(Neil Smith photo courtesy of the Kansas City Chiefs)
(Richmond Webb photo courtesy of the Miami Dolphins)
By Rick Gosselin
Talk of Fame Network
Richmond Webb spent 13 years as a left tackle in the NFL, the bulk of it protecting Dan Marino’s blind side with the Miami Dolphins.
So adept was Webb at keeping pass rushers off his Hall-of-Fame quarterback that he was selected to seven consecutive Pro Bowls and voted one of the four offensive tackles to the NFL’s 1990 all-decade team.
Webb retired after the 2002 season and then waited the mandatory five years before becoming eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. As one of the top blockers of his era, Webb deserved consideration among the best offensive tackles of all-time. After all, the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame selection committee picks the all-decade teams, and those teams serve as key mileposts for the measurement of greatness.
But five years of inactivity tend to fog memories. Webb became eligible for the Hall in 2008 but was not among the 25 semifinalists that year. Nine years have come and gone, and Webb has never reached the semifinals, much less the finals. That’s the only time all year the selection committee gathers to discuss candidates -- the February meeting when the list of 15 modern-era finalists is whittled down to five (or fewer) enshrinees.
So until you are a finalist, you’re never really a candidate for Canton. And that’s a flaw in the system.
Too many quality candidates are falling through the cracks without their careers ever being discussed and judged as Canton worthy. There are 91 NFL all-decade position players through the 1990s currently not enshrined in Canton -- and 81 of them have never even been discussed as finalists.
(Steve Wisniewski picture courtesy of the Oakland Raiders)
Steve Wisniewski was another all-decade selection from the 1990s. He played guard for 13 seasons with the Oakland Raiders and was voted to eight Pro Bowls. He retired after the 2001 season and became eligible for the Hall in 2007. He waited seven years before making his first appearance on the list of semifinalists in 2014 and is still waiting on his first trip to the finals.
Neil Smith was another all-decade pick for the 1990s. He played 13 seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos and collected 104-½ sacks. That’s more than Hall-of-Famers Charles Haley and Andre Tippett collected playing during the same era. Smith also went to more Pro Bowls then either Haley or Tippett. Smith led the NFL in sacks in 1993 with the Chiefs and also won two Super Bowls in 1997-98 with the Denver Broncos.
Smith retired after the 2000 season and became eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2006. Like Webb, he’s never been a semifinalist, much less a finalist, so his candidacy has never even reached the stage of Hall of Fame discussion and that’s just wrong. The five year wait tends to obscure the greatness of too many players.
Joey Browner, Deron Cherry, Kenny Easley and Nolan Cromwell were all safeties named to the 1980s NFL all-decade team. Not a one has ever been a semifinalist, much less a finalist, for consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In fact, there are 11 all-decade safeties currently not enshrined in Canton, and nine of them have never been discussed as finalists.
Dallas safety Cliff Harris is one of the lucky ones. He went to six Pro Bowls in his 10 seasons and played in five Super Bowls in the 1970s. Harris has been in the room to be discussed as a finalist – one time, in his 20th and final year of modern-day eligibility in 2004. He hasn’t been back since and is now in the abyss that is the senior pool of candidates.
There’s a simple solution to this problem. If a player is selected to an all-decade team, he should be automatically granted a spot on the list of 25 semifinalists in his first year of eligibility. That will, in the least, put his name before the committee and remind the 46 voters that this was once a great player deserving of Hall-of-Fame consideration.
If you are considered one of the best players of your generation, you deserve to be in the discussion of the best players of all-time. Too many players worthy of that discussion aren’t being discussed. Webb, Wisniewski and Smith are not alone. Ed Budde, Eddie Meador, Tommy Nobis, Robert Brazile, Drew Pearson, Carl Banks, Cornelius Bennett, Ben Coates and LeRoy Butler are among the countless all-decade players who have never had their Hall-of-Fame candidacies debated and discussed.
That’s a flaw in the voting process that needs to be addressed. And fixed.
(Cornelius Bennett picture courtesy of the Buffalo Bills)