Super Bowl XLIV has come and gone. For 49er fans, the event would have been little more than another milestone on a long seven-year stretch of desolate road far from the NFL Playoffs, had the Super Bowl not been tied to announcement of the 2010 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class and the coronation of the legendary careers of Jerry Rice and his long-time rival Emmitt Smith.
(Particularly astute 49er devotees may also have noted the significance of Peyton Manning losing his first Super Bowl, making it that much more difficult for him to eventually lay claim to the title of greatest QB of all time, regardless of what he does from here out. Joe’s Super Bowl credentials remain unchallenged.)
Jerry Rice’s official acceptance to football immortality—in what may have been the least debated selection of all time—brings to mind an interesting question. What other members of the Team of the '80s deserve Hall of Fame consideration?
The group is already well-represented with the likes of Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Fred Dean, and Bill Walsh, but there are some notable names who remain thus far snubbed by the selection committee. Here are my Top Five:
No. 5 – Eddie DeBartolo
Ranked at No. 5 not because he’s the least deserving on the list, but because he’s the only non-player, the former owner, president, and benefactor of one of the NFL’s all-time premiere franchises deserves some strong consideration.
If they based acceptance on passion, Eddie D would have been in long ago. Rarely if ever at that time had owners been so visible and involved with the workings of their franchise as Eddie was. Many modern-day owners across sports have begun to follow this model, particularly in the NBA, with the likes of Pat Croce in Philadelphia and Mark Cuban in Dallas.
There is many a story of a breathless, sweat-drenched Eddie D being the first person in the locker room to greet his team after a dramatic victory, as well as the story behind one his most famous quotes when he spouted “You have to kick a** to get a**” at a team meeting in the locker room following a disappointing loss.
Of course passion can’t get you into Canton alone, but Eddie D’s tangible qualifications are stellar as well. He took a team that was destitute in the late 1970s and in the span of 15 years, forged them into the first Five-time Super Bowl Champion team in NFL history.
If not for Eddie D, Bill Walsh may never have gotten a head coaching opportunity in the NFL, and together they forged a loser into a champion before the era of parity, salary caps, and free agency. Of course, Eddie D figured out how to use these things to his advantage once they came about, when he assembled an all-star cast in 1994 en route to the Super Bowl XXIX title.
True, Eddie D was suspended by the NFL in the late 1990s for his involvement with an illegal gambling scheme (not connected to sports betting), but the suspension itself was only for five years and involved no restrictions beyond that period. He only lost the 49ers permanently as a result of a choice he made as owner to transfer official control of the team to the DeBartolo Foundation.
Still, this small blemish on a sterling career should not keep him out of Canton. Eddie DeBartolo helped give the NFL some iconic moments, players, and coaches, and for that his bust belongs in Canton.
No. 4 – Dwight Clark
There’s no debate over the signature moment of Dwight Clark’s career. But his involvement with "The Catch" may actually have hurt his chances at enshrinement thus far.
Dwight was never supposed to get a chance to create such an iconic moment in sports history during his career at Clemson. Had he not been the roommate of QB prospect Steve Fuller, he may never had gotten the chance to work out for Bill Walsh. He managed to impress Walsh enough to invest a tenth round pick on him in 1979 when all Walsh’s advisors implored the coaching legend to pass on him.
In nine NFL seasons, all with the 49ers, Dwight amassed 6,750 receiving yards, 48 touchdowns, played in two Pro Bowls and won two Super Bowls. These numbers are good enough to rank him third all time in receiving yards on a team that has had no shortage of talent over the years at the wide receiver position.
His career numbers are also comparable to current Hall of Famers Lynn Swann and Tom Fears.
Still, his signature play remains practically all he is remembered for and I think it is high time that changed.
No. 3 – Randy Cross
Offensive Linemen are always a controversial choice, and in so much as Randy Cross played before the era of stats at that position, there is little of substance to debate or compare to current linemen in Canton.
Still, Randy Cross was the outspoken center of a line that blocked for the likes of Joe Montana and a talented stable of backs, without whom, the heroics of Montana and other skill players would not have been possible. Randy was the star pupil of the late great 49ers Offensive Line Coach Bobb McKittrick and proved what an undersized offensive lineman could do with proper coaching and technique.
He helped his team to three Super Bowl titles and since retirement has carved out steady work as a talented TV commentator for NFL football.
For this he deserves strong consideration for inclusion in Canton.
No. 2 – Brent Jones
Perhaps the best of a long line of talented tight ends in San Francisco, Brent Jones was once described by the legendary Jerry Rice as having the best hands on the team.
Brent Jones was a fixture in George Seifert and Mike Shanahan’s continuation of Bill Walsh’s West Coast Offense and racked up some impressive numbers en route to three Super Bowl titles and four Pro Bowls. Brent’s 417 career catches for 5,195 yards and 33 touchdowns place him right in line with the likes of the majority of the current small group of tight ends enshrined in Canton.
His blocking abilities were also stellar, helping backs like Roger Craig and Ricky Waters and receivers like Jerry Rice and John Taylor amass impressive careers in their own rights. Brent was a favorite target of both Joe Montana and Steve Young and was a key element in the 49ers securing their last three Lombardi Trophies.
No. 1 – Roger Craig
This is an absolute no-brainer and I am frankly shocked every year his name is not called.
Roger Craig became the first player in NFL history to gain more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage both rushing and receiving in a single season, when in 1985 he rushed for 1,050 yards and 9 touchdowns and added 92 catches out of the backfield for 1,016 yards and 6 touchdowns.
His career totals also shout HALL OF FAME. Roger’s 13,100 yards from scrimmage and 88 total touchdowns are clearly better than such names as Gale Sayers, and place him in a similar class with Cowboys legend Tony Dorsett. Only such players as Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Thurman Thomas, and Walter Payton can clearly claim to be a cut above among current Hall of Famers.
That Roger Craig remains on the outside looking in every Super Bowl weekend is an absolute travesty. He deserves to be in Canton, and he deserves to be there soon!