(Photo courtesy of St. Louis Rams)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
There are seven first-year candidates -- including linebacker Junior Seau and quarterback Kurt Warner -- among the 26 semifinalists announced Tuesday for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2015. But it's not so much those rookies that deserve the immediate attention of the Hall's board of selectors as it is a handful of holdovers.
I'm talking about guys like guard Will Shields, pass rusher Charles Haley, running back Jerome Bettis, wide receiver Tim Brown and kicker Morten Andersen. All have been waiting years to hear their names called, and all have been finalists -- with Brown and Haley making the cut to 15 the past five years, Bettis the past four and Shields the last three.
With the possible exception of Andersen -- a finalist last year for the first time -- all are expected to make the next cut, announced in December. It's that group of finalists the Hall's 46-member board will vote on in late January, with five modern-era candidates named for induction.
The board will also act on contributors nominees Ron Wolf and Bill Polian, as well as seniors candidate Mick Tingelhoff.
But it's the modern-era candidates that make the headlines, with Seau considered the most likely among the first-year players to make it as a first-ballot choice. The former linebacker was a 12-time Pro-Bowl choice and 8-time All-Pro, and, along with former tackle Orlando Pace, is viewed as the best of this year's freshmen.
Pace is one of four first-year Rams, with Warner and receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt the others.
Pace and Warner are expected to make it as finalists, with Bruce the more likely of the two receivers. But it's the candidates who have been waiting years that intrigue me ... and should interest the board of selectors ... mostly because at least one -- and maybe two -- should clear the queue in January.
The question is: Who are they?
Brown and Haley would seem to be at or near the front of that line. Hall-of-Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice recently made an impassioned plea for Brown, telling the Talk of Fame Network he'd make Brown the his first choice for Canton "with no hesitation," while former teammate Ronnie Lott cast his vote for Haley, telling the Talk of Fame Network's weekly radio program Hall in the Hall is a "no-brainer."
Yet Shields may be the most qualified, named to 12 Pro Bowls and seven All-Pro teams, while Bettis is the only Top-10 career rusher (outside of LaDainian Tomlinson, who's not yet eligible) not in the Hall (Bettis ranks sixth all-time). Then, of course, there's Andersen, who just happens to be the league's all-time scorer.
All are deserving, and maybe all make it to Canton one day. But not at once.
Nevertheless, if this year's Hall-of-Fame class is an indication there could be more than one. The board in February elected holdovers Andre Reed and Aeneas Williams, with Reed chosen in his eighth try as a finalist and Williams in his third. That's a sign the board is interested in clearing the queue, and that's good news for people like Shields and Bettis -- two guys who barely missed the past two years.