(EDITOR'S NOTE: To access the John Hannah interview, fast-forward to 24:20 of the attachment above)
Hall-of-Famer John Hannah is more than surprised that former teammate Leon Gray’s name has never been discussed by voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“Shocked,” he said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “Not surprised. Shocked.”
A star tackle for the Patriots from 1973-78, Gray was a four-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro. Considered one of the elite left tackles in the game, he and Hannah comprised what at that time was considered the best guard/tackle combination in pro football.
In fact, they were so good that Patriots’ coach Bill Belichick once said, “Leon and John Hannah … that’s as good a left side as you can get.” And they were so good that both have been chosen to the Patriots’ Hall of Fame, with Gray elected earlier this month.
But that won’t help him with Canton, where Gray not only hasn’t been a finalist … but where he hasn’t been a semifinalist, either. And, sorry, but Hannah can’t wrap his head around that.
“For him not to have been mentioned as one of the outstanding offensive linemen in the NFL is a real … it just amazes me,” he said, struggling to find the words for his disbelief. “Because there are so many people that he played against that admire and respect him.
“I know all of the offensive linemen I hang with … they talk about how great he was. And he just seems to have been brushed aside for some reason.”
And that reason? We wish we knew.
Gray was a dominant drive blocker who held up so well in pass protection that quarterback Steve Grogan was sacked only 14 times in 1977. Nevertheless, he seems to be one of those figures from the 1970s (all-decade choices Drew Pearson and Cliff Harris are others) that has been forgotten, and Hannah is right: That’s an injustice to an accomplished player.
In 1978, for instance, the Patriots ran for an NFL record 3,165 yards, an average … average … of 198.8 yards per game, and that was behind Hannah and Gray. But following the season, the Patriots traded Gray to Houston for first-and-sixth round draft choices, a cost-cutting move that prompted Hall-of-Famer Elvin Bethea to say it was the happiest day of his life.
Reason: He no longer had to beat Gray to the quarterback. The two were on the same team.
“I played on that ’78 team with Leon,” said Hannah, “and we still hold that NFL rushing record some 20-something years later ... 30, years later. And that says something.
“And then the other thing: He went down to Houston. And if you talk to Earl Campbell he’ll tell you real quick that one of the reasons he was as successful as he was his early years with the Oilers was because Leon Gray was there at left tackle.”
You can look it up: Campbell’s two best rushing years (1979-80) were when Leon Gray was in the lineup.
“I know,” said Hannah. “And nobody understands that. YOu know what I'm saying? Leon was opening those holes.”
Follow Clark Judge at @ClarkJudgeTOF