By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
SAN FRANCISCO – People in Indianapolis tell you the Colts were the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s biggest winners, with two candidates – wide receiver Marvin Harrison and coach Tony Dungy – chosen to the Class of 2016, while Cheeseheads insist it’s the Packers – not Indy – that's the lead, with quarterback Brett Favre as a first-ballot choice.
Maybe. But don't sell trying selling either story here. With Eddie DeBartolo and Ken Stabler ticketed for Canton, the Class of 2016 becomes a Bay Area victory.
"I don't know if anybody could ever write a better script," said DeBartolo. "It's just a dream come true."
DeBartolo and Stabler were among eight inductees named to the Hall-of-Fame’s Class of 2016 – along with tackle Orlando Pace, linebacker Kevin Greene and guard Dick Stanfel -- after a nine-hour meeting Saturday of the Hall’s 46 selectors.
Favre was a slam dunk. Greene, Harrison and Pace were expected to make it. Dungy snuck in under the wire, presumably after nosing out Kurt Warner. Senior candidates Stabler and Stanfel were named after missing out in previous tries as finalists, and DeBartolo -- the local hero -- was elected in his first fourth try as a finalist.
So, question: How did all of this happen? Answer: Keep reading.
(Photo courtesy of the Green Bay Packers)
Let’s hear it for Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. He presented Brett Favre, and he threw away his speech to introduce the three-time MVP – saying simply, “Brett Favre.” Elapsed time. Six seconds. Thanks, Pete.
MOST PREDICTABLE DECISION
When we cornered Hall-of-Famer GM Bill Polian on the Talk of Fame Network two weeks ago, we told him that, next to Favre, we had linebacker Kevin Greene, wide receiver Marvin Harrison and tackle Orlando Pace as the next most likely candidates for induction -- with the fifth choice a wild card. He agreed. And so did the board of selectors. Polian also promoted Tony Dungy for the fifth spot, and, in the end, we agreed again. And so did the board. Bottom line: This was one of the easiest fields to predict.
(Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts)
The fifth modern-era candidate. We predicted it would come down to Tony Dungy vs. Kurt Warner, and it did … maybe. In all likelihood, it was Dungy vs. Warner or Dungy vs. Joe Jacoby. A first-time finalist, Jacoby caught a late wave into the Final 10 and was a threat to make it to Canton. But he fell short, and blame it on the process if you'd like. Pace had more support, and putting in two left tackles at once was going to be difficult … if not improbable. There was enormous support for Warner, in only his second year as a candidate, but in the end there wasn’t enough. And maybe it was because of Favre. Choosing two quarterbacks at once was going to be difficult, too, though it last happened in 2006. Warner will make it, but not this year.
MOST OVERDUE DECISION
(Photo courtesy of the Carolina Panthers)
Kevin Greene waited 12 years, including five as a finalist, to cross the finish line. So it was his time … if it wasn’t past time. Greene’s 160 sacks are more than everyone in NFL history than Hall-of-Famers Bruce Smith and Reggie White and 60 more than last year’s inductee, Charles Haley. He had 10 years with double-digit sacks, including seven of his last eight seasons. That’s what’s called consistency, and, finally … mercifully … that production was rewarded.
(Photo courtesy of the San Diego Chargers)
Don Coryell making it to the Final 10 was stunning. This was the former head coach’s third turn as a finalist, but until Saturday there wasn’t enough support to push him into the last 10. Making it is the good news. But the bad is that he’s still on the outside looking in. There seems to be a feeling that Coryell, who was an innovator, probably won’t make it to Canton until or unless the Hall changes its guidelines and make coaches part of the contributor category. That won’t happen for at least another three years when the contributor category will be revisited.
MOST CONTENTIOUS DEBATE
(Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles)
No surprise here. With Terrell Owens on the ballot, you’re not only asked to bring your popcorn; you’re told to bring your flak jacket, too. There were bound to be grenades lobbed by both sides, and there were. His supporters argue that Owens has Hall-of-Fame numbers, and they’re right. But there’s another number they don’t mention, and it’s one that must have swayed voters. It’s zero. That’s the number of teams that wanted to keep this guy at the top of his career. Yeah, I know, he showed remarkable courage … not to mention ability … with his Super Bowl XXXIX performance for Philadelphia. But by the middle of the following season he’d become so intolerable that the Eagles kicked him to the curb … and what’s new? Over his last six-and-a-half seasons, he played with four teams. “The Hall of Fame ought to be for people who make their teams better,” Polian said on the Talk of Fame Network, “not for those who disrupt them and make them worse.” The board agreed.
(Photo courtesy of the Oakland Raiders)
Ken Stabler was a popular local choice, with plenty of ex-Raiders coming forward in past months to speak on his behalf. Eligible since 1990, he was a finalist three times who was rejected three times. No problem. The Hall’s senior committee brought him back this year after Stabler’s death in early July and made him the 11th Raider from the 1970s to enter Canton. It’s uncertain what persuaded the board this time around, but Stabler’s record of success – stressed by presenter Ron Borges, who two years earlier made the case for senior candidate Ray Guy – had an impact, with Borges comparing Stabler favorably to Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks. Like it or not, his death probably had an impact, too, with the senior committee pushing him to the front of the queue. Stabler’s election overshadows the induction of Dick Stanfel, a former guard who was so good he was named MVP by the Detroit Lions after they won the 1953 league championship. Now think about that for a moment. A club that had seven Hall of Famers on its roster named a guard its best player. That convinced voters, who twice had rejected Stanfel as a senior candidate but changed its minds after Rick Gosselin’s convincing presentation. Sadly, like Stabler, Stanfel also died last summer.
SAN FRANCISCO TREAT
(Photo courtesy of Ed DeBartolo Jr.)
When Eddie DeBartolo stopped by Yahoo Sports Radio the other night to sit with Rick, Ron and me on the Talk of Fame Network, he got a rock-star reception. Escorted by police, he was greeted by dozens of fans chanting his name and asking for autographs. DeBartolo is one of the Bay Area’s most popular figures, the man who took the 49ers out of the gutter and put them on top of the NFL – with the club winning five Super Bowls in 14 seasons. While his candidacy elicited the longest discussion, it didn’t include contentious debate. In fact, if there were a surprise it’s not that he was elected; it’s that there was virtually no debate. Speakers were as eloquent as they were supportive, proof that the room hadn’t forgotten DeBartolo’s impact on the game.
THE FIVE LONGEST DEBATES
- Eddie DeBartolo, Jr. – 50:33
- Terrell Owens – 43:15
- Kurt Warner – 27:08
- Kevin Greene – 27:33
- Tony Dungy – 25:57
THE FIVE SHORTEST DEBATES
- Brett Favre -- :06
- Alan Faneca – 8:49
- Edgerrin James --- 9:55
- Steve Atwater – 10:54
- Morten Andersen – 11:23
THE COUNTDOWN TO 5
(Photo courtesy of the Denver Broncos)
If you’d been following the Talk of Fame Network, you’d know this went according to form. Losing out were coach Don Coryell, running back Terrell Davis, tackle Joe Jacoby, safety John Lynch and quarterback Kurt Warner. Warner was the only candidate among this group to make it this far more than once.
- Coryell’s candidacy went farther than expected. And that’s encouraging to supporters. But it’s going to make it tough … no, damned near impossible … for him to cross the finish line until or unless the Hall puts coaches in a separate category.
- Davis is an attractive candidate because of his achievements while healthy. He was a two-time Offensive Player of the Year, a two-time Super Bowl champion, a league MVP and a Super Bowl MVP. But he was on top for only three-and-a-half seasons, with a severe knee injury effectively ending his career. The issue with Davis is longevity, and the board was more receptive to his candidacy this time around. It’s the first time he’s cracked the Top 10. One reason: His playoff performances. Davis was an absolute bear in the postseason, with seven 100-yard rushing games in eight appearances. That convinced part of the room. But it didn’t convince enough to push him forward.
- Tackle Joe Jacoby made a surprising run for a first-time finalist, especially for one that is in his 18th year of eligibility, but it’s about time. The only member of the Washington Redskins’ famed “Hogs” to start four Super Bowls, Jacoby’s place among the final 10 bodes well for him … if not for the next two years, then for his senior candidacy.
- Safety John Lynch made it to a 10-count for the first time, too, and that’s a big step. A three-time finalist, he’s never been able to make it this far … until now. With safeties Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu on the way in the not-so-distant future, Lynch’s candidacy better get legs fast, or he’s going to fall by the wayside … just like a raft of other pure safeties. You think I’m kidding? The Hall's last pure safety that played was Kenny Houston, and he retired after the 1980 season.
- If Dungy wasn’t going to make it as the fifth modern-era candidate, the smart money was on Warner. Like Dungy, he was a top-10 choice last year, and his supporters were out in force Saturday. Only the accountants who tabulate voters know for sure, but my guess is that Warner was a sixth-place finisher … and maybe that’s because of Favre. The board could have been reluctant to put two quarterbacks in at once, though it did it with Troy Aikman and Warren Moon in 2006 and Steve Young and Dan Marino in 2005. Or maybe it was this: There were 13 all-decade players among Saturday's choices. The two who weren't? Warner and Lynch.
THE COUNTDOWN TO 10
(Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings)
The cut from 15 to 10 wasn’t easy nor predictable. In the end, kicker Morten Andersen, safety Steve Atwater, guard Alan Faneca, running back Edgerrin James and wide receiver Terrell Owens were eliminated. And here’s why:
- Andersen is the game’s leading scorer, which should make him Hall-of-Fame worthy. Baseball’s leading run producer, Rickey Henderson, is in Cooperstown. The NBA’s leading scorer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is in the Hall of Fame. And so is the NHL’s leading scorer, Wayne Gretzky. But Andersen? Nope. Not yet. A finalist for a second straight year, Andersen can’t break the tape because … well, because he’s a specialist. The Hall’s board isn’t keen on them, even though Andersen was an all-decade choice in the 1980s AND 1990s. In fact, Andersen is one of 22 players to make multiple all-decade teams, with 17 in the Hall. The remaining five? They’re all specialists. Plus,
- A first-time finalist, Atwater was a dark horse from the beginning – not only because of the position he played but because of whom he played for. That would be the Denver Broncos, who have half as many Hall-of-Famers (4) as Super Bowl appearances. Atwater was a safety, and the last pure safety who made it to Canton was Paul Krause, the league’s career interception leader. That was 1998, and it took Krause 14 years to get there.
- Faneca is another first-time finalist, and while he’s Hall worthy he’s also a guard. So what? So the Hall isn’t warm to first-time guards. Will Shields is one of the most accomplished guards in recent NFL history, yet he made it to Canton last year in his fourth try as a finalist – and he had three more Pro Bowls than Faneca.
- James is another first-time finalist who didn’t make the cut, and maybe it was Colts’ fatigue, with voters pushing harder for holdovers Dungy and Harrison. But they preferred Davis, who’s been in the queue longer, making it to the final 10 for the first time in his 10 years of eligibility.
- Owens didn’t make it because … well, see above.
LOOKING AHEAD TO THE CLASS OF 2017
Among the first-time candidates for next year, former running back LaDainian Tomlinson is an early favorite to go to the head of the class. The league’s single-season touchdown leader, L.T. is the NFL’s fifth-leading rusher – and the only one among the top 10 not in the Hall. Pass rusher Jason Taylor will get support, too, but don’t look for him to be a first-ballot choice. Reason: Kevin Greene has 20.5 more career sacks than Taylor, and it took him 12 years to get in. Others of note: Safety Brian Dawkins, linebacker Joey Porter, tackle Matt Light and quarterback Donovan McNabb.