Top 10 Hall of Fame Snubs/ Argument Starters
James has been contributing to the Gents for a while now, with stats and questions for the podcast. After Months of us pestering him, he’s written his 1st post for the Gents.
Okay, I am a Gridiron Gents Virgin, so I ask that you are gentle with me, and I, in turn shall try to make this special for you.
Hall of Fame week is done now, and I am sad. It’s one of my favourite times of year, not only because the Hall of fame game signals the start of proper football but because it starts debates on sofas around the world about who should be in, who should be waiting their turn and who is being snubbed or ignored again. I have some pretty strong opinions on players, and their places in the hall, only opinions but I thought I would share a few with you, purely for the sake of starting more conversations. So in my first article I thought I would do a list focussing on guys who are my favourite argument starters. “Outsiders” I love making a case for against the odds.
All of these guys are eligible, having been retired for 5 years or more and all, in my opinion deserve their place in Canton.
10) Larry Centers- Fullback.
Phoenix / Arizona Cardinals, Washington Redskins, Buffalo Bills, New England Patriots 1990-2003.
Larry Centers has the auspicious honour of being, in terms of total yardage, hands down the most productive fullback of the last 30 years. His 827 career receptions for 6797 yards in 14 seasons, is a spectacular achievement for a FULLBACK. To put that in perspective, he has more career catches than Marshall Faulk, Steve Largent, Shannon Sharpe and Michael Irvin, he was the first back (and still the only fullback ) to have 100 receptions in a season with 101, a total that was only recently surpassed by Matt Forte. The result being that he has 9000+ all-purpose yards, the most by any Fullback in the modern era. Centers clearly defined the role of a pass-catching back and was to all intents and purposes the Cardinals “offense” in the 90’s. He is on this list because he clearly has the gold standard for pass catching fullbacks and statistically is historically the very best, for that reason he deserves to go in. However he won’t… because he is a fullback, which is nothing short of ridiculous, but there you go. Even his Super bowl ring he picked up with the 2003 Patriots won’t be enough to get him a yellow jacket.
9) Sterling Sharpe. WR Green Bay Packers
After 7 seasons in the NFL Sterling Sharpe was forced to retire with a career ending neck injury. As a result, statistically he doesn’t rank that highly in terms of career totals and for many isn’t even a consideration when talking about the hall of fame.
In spite of that, Sterling Sharpe’s body of work still presents a strong argument for the hall. Take a look at the snapshot we get of Sterling in those 7 years. We get 5 pro-bowls, 5 first team All-pro selections and a stat line that reads 595 receptions for 8135 yards at 13.9 yards a catch and 65 TDs. He also averaged 72.6 yards per game for his career, which, when he retired, ranked him 2nd all time.
His 595 receptions are ranked 2nd among all receivers in that 7 year period (Only Jerry Rice had more. His 8135 yards is 3rd in that period, with only Rice and Henry Ellard having more yards and his 65 TDs in those seven seasons is second only to…..yes! Jerry. Also In that time he lead the league in receptions, yardage and touch downs twice.
But all these stats should be put into context. The names Don Majkowski, Mike Tomczak, Randy Wright, Blair Kiel and Brett Favre are just some of the rogues gallery of different QB’s who Sharpe caught passes from. In spite of this Sharpe was still performing at a high level with consistency and tearing up the Old NFC Central before Randy Moss had even finished High school.
For me, one of the biggest tragedies of Sharpe’s career is that if had he stayed healthy he and Brett Favre would, most likely have hit the prime of their respective careers together. It’s entirely plausible that Sharpe would have had a continuation of his incredible form for at least a couple more years. Maybe then Sharpe would have had numbers that presented a more compelling case for Canton? As an aside, when my Brother and I played catch in the park as kids I always pretended to be either Jerry Rice or Sterling Sharpe. He was, for a short window of time, a dominant explosive scoring machine who captured my imagination as a small boy growing up in South London, in the late 80’s. I can still remember how spectacular he could be, even on the truly forgettable Packers teams of the late 80’s and Pre-Favre 90’s and someday I hope he join’s his brother Shannon in Canton.
8) Edgerrin James. HB.
Indianapolis Colts, Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks. 1999-2009
Edgerrin James is currently ranked 11th all-time in Rushing yardage with 12,246 yards at 4.2 yards per carry. He has 80 rushing touchdowns and over 3000 yards receiving for his 11 year career. He has been selected to 4 pro-bowls. Lead the league in rushing twice (99/00) and was top 4 in the NFL for total offense in 4 separate seasons, on top of being voted to the 1st team of the Pro football hall of fame all 2000s squad. James was a fantastic dual-threat back that was the difference maker for the colts in the early 00’s. Nowhere is this better evidenced than by his average total offensive yards per game, which, in his time in Indy worked out at a ridiculous 125.6 yards per game over 7 seasons. Drafted as a replacement for the recently traded Marshall Faulk in 1999 his impact was immediate. He ran for over 1500 yards and caught 50+ passes for 500 plus yards in both of his first two seasons in the league. Knee ligament injury in year 3 meant that for the next two seasons James played only 19 full games with his rehab slowing him somewhat; however he returned to form and continued to be an explosive and versatile back for the next 5 years. James however closed out his career in with two relatively pedestrian years in Arizona and a short campaign in Seattle. It’s worth considering though that James was a back who more often than not finished top 5 in the league for total touches and all time is ranked 8th in that regard. This workload could partially explain his patchy injury history and his pedestrian stats later in his career. But make no mistake Edgerrin James was every bit as dangerous as any other back at that time and with the notable exception of Marshall Faulk was easily the most versatile and effective in the league at that time.
7) Isaac Bruce. WR
LA /St Louis Rams, San Francisco 49’ers 1994-2009
We have already mentioned the queue at receiver. Isaac Bruce is one of those receivers who due to timing and Circumstance might end up waiting longer than he deserves. The facts are that Isaac Bruce is ranked 4th all-time in receiving yards with 15208 yards and at a position where age catches up with players all too quickly, Isaac Bruce was a player who was devastatingly effective well into his 30’s.
Bruce, whilst being a part of the “Greatest Show on Turf” was not someone who could be dismissed as a product of a system; he was averaging well over 70 yards a game for his career before Mike Martz even got to St Louis. In fact his career best season of 119 catches for 1781 yards and 13td’s was in his sophomore year in 1995 catching balls from Jim Everett. Isaac Bruce, unfortunately, was stuck on some very average Rams teams early in his career meaning he never really got a lot of exposure; he was a quiet guy too. But quietly he built a reputation for being one of the truly great all-time route runners. Quietly he caught the winning TD pass in his first Super bowl. Quietly he caught 91tds. Quietly he went to six Pro bowls. Quietly he had the kind of career that few receivers ever have, a career of real consistency and quality, with a longevity not normally associated with the position, proving that excellent route running and good hands can buy you a few extra years! The unfortunate thing is that Isaac Bruce’s career straddled two era’s. The 90’s, saw Jerry Rice, Chris Carter and Michael Irvin in their prime and the 2000’s had Randy Moss and Terrell Owens dominating, which unfortunately means that he and Marvin Harrison probably end up waiting a few years. You could question why I put him, not Harrison on this list. Bruce played a lot of his career with some pretty average QB’s (Tony Banks people!) and played a great deal of his career as a number 2 receiver to Torry Holt so in that context I feel that Isaac’s achievements speak more of his individual greatness. Regardless it’s a shame a receiver with the class and panache of Bruce may wait 6 or 7 years to get in.
6) Marty Schottenheimer. Head Coach.
Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, Washington Redskins, San Diego Chargers. – 1984-2006.
As an NFL head coach Marty Schottenheimer had 21 consecutive seasons of gainful employment, with 4 different teams. In those 21 seasons he accumulated a 200 – 126 -1 (0.610%) record as a coach, which ranks him 6th all-time. He posted losing records in only 2 of those seasons, and took teams to the playoffs in 13 of those seasons specialising in taking poor or mediocre franchises and making them winners. With the exception of his brief stint with The Redskins (one 8-8 season) he took 3 different losing teams to the playoffs within 2 years of his appointment. He made the Moribund Cleveland Browns winners in the mid-80’s and took them to two consecutive AFC Championship games in 86 and 87, then at Kansas City where after a decade of under-achieving, he took them to 6 consecutive playoff berths in a division where at that time only the Broncos and Raiders could be seriously considered to be contenders.
He taught teams to fight and win using the now legendary “Martyball” philosophy which basically boils down to big physical defence, and a run, run and run some more offensive attack. Smash-mouth blood and guts football. Marty was not just a systems guy though. He was a real motivator of people who worked hard to simplify a complicated game for his players, playing to their strengths and getting close to them and putting in the proper situation and mindset to excel in their role, highly regarded in player circles as real motivator of people.
The big knock on Marty though is his 5-13 record in the playoffs. It seemed that every time Marty dragged a team to the playoffs they would find a way to blow it. Either that or some miracle would occur (normally involving John Elway). It was almost as though he was cursed. He also often took a lot of criticism for his inflexible approach to the “Martyball” Philosophy. Nonetheless, for all his faults, he still took three separate losing franchises and made them relevant and made them winners across three different decades. He is also a coach who is on the whole still loved by those he coached. It was said recently that the mark of a hall of famer is whether you could imagine the game without them. I don’t think I can imagine the game without Marty for better or worse. The 80’s Browns the 80’s and 90’s Chiefs, and the 00’s Chargers don’t exist without him. It should also be remembered he is one of the winningest regular season coaches of all time. He deserves to go in
5) Ken Riley. CB
Cincinnati Bengals. 1969-1983
In his 15 seasons in the League Ken Riley would never make a single pro bowl. He would never be selected all-pro and after retiring would never once be considered as even a semi-finalist for Canton. Not once in 27 years of eligibility.
What is most perplexing is that in the 1970’s for every year between 1973 and 1979 Riley was the most prolific, successful member of one of the consistently great Secondaries of the decade. (I really had to search my soul to not put fellow corner Lemar Parrish on the list too!) The 70’s Bengals are regarded in some circles as one of the most underrated secondaries of all time. For example in the period of 73 to 79 they consistently outranked the Steelers secondary in yards allowed through the air for all but one year (78′ where the Steelers were 1 and the Bengals were 2), so Riley’s relative anonymity It is a real head scratcher.
But the startling fact is that Ken Riley, in-spite of racking up 65 career interceptions (5th all time, and 2nd all-time among corners) and being widely considered at the time as a premier corner. He was never formally recognised in any way by the league. Riley was also, seemingly ageless. From age 34 to his retirement he collected 18 picks, including eight in his final season at age 36. Now after lots of checking, I can’t find evidence any DB has been that productive that late in their career. But guess what? NO Super bowl ring (blame Joe Montana in Super bowl 16 for that!)….so he just sits there forgotten. It’s confusing. Look at the list of NFL all time interception leaders, and his hall of fame omission sticks out like a sore thumb.
4) Kevin Greene OLB
LA Rams, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49’ers, Carolina Panthers 1985-1999.
The biggest single thing you need to know is that Kevin Greene is ranked 3rd all-time in sacks with 160 in 13 seasons. Yet after 15 years he is still waiting for induction into the Hall, only Bruce Smith and Reggie White having more career sacks. On top of which he also has the highest sack total of any Line-backer in NFL history (Even the great Lawrence Taylor is 28 sacks behind Greene). Greene was dominant right to the end of his career. In fact in his last 4 seasons he racked up 51 sacks and a total of 97 in his 30s. He was consistently elite for 3 different teams and was a formidable tenacious competitor who racked up 10 or more sacks in 10 of his 13 seasons in the league. Which begs the question WHY is he not in Canton?? One response that has been bandied about is that “all Kevin Greene did was rush the passer”. Maybe, but he did it as consistently as anyone in history and when you have a career average of 12+ sacks a season over 13 years, I think it’s enough to warrant him being a Hall of fame pass rusher. There aren’t many cases as compelling as Kevin Greene it’s been 15 years and its getting a bit embarrassing to be honest….almost as embarrassing as the next guy….
3) Brian Mitchell KR/PR/HB.
Redskins, Eagles, Giants. 1990-2003
Brian Mitchell had 23,208 all-purpose yards in 13 seasons, which is the 2nd most NFL History. He is only 202 yards behind Jerry Rice (playing 6 fewer seasons), and has 1600 yards more than Walter Payton. Mitchell has far and away the highest total return yards in NFL history 14,014 kick-off return yards at 23.9 per attempt, as well as 4999 punt return yards at 10.9 per attempt, these are all NFL records. As is his 4 2000+ all-purpose yard seasons which is tied with 6 other players for number 1 all time. Mitchell also has the 2nd highest combined kick return TD total in history with 13 (second only to Devin Hester). As well as being an all-time great return man, he was a capable back up / pass catching RB clocking up 1967 yards rushing and 2336 receiving. So, it’s blindingly obvious why Mitchell should be in Canton. However it is just as blindingly obvious why he isn’t. Special teams players are few and far between in Canton and people just aren’t as interested, in fact you are probably thinking “meh whatever” right now. But he is the single most prolific kick returner in NFL history (is that not enough?). He holds, almost every significant career return record, and in each case it’s by a significant margin. I am sure that Mitchell’s coaches, and team mates are well aware of how valuable those 23,000 yards were, and if they can put a punter in the hall, then surely there is room for the all-time Kick return leader? Truth be-told I would put him number one on the list if I thought enough of you really cared.
2) Terrell Davis. RB
Denver Broncos. 1995-2001
Yes, only seven seasons in the league, and only 7607 rushing yards (53rd all time). Immediately you see why he isn’t in already. But then those stats don’t tell the story, they don’t paint the picture. In the 4th game of the 1999 season Davis suffered a devastating Knee injury, a blow that ultimately destroyed his career. Prior to that injury Davis had played Only 4 seasons but in those 4 seasons was the most dominant running back in the NFL. During that spell he gained over 6400 yards in 61 starts, averaging 5.1 yards per carry, 1600 yards and 14 touchdowns per season. It’s the second most prolific 4 year period of any back in history (only Eric Dickerson’s 7500 yards from 83-87 is better). All the more incredible is that in this period, he had week after week of mercurial playoff performances. In his 8 career playoff games Davis gained 1108 yards and ran for 12 TDs at an average of 5.6 yards per carry and in 1998 ( his final year before his injury) in the regular, and post season combined he gained 2476 total rushing yards, which is a combined regular and post season record that still stands. He also totalled 24 rushing TDs. More remarkable when you consider that in the regular season he sat out 8 quarters when the broncos were leading in blowouts that season. But what the stats don’t tell you is that Davis carried (quite literally) Elway and the Broncos to two consecutive Super bowl titles. His playoff performances were almost always dominant, explosive and seemingly unstoppable. His MVP performance in Super bowl 32 is considered to be one of the greatest postseason rushing performances ever. His 33 carries for 157 yards and 3tds is all the more remarkable when you consider that he missed almost the entire the 2nd quarter with a migraine that to all intents and purposes blinded him. The only knock on Davis in this period is that he ran behind an incredibly athletic offensive line, in a scheme designed for backs to make “one cut and go” However, while other backs enjoyed success behind that line neither, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson, or even the incredibly gifted Clinton Portis got anywhere near the production Davis had. He was powerful, explosive and tough like Walter, Earl, or Marshawn and he always saved his best for when it mattered most.
While Davis had a short career, it’s not about the longevity, it’s about the standard and during his limited time in the NFL he was definitely up to standard for Canton. By the way, for those of you who have never seen it, go to YouTube, and check out Terrell Davis first ever play in his first ever preseason game. In that moment he goes from being a 6th round pick ranked 4th on the RB depth chart, to being given his first start of his career, one special teams play and it’s beautiful.
1) Kurt Warner QB. St Louis Rams, New York Giants, Arizona Cardinals
Who doesn’t love Kurt Warner?!? (Apart from Titans fans). My decision to put Warner number one has relatively little to do with numbers, and everything to do with the folklore. Let’s get one thing straight, Warner WILL get in, it’s just I don’t think he should be made to wait. Admittedly his 32,344 yards passing are pretty pedestrian for the era in which he played, as are his 208 TDs and whilst Warner is ranked 4th all-time in terms of completion percentages with 65.5%, a look at his year by year stats suggests an inconsistent QB with some real “wilderness years”. But most people Know that simply isn’t the whole story.
Kurt Warner’s path to the NFL was convoluted, lengthy, and at points downright soul destroying. People refer to him “bagging groceries” to pay the bills, it wasn’t even that glamourous, he did night shifts at the supermarket, working out during the day in case a scout came looking. Warner first tried out with the Packers, undrafted, fresh out of college and 4th on the depth chart (Behind Favre, Brunell, and Ty Detmer). He was dumped unceremoniously after a matter of days. Seasons in the CFL and NFL Europe followed with some success, enough to get him the backup QB job with the ST Louis Rams in 1998. Warner became a “project” for Mike Martz and Head coach Dick Vermeil who were taken with his quick accurate delivery and poise in the pocket. Nonetheless expectations were low. In fact early on there was a meeting where Martz pinned a $50 bill to the notice board, and told Warner “that’s yours when you can throw a spiral”. Then in early 1999 fate intervened, starter Trent Green was injured and Kurt Warner was thrown in to start. What followed was a sophomore season like no other. He completed 65% of his passes for 4353 yards, 41tds (at the time, only Dan Marino had ever thrown 40+ td’s in a season) and only 13 interceptions and went 12-4 as a starter.
That post season he averaged 354 passing yards a game and had a QB rating of 100.0, which is astonishing given that he played against two of the league’s best Defences in Tampa Bay (in the NFC championship game) and Tennessee ( in the super bowl). His full year total saw him accrue 5410 yards passing and 49 td passes. He won league and Super bowl MVP and remained dominant for the next 2 seasons. Unfortunately a poor start to 2002 saw him benched in favour of Mark Bulger, from there Bulger won the starting job, and Kurt would be traded away within 18 months. His time with the Giants was even worse. But later in his career, he landed in Arizona where he had finally found himself Backup to Matt Leinart. Fate intervened, Leinart was injured halfway through 2007 and again Warner stepped in. Again he shocked everyone. He injected life into a franchise that had been dormant for decades and a year later took them on a magical playoff run that saw a rejuvenated Warner go 92/135 for 68.8%, 1148 yards, 11td’s, only 3 picks and put the 9-7 cardinals in the super bowl for the first time in Franchise History. It also doesn’t hurt that the aforementioned Super bowl is widely considered to be one of the best of all time. A game in which Warner inspired incredible 4th quarter heroics coming back from 20-7 down in the 4th quarter only to be denied at the end by Santonio Holmes 6 yard td reception with 1:06 remaining. However After another excellent year in which he got the Cards to the playoffs a second time, he retired forced by the cumulative injuries and age to finally retire in 2009.
Warners legacy in Arizona is the snowballing confidence that the franchise has had since that 2008 playoff run, since then the Cardinals have looked like a franchise that, on their day can threaten and beat anyone and are no longer a laughing stock in the NFL. Warner began all of that for them. His other legacy is not his stats or his awards, but the story itself. A man who dragged himself up from almost nowhere to dominate the league in a way no first time starter ever has and then to resurrect his career on one of the unlikeliest of franchises so late in his career, and to do it so heroically is the kind of story the Hall is built to tell.
As an aside I felt some Honourable mentions should go to a few players I wrestled and wrangled with including. Among them were, Henry Ellard. Irving Fryar, Ty Law, Steve Atwater, Rod Smith, Jimmy Smith, Zach Thomas, Randy Gradishar, L.C Greenwood, Lemar Parrish, Sam Mills, John Hadl, Sterling Sharpe, Vinny Testaverde, Phil Simms, Tony Boselli, Jon Runyan, Nate Newton, Jessie Sapolu, Roger Craig, and Cornelius Bennett. It’s hard, nigh on impossible to really mention how tricky it was leaving these guys out, but ultimately this list is a list of the outsiders with what, I feel are the best cases for entry into the hall.
Anyone James missed? Or Any thoughts on James’ list? Hit us up on twitter.