsburgh Steelers, which made it tough to earn a playoff bid in an era when only four teams made the playoffs in each conference.
He led the Bengals to seven winning seasons, but they made the playoffs only four times during his 13 seasons as the starting quarterback.
In 1981, Anderson was named the NFL Player of the Year and the Comeback Player of the Year after passing for a career-high 3,754 yards and 29 touchdowns during the 1981 season. The Bengals posted a 12-4 record and earned the first Super Bowl appearance in team history.
Anderson completed 73.5 percent of his passes during Super Bowl XVI for 300 yards and two touchdowns, but the Bengals fell to San Francisco 26-21.
At the time of his retirement, Anderson ranked third in NFL history in completion percentage (59.3%), fifth in passer rating (81.9), seventh in passing yards (32,838), and 12th in touchdown passes (197).
He now stands 37th in completion percentage, 34th in passer rating, 24th in passing yards and 28th in touchdown passes.
8. Roger Craig – San Francisco 49ers/Los Angeles Raiders/Minnesota Vikings – 1983-1993
One inconsistency in the Pro Football Hall of Fame voting is that having been a key member of championship teams seems to be helpful to your chances for induction if you were a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami Dolphins, Green Bay Packers or Chicago Bears, but not so much for former stars of the San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys or Oakland Raiders.
That Roger Craig is not in the Hall of Fame and has never even been a finalist makes absolutely no sense. Not only was Craig a key member of three Super Bowl Championship teams, he was a member of the NFL All-Decade team for the 1980s.
A four-time Pro Bowl selection, Craig was one of the greatest combo-backs in NFL history. Initially serving as a fullback, Craig later moved to halfback and proved that he could be a feature runner.
In 1985, he became the first player in NFL history to rush for more than 1,000-yards and catch passes for more than 1,000-yards in the same season. He finished third in the NFL with 1,502 yards rushing in 1988 and was named the AP Offensive Player of the Year.
Craig played in 18 playoff games in his career and had two 100-yard rushing and one 100-yard receiving game during his postseason career.
Craig completed his career with 8,189 rushing yards to rank 34th in NFL history. He also caught 566 passes for 4,911 yards. He ranks 34th in NFL history with 13,100 career yards from scrimmage.
7. Jim Tyrer – Kansas City Chiefs/Washington Redskins – 1961-1974
Because of off-the-field circumstances, it is likely that Jim Tyrer will never be inducted into the Hall of Fame regardless of on-the-field worthiness.
A nine-time Pro Bowl selection and six-time All-Pro, Tyrer was the anchor of the Kansas City Chiefs offensive line for more than a decade. He was a first team choice for the AFL’s All-Time team.
He helped lead the Chiefs to three AFL Championships and victory in Super Bowl IV.
In Super Bowl IV, Tyrer and the rest of the Kansas City offensive line completely dominated the much-heralded defensive front of the Minnesota Vikings.
Unfortunately, all of his success on the field is overshadowed by his tragic death.
After suffering financial misfortunes in his post-football business career, on September 15, 1980, Tyrer murdered his wife and then committed suicide.
He was a finalist for the Hall of Fame the next year, but was not inducted and has not been a finalist since.
Given the current emphasis of Commissioner Roger Goodell on player conduct, it is doubtful that the Hall of Fame, regardless of his prowess as a player, will ever honor Tyrer.
6. Johnny Robinson – Kansas City Chiefs – 1960-1971
Johnny Robinson is one of several members of the all-time AFL team who has somehow been overlooked by Hall of Fame voters.
In the case of Robinson, it is very possible that many Hall of Fame voters just assume that he is already enshrined in the HOF. After all, he was a finalist for the Hall six times between 1980 and 1986.
However, for some reason, after receiving such consideration Robinson was never inducted and has not been a finalist since.
As the leader of the secondary for the great Kansas City Chiefs teams, he helped them win three AFL Championships and twice reach the Super Bowl. He had a key fumble recovery to help seal victory in Super Bowl IV.
Originally an offensive player for the Dallas Texans (later known as the Kansas City Chiefs), he moved to defense in 1962 and established himself as the top safety in the AFL.
He was named to seven Pro Bowls and was a first team All-Pro for six seasons.
He twice had 10 interceptions in a season and led the league in interceptions twice and interception return yards once.
His 57 interceptions still rank as the 10th most all-time.
Hopefully in the 50th anniversary season of the AFL the Hall of Fame voters will re-look at Robinson, Grayson and some of the other stars of the AFL and give them their deserved spots in Canton.
5. Cliff Branch – Oakland Raiders – 1973-1985
Many of the same arguments for why Drew Pearson should be in the Hall of Fame also apply to Cliff Branch.
Branch was one of the elite game-breakers of the 1970s and was a key component of an Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders team that won three Super Bowls during his career.
During his 14-year career, Branch earned Pro Bowl recognition four times and was a first team All-Pro on three occasions.
Complementing the possession receiving of Hall of Famers Fred Bilitnekoff and Dave Casper, Branch was the deep threat that made the Raiders offense dangerous.
His average of 24.2 yards per catch in 1976 ranks as the 21st highest single season average in NFL history and he averaged 17.3 yards per reception for his career.
Branch led the NFL with 1,092 receiving yards and 13 touchdown receptions in 1974, and also caught a league-leading 12 touchdowns in 1976.
In 19 career playoff games, Branch caught 73 passes for 1,289 yards (17.7 ypc) and four touchdowns.
Branch finished his career with 501 receptions for 8,685 yards and 67 touchdowns.
At the time of his retirement, Branch ranked eighth in career receiving yards, 11th in receptions and 15th in touchdown catches. He now ranks 56th all-time in receiving yards, 106th in receptions and 36th in touchdown catches.
4. Chuck Howley – Chicago Bears/Dallas Cowboys – 1958-1973
Occasionally overshadowed on the talented Dallas Cowboy defense by other superstars including Bob Lilly, Jethro Pugh, Mel Renfro and Lee Roy Jordan, Chuck Howley picked the grandest stage for his biggest moments.
In Super Bowl V, he became the first defensive player, and only player ever from a losing team, to earn Super Bowl MVP honors after intercepting two passes and recovering a fumble. He followed that up by recovering a fumble and intercepting another pass the following year in Super Bowl VI.
Playing weakside linebacker, Howley combined with Lee Roy Jordan and Dave Edwards to give Dallas one of the best linebacker corps in the league. Dallas finished in the top seven in the NFL in scoring defense and yards allowed in 10 of Howley’s 11 seasons with the team.
Displaying a nose for the ball, Howley intercepted 25 passes in his career and twice had more than 100 yards in interception returns for a season. He scored a touchdown on a 97-yard fumble return in 1966 and had 18 fumble recoveries during his career.
He was selected to six Pro Bowls and earned first team All-Pro honors on five occasions.
It makes absolutely no sense, with some of the players at other positions that have received consideration or been inducted into the Hall of Fame in recent years, that Howley and some of the other linebackers on this list have never even been selected as a finalist.
3. John Randle – Minnesota Vikings/Seattle Seahawks – 1990-2003
One of the most explosive defensive tackles of his generation, it won’t take long before John Randle takes his rightful place among the NFL legends.
In 14 NFL seasons, Randle combined speed and power to develop into the premier defensive player in the league. He earned seven Pro Bowl selections and was a first team All-Pro six times.
Randle registered a career-high 15.5 sacks to lead the NFL in 1997 and recorded double digits in sacks nine times.
After establishing himself at the tackle position, he also spent three years playing defensive end.
Randle completed his career with 137.5 sacks and 29 forced fumbles.
He was a finalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 2009 and should be among those honored with induction in the very near future.
2. Shannon Sharpe – Denver Broncos/Baltimore Ravens – 1990-2003
Once the Hall of Fame voters decide he has waited long enough, Shannon Sharpe is a lock to eventually earn a place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
He was the most prolific tight end of his era and a key member of three Super Bowl Championship squads.
An eight-time Pro Bowl selection and four-time first team All-Pro, Sharpe caught 80 or more passes in a season three times during his career and had 60 or more catches in 10 seasons.
He eclipsed the 1,000-yard receiving mark three times, including a career-high 1,107 yards in 1997.
Sharpe finished his career as the all-time leading receiver among tight ends and still ranks second to Tony Gonzalez.
His career totals of 815 receptions and 10,060 yards rank 18th and 31st, respectively, all-time among receivers.
1. Jerry Kramer – Green Bay Packers – 1958-1968
Given the plethora of offensive linemen who have been inducted into the Hall of Fame in recent years (17 since 1996) it makes absolutely no sense that Jerry Kramer has yet to earn a spot in the Hall of Fame.
One of the key members of perhaps the greatest offensive line of all time, at the time of his retirement few would have believed that 40 years later he would still be waiting to have his name called for the Hall of Fame.
Anyone who followed football in the 1960s knew about the famous Green Bay Packers power sweep. It was the signature play for the great Packer offense that led the NFL in rushing yards three times and finished second three times between 1960 and 1967.
The play relied on the athletic ability of the offensive linemen to pull out from their normal positions and lead block for the running back heading around end. Kramer was ideally suited for the play and often would make crushing blocks to allow Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung, both Hall of Famers, to gain yards and score touchdowns.
He also made perhaps one of the most famous blocks in football history as he paved the way for Bart Starr to score the decisive touchdown in the final seconds of the 1967 NFL Championship game (also known as the “Ice Bowl”).
Kramer was recognized as a first-team All-Pro selection five times during his career and appeared in three Pro Bowls. He was chosen to the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s.
In 1969, Kramer was one of only a handful of NFL players selected by the Hall of Fame selection committee for the NFL’s 50th Anniversary All-Time team. He is the only member of that team who has not been inducted into the Hall of Fame.
In fact, no player who has not eventually received induction into the HOF has been a finalist for the Hall more times than Kramer. He first was a finalist in 1974 and has been a finalist 10 times with the last time having been in 1997.
So what changed between 1969 and 1974 (and the 35 years since) that has kept Kramer from earning his rightful place in the Hall of Fame?
There are probably two ways to explain why Kramer has been snubbed for so long.
The first has to do with the over-saturation of members of the great Packer teams of the 1960s in the Hall.
Beginning with Jim Taylor in 1976 and ending with Henry Jordan in 1995, 10 members of the 1960s Packers have been selected for the Hall of Fame.
During the time that Kramer was a finalist in seven of eight years (between 1974 and 1981) seven Packers were chosen for the Hall and all but one year included a Packer in the HOF class.
It is possible that Hall of Fame voters decided to slow down a bit on selecting Packers to allow for some balance and then by the time they started choosing Packers again, Kramer had been pushed aside.
After the selections of Willie Davis and Jim Ringo in 1981, no member of the 1960s Packers was chosen again until Paul Hornung in 1986.
The other possible explanation has to do with the perception by some that Kramer’s role on the team has perhaps been exaggerated due to his own self-promotion.
During the Packers’ final Super Bowl season of 1967, Kramer teamed with the late, great Dick Schapp to write the book Instant Replay, which chronicled the final season of the Lombardi Packers.
The book became a best seller and was one of the first books I ever read.
He followed it up nearly 20 years later with the book Distant Replay, which re-connected with members of the great Green Bay teams 20 years after their championships.
The greatness of the Green Bay Packers of the 1960s was in their team chemistry, rather than in the greatness of each individual player.
It is possible that some Hall of Fame voters have perceived the notoriety that Kramer received for his books as excessive self-promotion that over-emphasized his value to the Packers. He also seems to have been anointed as the de-facto spokesman for the Packers of the 1960s as he is always prominently featured in video clips about the team, Coach Lombardi and the era.
Of course in this era when newspaper writers across the country are climbing all over each other to get on television, if Hall of Fame voters are indeed punishing Kramer because they think he craved the limelight, the level of hypocrisy would be beyond description.
My hope is that sometime soon, before it is too late and the now 73-year old Kramer is no longer able to enjoy the moment, Hall of Fame voters overcome whatever reason they have had for overlooking this deserving player and put him in the Hall.