The Great Hall
As has been the case since it’s inception, the Hall Of Fame in Canton Ohio has been a place where a select few are considered for inshrinement. Given the overwhelming amount of phenomenal athletes who have played in the NFL from it’s inception, it is always extremely difficult to narrow down the voting process from year to year to just seven players. But there are two terms used throughout the media that I absolutely hate, “Future Hall Of Famer”, and “First Ballot Hall Of Famer”. More often than not they are used in tandem, but used of course with reverance towards currently active players. In his last two to three years before his retirement, former Chargers and New York Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson was consistently referred to as a “Future Hall Of Famer”. Tomlinson had a decorated career, including but not limited to multible Pro Bowls, Rushing Titles, Rushing Yards, Touchdowns, as well as league wide respect. It would be difficult to argue against Tomlinsons qualifications with respect to consideration for induction into the Hall, he certainly placed himself in an elite class statistically, as well as surviving more than twelve seasons in the NFL. However, would it be fare to say he is a lock? Is there anything regarding his contribution to the game, or stature compared to others who are among consideration, that he should be inducted in his first year of eligibility? What if among the candidates Roger Craig is on the list, or Jerome Bettis, or consider the players that retired the same year he did.
We certainly don’t want to lay the anvil squarely on the shoulders of Ladainian Tomlinson, there are a myriad of currently active players who are being billed as ‘Future Hall Of Famers’. Yet, there are several players still in uniform whose careers have shown they are more than worthy of being enshrined among the greatest football players of all time. One player that comes to mind is Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez. Gonzalez is a player that has stayed in the top five at his position throughout his career, a character guy, an impact player. It’s safe to say his production and ability at the tight end position likens itself to former players like Mike Ditka, John Macky, and others who are already members of the Hall. But is just being a great player in this era and having inflated statistics the primary qualifications to be a first ballot inductee? Players like Jerry Rice, Deon Sanders, Lynn Swann, Franco Harris, were more than simply great players, they stood in a class all by themselves and consistently rose to the occasion on the biggest possible stages, in the biggest games.
The Hall Of Fame committee makes a concerted effort to select players from different era’s, many deserving athletes wait a long time for their number to be called, and some who are worthy never make it in. One player that leaps to mind is former Steelers defensive tackle L.C. Greenwood. Greenwood has made the list of potential inductees on three seperate occasions, he has not shown up on the list however since 2006. As is well known and documented in sports history, L.C. Greenwood was a member of the ‘Steel Curtain’, arguably the best NFL defense to ever be assembled. In fact, when one speaks of the great Steeler teams of the 1970’s, LC Greenwoods name invariably rolls off the tongue quite naturally. In addition to owning four Super Bowl rings, Greenwoods other notable accomplishment was holding the record for most sacks by a Steeler player. Unlike many of todays defense schemes which employ tactics like the ‘zone blitz’ and stunt rushers, in Greenwoods era it was who ever reached the quaterback first that got the QB to the ground. Certainly a lofty achievement given who his teammates and fellow lineman were at the time. It wasn’t until 2003 when linebacker Jason Gildon eclipsed his sack record, twenty two years after Greenwoods retirement. Like many of his teammates, Greenwood had his best performances in big games, in Super Bowl IX against the Minnesota Vikings, Greenwood batted down two passes from Fran Tarkenton. In Super Bowl X against the Dallas Cowboys, he sacked Roger Staubach four times. Greenwood played in all four of the Steelers Super Bowl victories in the 1970s. Unofficially, Greenwood had five sacks in the four Super Bowl appearances.
It comes down to a very delicate choice for the voters, a process that must be respected, but at the same time should be questioned as to whether their choices are fashionable, or based on true qualifications. There was an announcer during a playoff game in 2012 between the Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans who was gushing over free safety Ed Reed of the Ravens. After Reed made an interception late in the game, the announcer made the comment “put a gold jacket on him now”. It should be noted however that the interception was a result of a deflected ball thrown by a rookie QB making only his third NFL start. Then of course there was the flap among ex-players and media when after Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson caught a touchdown pass during the regular season, he went to the sideline and put on a yellow blazer which had the inscription ‘Future Hall Of Fame’ written on the back. You don’t have to be a fan of Ocho Cinco to know he was spoofing and mocking the media for their insistence on making anyone they themselves deem worthy of the Hall.
Perhaps in future Hall Of Fame discussions, the media will take a more subjective view of who should be selected. And given that a vast majority of NFL analysts today are now themselves in the Hall, it is quite possible.