Later this month, the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee will take its list of 102 modern-era nominees — players and coaches — and cull from that 25 semifinalist candidates for the Class of 2019. In January, they will trim down to 15 finalists. On February 2, 2019, the day before the Super Bowl, the 48 voters will convene in Atlanta — site of the game — and bring the list from 15 to 10 and then 10 to 5.
They will then vote “yes” or “no” on each of the remaining five players. Any player receiving 80% “yes” votes makes the Hall of Fame.
For players and coaches on the list of modern-era nominees, making the semifinalist list of 25 is the first true step toward the Hall of Fame.
That’s because any person can nominate any player, provided that the player has been retired for five or more years and was voted to at least one Pro Bowl or one All-Pro team. Brad Biggs and I were among those who put Olin Kreutz on this year’s ballot, for instance, though Kreutz had been on before and is a true Hall of Fame candidate himself, as we’ll see below.
A much stranger nomination came last year when Steve Smith was on the list — not the heralded Smith of the Panthers, but the one from the Giants. He made the 2009 Pro Bowl and had some clutch catches in Super Bowl XLII, but few people consider him a Hall of Famer.
Therefore the cut to 25 is a significantly greater honor than just landing on the modern-era list.
In a way, this is the most difficult cutdown. While there might only be 10 guys in a given year who are legitimate Hall of Famers, there are 40-50 who can legitimately be considered worthy of that semifinal round.
I learned that the hard way. In this story, I will unveil my entire Hall of Fame ballot at each stage, starting with my top 25, which includes three Bears. In making the list, I had to ultimately make a top 40 list too, because there were 15 guys who I thought were soooooo close to being worthy of the 25 that I had to find a way to include them as well.
My methodology was to rank all of the players within their position groups, put the top-flight guys into the 25 first (including Gonzalez, Sterling Sharpe, Ed Reed and a few others), and then drop in the guys who I think we want to continue discussing based on positions.
For example, Kevin Mawae is my top center, but there are three other centers who I think are truly Hall-worthy: Kent Hull, Olin Kreutz and Tom Nalen. I had to then rank those three guys, and then decide how many of the three should be in my top 25.
My voting methodology will grow more clear as you read. Here are the nominees I would vote for this year, which I will then explain by position:
Hardest cuts from my top 40: Randall Cunningham, Steve McNair, Shaun Alexander, Kent Hull, Tom Nalen, Ty Law, Don Coryell
Semifinalists (25, announced this month): Donovan McNabb, Edgerrin James, Daryl Johnston, Torry Holt, Sterling Sharpe, Tony Gonzalez, Tony Boselli, Mike Kenn, Richmond Webb, Alan Faneca, Steve Hutchinson, Olin Kreutz, Kevin Mawae, Simeon Rice, Richard Seymour, Karl Mecklenburg, Wilber Marshall, Champ Bailey, Steve Atwater, LeRoy Butler, Ed Reed, Darren Woodson, Brian Mitchell, Steve Tasker, Clark Shaughnessy
Finalists (15, announced in January): James, Sharpe, Gonzalez, Boselli, Kenn, Webb, Faneca, Hutchinson, Mawae, Bailey, Atwater, Reed, Mitchell, Tasker, Shaughnessy
Round of 10 (chosen the day before Super Bowl LIII): Sharpe, Gonzalez, Boselli, Faneca, Mawae, Bailey, Reed, Mitchell, Tasker, Shaughnessy
Hall of Fame Class of 2019 (chosen the day before Super Bowl LIII): Sharpe, Gonzalez, Reed, Mitchell, Shaughnessy
Here are my explanations by position. Let the debate begin!
(Side note #1 — Here is my ongoing spreadsheet that I keep for my research. If there are small inconsistencies between the spreadsheet and the article in terms of rankings, that’s because I tinker a lot and changed the story but didn’t go back to update the sheet. Anyhow, feel free to take a look if you’re interested.)
(Side note #2 — There are three other candidates for the Class of 2019: safety Johnny Robinson from the seniors committee, and longtime Cowboys personnel guru Gil Brandt and Broncos owner Pat Bowlen from the contributors committee. All three candidates will be voted with the same “yes” or “no” process as the final five modern-era candidates, and will also require the same 80% “yes” vote for induction. All three can be elected. For more on Robinson, here is an interview with his long-time foe — and Hall of Famer — Lance Alworth.)
Top 25: Donovan McNabb
Top 40: Randall Cunningham, Steve McNair
Jack sez: This was one of the categories where I went around and around, since each guy has an edge over the other two.
Randall has the highest personal peak. McNabb has the best career and was the one of the three who I would have said most consistently throughout his career that he was a HOFer. McNair got the closest to a ring (one yard from OT in a Super Bowl), played the best in his biggest games and won an MVP (a co-MVP with Peyton Manning, which almost makes it bigger).
I had to pick McNabb for the top 25. He was the one guy I always thought was a HOFer during his career, measuring him against Manning and Brady.
I came very close to including both or either Cunningham and McNair and ended up removing them for others.
After that, I ended up dropping McNabb. I hate to say it, but the bar for quarterback is fantastically high, probably the highest of any position. I think we probably elect too many QBs to the Hall, and as I look ahead, there are two guys who I think have a great chance of getting in but who I would definitely not vote for: Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger.
I think Philip Rivers has a decent shot — he’s another guy I don’t think should be in. Coming up in the next decade will be four guys who are all going in, including at least two first ballot: Peyton, Brady, Brees and Rodgers.
In that context, I can’t give it to McNabb, Eli, Roethlisberger, Rivers, the spectacular Mike Vick, or two of my favorite QBs ever: Cunningham and McNair.
We’ll see what plays out for Cam Newton and Matt Ryan. My next QB going in is Peyton in the Class of 2021.
Top 15: Edgerrin James
Top 40: Shaun Alexander
Jack sez: The Hall merges halfbacks/running backs with fullbacks into a single category as “Running Backs,” but I’m going to split them because that’s how we think about them.
I love Shaun Alexander, and he just nudged my other top 40 candidates at running back: my guy Eddie George, the great Ricky Watters and the very talented Corey Dillon.
I think Edge is the best of the bunch, and I’ve got him going to the round of 15, which will be his third finalist selection in five years. He was a semifinalist the other two years.
Why Edge? He was just flat out better than the other guys, with a greater combination of skills. He’s got the most rushing titles of any of the nominees (two — Alexander has one), he’s got the most career rushing yards, the most yards per game, he’s one of the top two receivers (Watters) and he probably would have won a ring if he didn’t leave Indy. In fact, he might have even been Super Bowl MVP considering that Addai and Rhodes should have shared it.
Top 25: Daryl Johnston
Top 40: Larry Centers
Jack sez: A common theme for me with the Hall of Fame is the inequity in positional honors. Namely fullbacks, centers, and everyone on special teams. So it was disappointing but not surprising when I checked the Hall of Fame’s positional page and found that there is no true, modern fullback in the Hall.
We have to start somewhere, and Moose Johnston is a great starting point. He was arguably the best fullback of his time, paved the way for the NFL’s all-time leading rusher and started — and won — three Super Bowls. He deserves a top 25 recognition, no question.
Larry Centers was also arguably the best fullback of his time, albeit with different responsibilities. I’ll take Moose because his skill adhere to the position, whereas Centers’ standout statistic is valuable but more of a curiosity at the position (receptions for a fullback). Same idea as Mike Alstott — great player, but got a lot of recognition for the novelty (short-yardage touchdowns) rather than the blocking.
But here is my question: WHERE IS LORENZO NEAL? Not only is he not a nominee, but he’s only been nominated once since he’s been eligible, which was the Class of 2014. That happened last year.
Here are his credentials:
- Arguably the best pure blocking back ever (my choice, for sure)
- Passed the eye test as a monster fullback
- 16 seasons at a brutal position
- 239 games, with 14 seasons of 16+ games, including his last at age 38
- 4x Pro Bowl, 1x All Pro
- Played in 6 postseasons including one Super Bowl
- Starter at fullback in front of x 1,000-yard rushers: Eddie George (‘99, ‘00 Titans), Corey Dillons (‘01, ‘02 Bengals), LaDainian Tomlinson (‘03-’07, Chargers)
- Lead blocker for MVP and first-ballot Hall of Famer Tomlinson
Lorenzo Neal belongs in the Hall. So do Moose and Larry Centers. And by the way, if fullbacks were given the HOF consideration of wide receivers, the following guys would be in play along with Neal, Moose, Centers and Rathman:
- Mike Alstott
- Kimble Anders
- Sam Gash
- Tony Richardson
And that leaves off a ton of guys who had great careers, paved the way for 1,000-yard rushers and helped their teams reach or win Super Bowls, including my guy Jason McKie plus Howard Griffith, William Henderson and Brad Hoover, to name a few.
Hall of Fame Class of 2019: Sterling Sharpe
Top 25: Torry Holt
Jack sez: As I explained here, Sterling Sharpe needs to be in the HOF yesterday. This is his final year of eligibility before heading to the senior committee, and I 100% want to see him in now. He earned it and then some, and is one of the five guys in my Class of 2019. (We’ll get to the other four as we go along.)
In 19 years of eligibility, Sharpe has never even been a semifinalist. Torry Holt has been one in each of his four seasons of eligibility. And with good reason. He was electric. In an era with Moss, Harrison and T.O., and on an offense with Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk and Isaac Bruce, Holt managed to distinguish himself as one of the very best at his position.
I’m not sure at what point I would vote him in — not this year, and not ahead of Calvin Johnson, who will be eligible in the Class of 2021, should Holt remain on the ballot that long. But I do know that I would have put him in ahead of recent HOFers Andre Reed and Tim Brown. And I know that the gap between Holt and the other nominated WRs is too great to move anyone else into the top 40.
Having said that, where are Herman Moore and Jimmy Smith? Those two guys need to be on the ballot too.
Hall of Fame Class of 2019: Tony Gonzalez
Jack sez: Tony Gonzalez is the number one guy on my list for the Class of 2019, the only one about whom I had not one millisecond of debate. He is arguably the greatest tight end ever in four respects: skillset, statistics, accolade, legacy.
Quite simply, he changed the position forever, not just in terms of the level of production a team could seek from the position but also the build a player could have at the position.
He changed the prototype, bringing the super-athletic basketball body to tight end. He is the predecessor of future HOFers Antonio Gates and Rob Gronkowski, and he’s better than both. The other three tight ends who are nominated had marvelous careers and were all talented players in their own right: Mark Bavaro, Brent Jones, Jay Novacek.
But none is good enough to warrant a top 40 in a year when Tony Gonzalez is going in first ballot. It’s not worth including them when there are other guys I want to debate, and when Gonzalez is so far ahead of the rest.
Two other guys are though, and they’re not on the list.
Ben Coates and Keith Jackson.
WHERE ARE BEN COATES AND KEITH JACKSON?
Of the five guys, Coates and Jackson rank 1st and 2nd, respectively, in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. Coates had 50 TDs, Jackson 49, and then Bavaro was 3rd at 39.
Coates, Jackson and Novacek are on top of the pack with 5 Pro Bowls, and Jackson leads the All Pro 1st team selections with three, followed by Coates with two.
Top 15: Tony Boselli
Top 25: Mike Kenn, Richmond Webb
Jack sez: The group of nominated offensive tackles is imposing. There are seven nominees; joining Boselli, Kenn and Webb are Willie Anderson, Lomas Brown, Chris Hinton and Chris Samuels. Anderson has the fewest Pro Bowls, and he has four. Samuels is the only one without a first-team All-Pro selection and he was a Pro Bowler in six of his 10 seasons. This is a fantastic group.
At the top is the trio of Boselli, Kenn and Webb. I struggled with where these guys should go. Boselli had the best peak but the shortest career due to injuries. He’s on the Terrell Davis / Sterling Sharpe track. Webb was probably the best tackle of his time year in and year out. Between 1990 and 1999, if I had to pick one active tackle and I was assigned one of their seasons in that time frame at random and I had to start that player from that season in the Super Bowl, Webb would be the guy I would feel best about picking.
And then there’s Mike Kenn, a steady-as-she-comes tackle, 17 years, all with the Falcons, with peaks that included his being regarded as the best in the league. His most famous season was 1991, at age 35, when he was first-team All Pro for the first time since 1980.
Here’s what Kenn did against some of the league’s best pass-rushers:
- Pat Swilling, Saints: ‘91 DPOY, ‘91 AP1, ‘91 PB, 17.0 sacks in ‘91, 0 vs. Kenn
- Derrick Thomas, Chiefs: HOF, ‘91 AP1, ‘91 PB, 13.0 sacks in ‘91, 0 vs. Kenn
- Leslie O’Neal, Chargers: 6x PB, 9 sacks in ‘91, 0 vs. Kenn
- Chris Doleman, Vikings: HOF, 7 sacks in ‘91, 0 vs. Kenn
- Charles Haley, 49ers: HOF, ‘91 PB, 7 sacks in ‘91, 0 vs. Kenn
Look again at that Swilling line. He was Defensive Player of the Year with a league-leading 17 sacks, and the key here is that Kenn played Swilling three times: twice in the regular season and once in the playoffs, a Wild Card game that the Falcons won.
This is Kenn’s final year of eligibility before he moves into the senior category. From what I’ve read and watched, he seems like someone who was considered a Hall of Fame-talent in his time but fell through the cracks. I would like to see one final discussion on Kenn before he moves on.
Top 10: Alan Faneca
Top 15: Steve Hutchinson
Top 40: Steve Wisniewski
Jack sez: Only three guards are nominated this year, and they are a stronger trio than the three top tackles. Faneca was in the top 15 his first two years of eligibility and moved into the top 10 last year. If not for needing to do some makeup work with my HOF votes with Sharpe and two others, I would be voting Faneca in this year.
Hutchinson was also top 10 last year in his first year of eligibility. He needs to be the next guard in. And Wisniewski’s eight Pro Bowl selections is the most of the 15 nominated offensive linemen.
Top 10: Kevin Mawae
Top 25: Olin Kreutz
Top 40: Kent Hull, Tom Nalen
Jack sez: Kevin Mawae was the best center of his time, and will be the next center in the Hall. Because I see a large enough gap between him and the rest of the pack, I’m putting him into the top 10 and leaving the next man, our guy Olin, at the top 25.
After that, the choice between Hull, Kreutz and Nalen is super tough. (Ray Donaldson is just on the outside of that group, another guy with a wonderful career.) None of these three guys has ever advanced to the semifinals, a sign of the disrespect toward pure centers.
The last one voted in as a modern-era nominee was Dermontti Dawson in 2012. Bruce Matthews went in 2007, though he spent more of his career at guard than center. Dwight Stephenson entered in 1998, Mike Webster in 1997, and that’s the entire list of HOF centers inducted since Jim Langer in 1987, which is the last time a center went in on the first ballot.
I am obviously biased here in my choice of Kreutz over Hull and Nalen, not just because I am a Bears fan and have come to know Olin personally, but from just a pragmatic level I watched nearly every game of his career and know his candidacy better than the other two guys. I think the Hull-Kreutz-Nalen debate is a great one, and though I will stick with Olin, whoever you choose of that three should be in the top 25.
Top 25: Simeon Rice
Jack sez: Ooooooh Simeon Rice. Man. On a personal level, he might have been my toughest cut after the top 25. He’s in a tough spot because with the exception of transcendent players — of his era, really just Reggie White and Bruce Smith — the defensive end position tends to get boiled down to just sacks.
Rice had a lot — 122.0 — but that’s still only good for 20th all-time. He was also only selected to three Pro Bowls and was only first-team All Pro once, in 2002, with three 2nd team selections.
But let’s talk about that one year.
In 2002, Simeon Rice had one of the most dominant seasons I’ve ever watched for a defensive end. His Buccaneers won the Super Bowl that year behind its defense, and Rice was one of three Bucs named to the All Pro 1st team. The other two are in the HOF: Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks.
Rice finished 2nd in sacks that year to DPOY Jason Taylor, with 15.5 to Taylor’s 18.5, and then ripped off a spectacular postseason: four sacks in three games, one forced fumble in each game and two fumbles recovered. His two sacks in Super Bowl XXXVII led the Bucs, and his pass rush helped force Raiders QB Rich Gannon into his first interception to eventual MVP Dexter Jackson. Jackson’s second interception came when Rice dropped into coverage, and Gannon’s first read was to the left, toward Rice, causing him to look back to the right where he threw the pick.
Rice later forced Gannon into Warren Sapp’s one sack. And when the game was nearly over, announcer John Madden said that he voted for Rice for MVP.
Top 25: Richard Seymour
Jack sez: Again, like with “Running Backs” and “Offensive Linemen,” “Defensive Linemen” is one category, but I’m splitting it up to reflect how we actually think of players. The Patriots won three Super Bowls in four years led by their defense, and Seymour — who the team drafted #6 in 2001 — was the their best defensive player.
He was versatile, beginning his career as a 4-3 d-tackle and then moving to a 3-4 d-end. He was great from the jump, earning a starting job during his rookie year and starting in New England’s stunning Super Bowl victory over the Rams. He made 7 Pro Bowls and was 1st team All Pro three times. He was strong and fast, got to the quarterback, could stuff the run and was a great leader.
Top 25: Karl Mecklenburg
Top 40: London Fletcher, Sam Mills, Zach Thomas
Jack sez: Fourteen linebackers are nominated this year, all in one category, and once again I’m separating inside from outside backers. It’s a valuable distinction for nearly everyone on the list, with one notable exception: Karl Mecklenburg.
As Rick Gosselin broke down two years ago, Mecklenburg was predominantly a 3-4 inside linebacker, but played outside as well, along with positions along the line. As a result, he is not remembered for a single position, nor did he accumulate a ton of any one stat.
“My position is strange because I played all seven front positions,” Mecklenburg told Gosselin. “One of the challenges I face in having an opportunity of going to the Hall of Fame is that, statistically, people don’t know what to do with me.”
A newspaper feature on Mecklenburg prior to Super Bowl XXI, with the headline “Denver’s Mecklenburg fools computer,” opened thusly:
“At one time, Karl Mecklenburg was a football player without a position. Now ... he has a bunch of them.”
The author went on to say that Mecklenburg “lines up everywhere but in the defensive backfield.”
Like Kenn, Mecklenburg is in his 20th and final year of eligibility. He was a defensive standout on three Super Bowl teams, made six Pro Bowls and was All Pro 1st team three times. I’m curious to hear more discussion on him.
The guy getting the biggest shaft here is Zach Thomas, with London Fletcher and Sam Mills just a bit behind. I think fans of these three players probably feel about them the way I feel about Kreutz, Peanut Tillman and Lance Briggs. Strong cases exist for them, but just-as-strong cases exist for others too. I know in particular that Dolphins fans think Thomas was just as good as Urlacher, and many see Lak’s first ballot selection as an affront to Thomas’s candidacy.
Fletcher, Mills and Thomas put up stats that in many ways rival Urlacher’s. To me, Brian just had that extra umph, in large part because of his speed. Look at these rankings of the four players:
- Recovered fumbles: Mills, 23 (Urlacher 2nd, 15)
- Fumble return yards: Urlacher, 177 (Mills 2nd, 154)
- Interceptions: Fletcher, 23 (Urlacher 2nd, 22)
- Interception return yards: Urlacher 324 (Thomas 2nd, 170)
- Yards per takeaway: Urlacher, 13.5 (Mills 2nd, 8.0)
- Sacks: Urlacher, 41.0 (Fletcher, 39.0, in 74 more games)
- Touchdowns: Mills, Urlacher and Thomas all with four
In other words, despite not being first in the group in either takeaway category, Urlacher was dominant in takeaway yards, gaining five more per play than the next best man, Sam Mills. Statistically, that is a great indicator for where you see Urlacher’s difference — in other words, that is his eye test translated into a stat.
Add that to Urlacher’s DPOY and while I understand why fans of Fletcher, Mills and Thomas feel like their guy is getting shorted, to me this was a no-brainer.
But okay, let’s put Mecklenburg into the group.
- Recovered fumbles: 3rd, with 14
- Fumble return yards: 3rd, with 47
- Interceptions: last, with 5
- Interception return yards: 4th, with 128
- Yards per takeaway: 2nd, with 9.2
- Sacks: 1st, with 79.0
- Touchdowns: last, with two
Suddenly, Mecklenburg’s candidacy looks pretty good. I was just a tad too young to really know his game. He strikes me as a true eye test guy. I want to hear from the voters who watched him before he’s eliminated.
Top 25: Wilber Marshall
Top 40: Leslie O’Neal
Jack sez: I wrote a ton about the inside backers, so I’m going to keep this one quick.
Wilber’s another guy like Simeon Rice. He only made three Pro Bowls and was 1st team All Pro only twice, but he made significant contributions to two Super Bowl champions known for their defense. He was a starter on the Super Bowl Shufflin’ ‘85 Bears, making him a standout on arguably the greatest defense the league has ever seen.
And then he went to Washington and was a starter for another champ, becoming a guy who Washington defensive coordinator (and fellow Class of 2019 HOF nominee) Richie Petitbon called “our best football player” the week leading up to Super Bowl XXVI.
Top 10: Champ Bailey
Top 40: Ty Law
Jack sez: Champ Bailey is probably going to be voted into the HOF this year, and he totally deserves the first ballot treatment. The only reason I’m leaving him off is that my ballot is sending in some guys who I think should have been in a while ago, and as a result I only have two first ballot spots.
One is for Gonzalez.
The other came down to Bailey and fellow DB Ed Reed, who I think did more at safety than Bailey did at corner. So I’m taking Reed, and next year I’m voting for Bailey.
But that’s just me. Bailey is almost definitely going to be voted in this year, and I’ll be applauding for sure when it happens.
Hall of Fame Class of 2019: Ed Reed
Top 15: Steve Atwater
Top 25: LeRoy Butler, Darren Woodson
Jack sez: If we separate the “Defensive Backs” category into corners and safeties, then safety is probably the strongest position group of the entire ballot. I’ve got Ed Reed going in on the first ballot, joining Brian Dawkins, Ken Houston and Larry Wilson as the only pure safeties selected in their first year of eligibility. (Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott were too, but also played extensively at corner.)
I think Steve Atwater needs to go in, while LeRoy Butler and Darren Woodson would be the tops of almost any other class.
And because we have four safeties in our top 25, I left out 2018 finalist John Lynch and two-time Super Bowl champion Rodney Harrison. Reed, Atwater, Butler, Woodson, Lynch, Harrison. That is a murderer’s row, and though I suspect Lynch will again be voted higher than Butler and Woodson, I’m rolling with the list that makes sense to me based not just on stats but my experience watching all of these guys.
Hall of Fame Class of 2019: Brian Mitchell
Top 40: Eric Metcalf
Jack sez: In 2016, I argued that while Devin Hester needs to go into the HOF, electing him and only him on the basis of him being the GOAT at his position is NFL tokenism. I selected a group of five guys who I called the inaugural class of HOF returners, and along with Hester was 2019 nominee Brian Mitchell.
I’m sure there are plenty of people who will be surprised that I’m voting for Mitchell in a year with Bailey, Faneca and others. Mitchell deserves it though, for this stat alone:
All-purpose yards, career
- Jerry Rice, 23,546
- Brian Mitchell, 23,330
- Walter Payton, 21,803
- Emmitt Smith, 21,564
- Tim Brown, 19,682
That’s right: Brian Mitchell, he of a mere one Pro Bowl selection (though he was also 1st team All Pro that year, 1995), is 2nd all-time in all-purpose yards, behind only Jerry Rice.
Here’s another list:
Combined kick and punt return yards, career
- Brian Mitchell, 19,013
- Allen Rossum, 15,003
- Josh Cribbs, 13,488
- Mel Gray, 13,003
- Glyn Milburn, 12,772
I don’t know how far down those lists we should extend the HOF qualification — Darren Sproles is 6th in all-purpose yards, and Allen Rossum is 2nd in return yards, and I don’t think I would vote for either as a HOFer (though Sproles is closer). But I think when you’re #2 in yardage and #1 in return yardage, you deserve that honor.
Top 10: Steve Tasker
Jack sez: The special teams slot in the Pro Bowl typically bounces around. If you go in consecutive years, you’re a stud. Steve Tasker was elected six years in a row, and bagged another three years prior to the start of his streak. He is widely called the greatest special teams coverage man of all time.
Any time the word “greatest” is in your title, you need to be there.
Top 40: none
Jack sez: We have two nominees: Jason Elam and Nick Lowery. They were both wonderful players, and I give Elam the edge, but I don’t feel strongly enough about either to move them along, let alone into the Hall.
The guy who is not nominated who should be, and who would be in my top 25, is Gary Anderson. I’ve said it before (kind of) and I’ll say it again: WHERE IS GARY ANDERSON? He was the first man to break George Blanda’s all-time scoring record, a mark he held from 2000 until the end of 2006, when Class of 2017 HOFer Morten Andersen passed him.
Anderson is still third in points, third in field goals and second in games played. He belongs in this discussion.
Top 40: Sean Landeta
Jack sez: In a 21-year career, Landeta won two Super Bowls, reached two Pro Bowls and was first-team All Pro three — yep, three — times. That’s excellent for a punter. I was very close to nudging him into the top 25 but I couldn’t decide who I would remove.
Landeta was also named to the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 1990s as the 1st team punter, and was 2nd team for the 2000s. That’s an element we haven’t discussed yet in this story, and is a valuable barometer for HOF odds, because the HOF selection committee votes for it. (Its flaw as a barometer is that players whose prime straddles decades get left off.)
I would like to hear more arguments for Landeta from the people who watched him. I’ve got him ahead of Jeff Feagles, this year’s other nominee.
Two other guys I would like to see considered were known for their powerful legs and were both game-changers (in the game) and Game-changers (at the position): the late Reggie Roby, best known for his time with the Dolphins, and Darren Bennett, best known for his time with the Chargers. These were the punters who really put me in awe of punting and made me sit up and take notice whenever they were on the field. They had what Isiah Thomas once called “the oohs and the ahs.”
That’s important at any position, but especially at punter, which so often goes unnoticed unless a mistake is made or unless they rack up a ton of years.
Top 40: none, as there are no nominees
Should a long snapper be considered for the Hall? I posed that question last year to none other than our own Pat Mannelly, who certainly goes down in history as one of the greatest to ever do it. Here’s what he said:
I don’t think so. If you were going to go off positions, I would say yes, but to me, the long snapper didn’t become truly a football position until the year 2000. I wrote on my blog a thank you to all the guys who came before me, because they helped the long snapping position become what it is. All the guys before me, they played other positions. There are now 32 long snappers. There weren’t always 32 long snappers. ... All these guys were backups at their positions. They weren’t truly just long snappers. The game has changed in that regard.
Mannelly did note, however, that long snapper should be a position in the Pro Bowl. I agree completely. Here is his argument for that:
They vote for a fullback. How many teams have a fullback? There are 32 long snappers now. There are not 32 fullbacks. So why not make it a voted-on position? People say, “Well, we don’t know how to vote for it.” Well do people really know how to vote for a guard? Does your average fan know what the best guard is? It’s from what they read in the media. And then players and coaches vote as well, so I don’t understand why they don’t have that.
I agree with that too. And while I understand what Pat is saying about long snapper only being a separate position since the year 2000, that means we’ve nearly had two decades of long snappers as their own position. It’s probably time we undertake this discussion in earnest. I’m in favor of it. Certainly Mannelly is one who should be considered in that respect. I would be curious to hear more from him on who he thinks the greatest long snappers are since 2000.
Hall of Fame Class of 2019: Clark Shaughnessy
Top 40: Don Coryell
Jack sez: At last, we get to Shaughnessy.
The innovator extraordinaire and one of the fathers of the modern offense was a finalist three times in the 1970s, but has been largely forgotten since then. There was a time when he seemed like a sure-thing to make the Hall. In 1975, five years after his death at age 78, George Puscas of the Detroit Free Press called Shaughnessy “the most inventive genius of modern football,” adding that “For sure, one of these years, Clark Shaughnessy will make it.”
He still hasn’t.
The main problem with Shaughnessy’s candidacy is that to me, he’s in the wrong category. First of all, coaches don’t advance to the seniors committee, as far as I can tell, so we end up with a guy like Shaughnessy as a “modern-era nominee” 126 years after his birth, 56 years after his final NFL job and 48 years after his death.
Second, some coaches weren’t necessarily Hall of Fame coaches, but as the years go on we see that their contributions to the game have exceeded their coaching career. That’s true for Shaughnessy, and then some. His actual NFL career looks like this:
- 1944-1947: Washington, as an advisor
- 1948-1948: Los Angeles Rams, head coach
- 1951-1962: Chicago Bears, defensive coordinator
If that was his entire NFL career, I doubt we’re still talking about him lo these many years later. The reason we are is because what he did in the 1940s to revive, invigorate and spread the old T-formation, the game’s oldest formation.
While working as head football coach of University of Chicago he became friends with George Halas, and after a wildly successful season as head coach at Stanford, he spent time with Halas and Bears assistant Ralph Jones, all of whom were tinkering with updating the T.
Shaughnessy and Jones helped install the new T — known for its man in motion, spread formations, multiple play options and general trickery — with the Bears, leading to the team’s famous deconstruction of Washington 73-0 in the 1940 NFL championship game.
The degree to which Shaughnessy deserves credit for the T vs. Jones or Halas is a matter of debate. In 1941, when Jones became head coach at Lake Forest College, columnist Henry McLemore of the United Press called Jones the “real master” of the T-formation and credited him with the man in motion innovation.
What is not up for debate is the respect Shaughnessy’s peers had for him, and the influence he had on the game. Sid Luckman credits Shaughnessy with teaching him the T. After Shaughnessy’s death in 1970, Halas called Shaughnessy “one of the great inventive minds of the game” and “a master strategist.”
In his new book, “The Genius of Desparation,” Doug Farrar quotes Halas on Shaughnessy:
“Before we began collaborating, our T formation had two major weaknesses (...). One trouble was we only had two end runs ... thanks to Shaughnessy, we have 22 maneuvers around the ends — touchdown plays. Second, the majority of our plays went to the side of the line of the man in motion. Shaughnessy designed ground-gainers that run to the side opposite the man in motion. These counter plays were honeys.”
Added Farrar to me on Twitter: “Jones brought it forward some, but I think Shaughnessy was the more obvious innovator.”
I am still exploring the true wrinkles of history with regards to Shaughnessy and the T, but I’ll take Halas’s word on this one, and Farrar’s too.
Fellow nominee Don Coryell, whose Air Coryell offense helped usher in the modern passing attacks, is another man without a true categorical home, at least for now.
“You know, I’m sitting down there in front, and next to me is Joe Gibbs, and next to him is Dan Fouts, and the three of us are in the Hall of Fame because of Don Coryell,” said John Madden in 2010 at a memorial service for Coryell, whom he coached under at San Diego State in the 1960s. “There’s something missing.”
I’ve emailed the Pro Football Hall of Fame to ask whether there has been any discussion about separating coaches, about creating a seniors division for coaches, and about whether some coaches should be moved into the contributor category when warranted.
That’s where I would put Shaughnessy. It’s where I would put Don Coryell, too. But they’re in this category, and as long as they are, I’ll vote for them until they’re in.
Clark, you’re up first. Thanks for the T, good sir.
Jack M Silverstein is Windy City Gridiron’s Bears historian, and author of “How The GOAT Was Built: 6 Life Lessons From the 1996 Chicago Bulls.” He is the proprietor of Chicago sports history Instagram “A Shot on Ehlo.” Say hey at @readjack.