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2015 NFL Hall of Fame Final 15
The Final 15 for the 2015 Hall of Fame is Fast Approaching!
Update: Today, just a couple days after writing this article, the league announced the finalist to the 2015 NFL Hall of Fame. Of my selections, only one player didn't make the cut, that being corner back Ty Law. At the end of the page I added a small snippet on the people who made it to the finalist round, which includes a coach, a senior player, and two contributes.
The cut down from 26 to 15 finalists for the 2015 NFL Hall of Fame is soon upon us. A ticket to Canton Ohio is the dream of every NFL player. This year’s finalists are full of players who’ve been itching to hear their name called for years like Mike Kenn or Karl Mecklenburg to new faces like Kurt Warner or Orlando Pace who are getting their first shot. The cut from 26 to 15 is almost unfair, no matter what there will be great players who will have to wait another year. Of course the final cut later in the year even more difficult. What goes through the minds of the voters that fateful day will surely never be truly known. Some judge on off the field issues, others don’t. Some consider how many Super Bowl rings the player has; others look more to individual accomplishments. Some are looking for very long stretched out careers of consistent great play; others look for total dominance, even if it’s over a short span. What about Pro Bowls? Post season success? Team success? Seasonal and career records? Obviously there are absolute studs like Jerry Rice or “Mean” Joe Greene that check off on nearly every one of these conditions, and they earned that Gold Jacket the moment they were eligible. This year may not have a Deion Sanders or Lawrence Taylor, but it does have a few players who have a legitimate shot at being first ballot Hall of Famers. And there are certainly players that have been waiting long enough and deserve their due. So without further ado, in no particular order, here is my list of the 15 legends I believe will move onto the next step in the selection process and get their shots at NFL immortality.
Kurt Warner: One of the greatest stories in NFL history, quarterback Kurt Warner should be a first ballot Hall of Famer. Everyone knows his rags to riches story, from bagging groceries for $5.50 an hour to being the key ingredient to the Greatest Show on Turf. He led the St. Louis Rams to 2 Super Bowl appearances, winning 1 of them. Warner won NFL MVP in the 1999 and 2001 seasons and his seasons as a full time starter are some of the best years a QB has ever had. A half decade later Warner turned another team around and piloted the Cardinals to their biggest success in team history, leading them to a Super Bowl appearance in the 2008-09 season. He resurrected two lowly franchises to football relevancy, has a Super Bowl ring, 2 MVPs, had incredible post-season success, and is one of the best ambassadors to the sport of his generation, give him the Gold Jacket.
Orlando Pace: For an offensive lineman to be enshrined in Canton he needs to have dominance over a long career, Pace had that and then some. In his 13 year career, Pace, along with Walter Jones, was the most overpowering offensive tackle in football. It’s a coin flip as to whether Jones or Pace was the better player. Pace led the offensive line for The Greatest Show on Turf. Think about it, the St. Louis Rams had back-to-back-to-back MVPs with Warner in 1999, Faulk in 2000, and Warner again in 2001. Who was the one opening holes for the league’s best running back? And who protected the quarterbacks blindside? Pace may has well have all 3 of those MVPs for himself. He doesn’t have that, so give him a bust in Canton instead. Jones got in last year, it’s Pace’s turn.
Junior Seau: If longevity, leadership, and accomplishment is what you’re looking for, Seau is your guy. His 20 year career is astounding and his play on the field is conceivably unrivaled. Seau may not have the sexiest stats, but his high level of consistency and impactful play is unparalleled for his era. He was a tackling machine, virtually a magnet to the ball carrier. The league didn’t start recording tackles until 2001, but it wouldn’t be hyperbole to guess he accumulated up to 1,500. He was a 10-time All-Pro, 12-time Pro Bowler, and named to the NFL 1990’s All-Decade Team. His sudden and tragic suicide in 2012 shocked the sports world—and the support of the NFL, players, and fans alone should be enough to prove the impact he left.
Kevin Greene: The player who leads my “why the heck isn’t he already in The Hall” list, Kevin Greene is the most underrated pass rusher in NFL history. The outside linebacker played 15 seasons on 4 different teams and recorded an astounding 160 sacks. That’s 160, as in the third most all time. His 10 seasons of double digit sacks is third all time. He led the league in sacks twice, which is tied for first all time. His 9 consecutive games with a sack is second all time. At the age of 34 he became the oldest player ever in the NFL to lead the league in sacks. Greene was legitimately crazy on the field, hilarious, awesome, one of the best characters the NFL has ever had. Maybe too crazy for the voters? I don’t know, what other reasoning can you find that explains his lack of enshrinement? The two players ahead of him on the all time sack list, Reggie White and Bruce Smith, are already in Canton. The next five players under him on that list (that aren’t active or aren’t yet eligible) are already in The Hall. What in the name of Jerry Kramer is going on here? Put Kevin Greene in a Gold Jacket now! Maybe we can start a Twitter trend #PutGREENEinGOLD
Will Shields: Probably the best guard of his era, Will Shields led the Chief’s offensive line that seemingly was in the mix for the top rushing team every year he played. He blocked for players like Larry Johnson, Priest Holmes, and Marcus Allen. Incredibly, Will Sheilds played in 223 consecutive regular season games, which is fifth all time. The only game he didn’t start was his first. Including the playoffs, the Iron Man started 231 games in a row. Shields was voted to 12 Pro Bowls, not surprisingly he played in every one. He played his entire career in Kansas City, the football loving town knows he was one of the greats. He was also named to The All-Decade Team for the 2000’s.
Jimmy Johnson: How ‘bout them Cowboys? Love ‘em or hate ‘em, no one can deny the incredible run Dallas had in the 90’s. By the way I refuse to call them America’s team, but that I can explain another day. Owner Jerry Jones wanted a superstar coach to go with those star crested helmets, so he got University of Miami head coach Jimmy Johnson and that was the turning point in what became the team of the early decade. Johnson had a genuine talent for drafting genuine talent for the NFL. On draft day he traded more than any other coach of the time—he’d trade up and down the draft board to get whomever he desired. He also orchestrated the sneakiest and most important draft trade to date when he made the Hershel Walker deal. He is among only six coaches to lead his team to back to back Super Bowl titles. If it wasn’t for Jerry Jones’ ego, which caused the mutual separation of Johnson from the team, who knows what more damage the Cowboys could have done in the 90’s.
John Lynch: When naming the best defenses of all time, the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers has to be high on the list. They held teams to 12.2 points per game and quarterbacks to a miserable 44.6 passer rating. They won the Super Bowl against the Raiders, the number one offense of the year, intercepting the ball 5 times and scoring 3 defensive touchdowns. The most dominate player in the defensive line was Hall of Famer Warren Sapp. The most dominate player on the linebacker level was Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks. And the most dominate player in the secondary was John Lynch. Lynch played 16 years in the NFL at a high level. He was voted to the Pro Bowl 9 times. A student of the game and a true leader among a superstar roster, Lynch was a quarterback playing safety, always a step ahead of the offense. Sapp and Brooks are in; both believe Lynch deserves to be in next.
Charles Hayley: Second on my list of “why the heck isn’t he already in The Hall” is Charles Hayley. Let’s consider these stats real quick. Hayley went to 5 Pro Bowls and was named to the All-Pro team twice. He rarely came off the field, was an every down back, and a dominate pass rusher with 100.5 sacks in his career. Now those numbers alone are notable, but maybe not quite Hall of Fame worthy? Even if you think he’s just on the fringe and not quite good enough for Canton, consider this, he is the only player in NFL history to win 5 Super Bowls. Let me repeat myself. The ONLY PLAYER in NFL history with 5 Super Bowl rings. And he wasn’t some bench warming scrub; he was arguably the key factor in the balance of power in the NFC. He won 2 Super Bowls with the 49ers. As soon as he left San Fran the 49ers stopped winning Super Bowls and the Cowboys started winning, 3 with Hayley leading the pass rush. Isn’t the Super Bowl what it’s all about? Isn’t it the reason the game exists and the measuring stick for success? Hayley not only won 5 rings, he also has the most total sacks in Super Bowl history, so he always came to play in the big game. Hayley has been snubbed from The Hall to many times.
Tony Dungy: Coach Dungy had two very different success stories for two different teams. In Tampa Bay he is credited for perfecting the Tampa Two style defense that took the league by storm in the late 90’s into the early 2000’s. He was let go by the Bucs, who wanted offensive changes, and the next year Tampa won its first Super Bowl. Although he didn’t win a Super Bowl in Tampa, he led the team to the playoffs multiple times and most consider him to be the building block to Tampa’s later success. After leaving the Buccaneers he moved on to Indianapolis, where he won with another high powered dominating force, this time on offense. With Peyton Manning as his quarterback, Dungy’s Colts were a perennial Super Bowl favorite. His ability to understand his own team’s strengths and use that as his driving force to win games can’t go unnoticed. His .668% winning percentage as a head coach is twelfth best all time. But above anything else, above turning around two separate franchises, Tony Dungy’s most prominent feat is becoming the first African American head coach to win a Super Bowl. And possibly even more important than that, everyone who has ever been coached by Dungy will testify that he is one of the greatest men they’ve ever known. He believes coaches are teachers, not screamers. Motivation best comes from stern yet loving and compassionate instruction. His impact on his players and his impact on the game can’t be put into words. He’s 100% worthy of getting his bust in Canton. And the sooner the better, his acceptance speech should be one of the best.
Morten Anderson: Kickers are people too! It’s tough sometimes to think of kickers getting enshrined in the Hall of Fame. If anyone deserves to be in however, shouldn’t it be the all time leader in points? Anderson’s 2,544 points will probably never be touched. His 382 games in 25 seasons will probably never be touched either. He was selected to 7 Pro Bowls and was a 6-time All-Pro. How many players can say they were selected to two separate all decade teams? Anderson can, he did so for the 80’s and 90’s teams. Ray Guy was selected to the Hall of Fame last year and he is rooting for Morten Anderson to be the next special teamer selected.
Terrell Davis: Here’s a tricky one. Davis had an extremely short career. He played only 8 seasons, but due to his catastrophic knee injury in 1999, he was only truly effective in 4 seasons. But wow did he make it count. Davis’s 4 year stretch, and more specifically his 3 year run from 1996-1998 was perhaps the most dynamic and influential stint a running back has ever produced. In fact his 5,296 rushing yards in three years is most ever. His 2,008 rushing yards in 1998 is fifth most ever. When you look at the all time rushing leaders, some players on the list had consistent success over a long period of time like Emmitt Smith or Marcus Allen. Others had shorter careers of utter brilliance like Barry Sanders or Jim Brown. Including Terrell Davis’ rookie season he averaged 1,603 rushing yards per game. If he didn’t get injured and if he duplicated his first 4 years with another 4 years of brilliance, there’s no doubt he’d be in Canton. And that’s if it was just 8 years, imagine a dozen. Even if his immediate ridiculous success dropped a bit and he averaged a thousand yards a season for 8 more years after his 2k season, he would have been fourth most all time with 14,412 rushing yards. But that’s just a bunch of coulda woulda talk. The sad truth is that he did get injured. So we can only imagine what could have been. But what we do know is that in his very short career, in those 4 seasons, he was a two-thousand yard rusher, a 3-time Pro Bowler, a 3-time All-Pro, a league MVP and a 2 time Super Bowl champion. Perhaps the most helpful cause to Davis’ Hall of Fame push is Gale Sayers. Sayers was inducted in 1977, he had a very brief career cut short by injury and his story is easily comparable to Davis. TD actually has better numbers. I know he gets a vote from John Elway, that’s for sure.
Marvin Harrison: Sometimes we try to over think or overanalyze a player as to whether he’s worthy of The Hall of Fame. Marvin Harrison had some off the field issues a few times. He had one of the greatest quarterbacks ever throwing him the football. So does he deserve his bust in Canton? Instead of over thinking this, let’s just look at his stats. His 1,102 receptions are third most all time. His 14,345 yards are eighth all time. His 128 touchdowns are fifth all time. He had the fifth most yards in a single season and his 143 catches in 2002 are most ever. He was a model of consistency and Peyton Manning’s go to target for a decade, posting at least 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns in 8 straight seasons. He led the league in receptions and yards twice and in touchdowns once as well. He’s an 8-time Pro Bowler, 3-time All-Pro and he’s a Super Bowl Champion. Quite frankly he’s one of the greatest wide receivers to ever play.
Jerome Bettis: Here comes The Bus! One of the most beloved Steelers of all time but one of the most intimidating ball carriers in league history, Jerome Bettis deserves a ticket to the Hall of Fame. At 5 foot 11 inches and 255 pounds, Bettis bulldozed his way to sixth all time in rushing yards. After success in Los Angeles with the Rams, the Steelers made a rare trade for what they thought would be a perfect fit in the Steel City, they could not have been more right. The Bus was the face of the franchise and he drove his team into the playoffs on a regular basis. His 91 touchdowns are tied for tenth all time. Perhaps he never had a legendary year, but his career as a whole is indisputable. Bettis has similar numbers as Curtis Martin, who was enshrined in 2012, and he has what most of the other rushing leaders couldn’t obtain, a Super Bowl victory. Bettis’ going out party is one of the great stories in the NFL. After falling short of the big game with a 15-1 season in 2004, Jerome gave it once more shot in 2005. With the young Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, the Steelers snuck into the playoffs and became the first sixth seed to ever win it all. Super Bowl 40 was played in Detroit, Jerome Bettis’ hometown. Next stop Ohio; The Bus deserves his bust in Canton.
Ty Law: A shot down corner, Ty Law is probably the best defensive back in Patriots history. Many people forget with how successful Tom Brady has become, but it was mainly the coaching, the defense and the golden leg of Adam Vinatieri that propelled the Patriots to their 3 Super Bowls. There’s no doubt that Brady was clutch in those playoff runs, but he didn’t become the elite quarterback we know now until after the Super Bowls, especially the first and second. Ty Law always played big in the big time games, with a three interception game in the AFC Championship against Peyton Manning’s Colt and an interception returned for a touchdown in the 2001 Super Bowl against Kurt Warner’s Rams. Law’s physical brand of cornerback play allowed him to often take out the best receiver of the opponent. His 53 interceptions rank twenty-fourth all time, which is the same as Hall of Famer Deion Sanders and just a few less than Aeneas Williams, who was enshrined just last year. A comparison to Sanders isn’t fair at all, but if Williams can get in than Law does have a legitimate shot. Ty Law led the league in interceptions twice. He also has 3 Super Bowls, 5 Pro Bowls, 2 All-Pro selections, and was named to the 2000’s All-Decade Team.
Tim Brown: Tim Brown’s numbers are outstanding. He ranks fifth most in receptions with 1,094, sixth most in yards with 14,934, and seventh most in touchdowns with exactly 100. He has very similar stats to Marvin Harrison, who should be enshrined very soon, and Chris Carter who was recently inducted. Where he does fall a bit shorter is in touchdowns, with about 30 less than both of them. He also had little post-season success, which can be attributed to the teams he played on and less about his own skill. Some look towards whether or not a player is the best or maybe the second best at their position during their era. With Andre Reed, Chris Carter, and Jerry Rice all playing at the same time, does Tim Brown fall down to fourth best? Those three just mentioned are all wearing their Gold Jackets, why not Brown as well? Let’s mull over this, with Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, and Aaron Rodgers all playing in the same era and all having Hall of Fame level careers, will some of them miss out? I say it does matter if you are one of the best or the best in your era, but your place in the all time ranks is more important. So what if Time Brown may be considered fourth best in his era, he’s probably around tenth best all time. There are 23 modern era wide receivers in the Hall of Fame. Tim Brown is better than at least a dozen of them. I say put Brown and Harrison both in this year. Who cares if they play the same position? With Terrell Owens, Hines Ward, and Randy Moss all becoming eligible in the next three years and both Isaac Bruce and Tory Holt already waiting, the wide receiver logjam seems like it will never end.
- Don Coryell, head coach from 1973 to 1986 and one of the innovators to the high flying passing league we have today was the only finalist I failed to select. Ty Law didn't make the final cut, Coryell is his replacement.
- Contributors Ron Wolf and Bill Polian were also announced to be 2015 Hall of Fame Finalist.
- Senior finalist Mike Tinglehoff made it through to the final cut as well, bringing the total to 16 players and 18 total finalist for the 2015 NFL Hall of Fame.
Who will actually get in? I'm extremely excited and have high hopes for some of my favorites to push through. As we draw closer to that final selection, I will write another article with my picks to be enshrined.