(Darren Woodson photo courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys)
(Steve Atwater photo courtesy of the Denver Broncos)
Talk of Fame Network
For some reason, the Pro Football Hall of Fame is blind to pure safeties. There are seven of them in Canton, with Paul Krause the last elected (in 1998) and Kenny Houston the last to play (1980).
But that should change soon, and it will with safeties like John Lynch, Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu knocking on Canton’s doors. Until it does, however, you have to wonder who the next pure safety to reach the Hall is.
And we did.
In fact, we asked former Dallas safety Darren Woodson – a candidate for the Hall himself – whom he’d elect if he were on the board of selectors, and his first choice was no surprise.
“When I came into the league,” he said on a recent Talk of Fame Network broadcast, “a guy that you heard about -- especially in the ‘90s -- was Steve Atwater as far as how fierce he was as a hitter. You turn the tape on and see Christian Okoye and that big hit. Atwater was the name back then, coming in.
“I don’t know if I could honestly say … knowing what we know now, as far as how teams ended up exploiting him in pass coverages … but going into it, I thought Atwater was the guy because of the name; because of the fear that he brought to the table that changed the game. Because guys who wanted to go across the middle … they were afraid to extend themselves. So Steve Atwater would probably be the one.”
But Woodson didn’t stop there. He pulled a surprise from Door Number Two, and it was a safety from the opponent that pushed Dallas in the 1990s – the San Francisco 49ers.
“I know he doesn’t get a lot of love and a lot of recognition,” said Woodson. “But Merton Hanks played the slot receiver, played the nickel, played the D pass, played the middle of the field and was an absolute playmaker.
“As much as I hated Merton when we played against each other … I mean it didn’t get any better than turning on the film and watching him play and line up. I mean, it just didn’t get any better than that. I know He didn’t get a lot of recognition back then, but he made a tremendous amount of plays for the San Francisco 49ers.”