(Brett Favre photo courtesy of the Green Bay Packers)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
The list of 108 modern-era candidates for the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2016 is out, and while the Hall’s 46 voters won’t reduce the group to 25 semifinalists until November … and the 15 finalists until January … we can start the process today.
In fact, let’s go a step farther. Let’s turn the list inside out, narrowing the field to those who should draw the most support and attention over the next four months – starting with the favorites and one dead-bolt cinch:
I don’t like using that term for Hall-of-Fame candidates, except when it’s a luminary like John Unitas, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice … or Brett Favre. A three-time MVP, Favre holds the league record for most passing yards, completions, victories and consecutive starts – an astonishing 321, including the playoffs. When he retired he owned or shared 320 NFL records and still holds over 160. The conversation on Favre will be short … if there’s conversation at all. Reason: He’s a no-brainer.
(Kevin Greene photo courtesy of the Carolina Panthers)
Good news for linebacker Kevin Greene. This should be your year. Greene narrowly missed making this year when voters cleared a queue that had candidates like Charles Haley, Jerome Bettis and Tim Brown waiting for years. When I saw Brown at this year’s induction I asked him whom he would put in the Hall next, and he named Greene -- and I'd agree. No linebacker –no, not even Lawrence Taylor – has more sacks than Greene, whose 160 is behind only Bruce Smith and Reggie White.
Wide receiver Marvin Harrison didn’t like it last year when he wasn’t chosen in his second year of eligibility, but, patience, Marvin. Tim Brown was chosen in his sixth year of eligibility, and, as he said this summer, when he looked at who was chosen ahead of him he had no complaints. Harrison ranks second among wide receivers among career receptions, with 1,102 -- one ahead of Cris Carter and 447 behind leader Jerry Rice. Rice and Carter are in the Hall. My guess: Harrison will be, too, in February.
Tackle Orlando Pace narrowly missed last year, making it to the final 10 before missing the cut. But he had competition on the offensive line. Guard Will Shields might have been the most qualified candidate among the Class of 2015, and it was his fourth year of eligibility. It was Pace’s first, and the board wisely rewarded Shields for waiting. Now it’s Pace’s turn. A seven-time Pro Bowler, a five-time All-Pro and an all-decade choice, he should be the next left tackle to make it to Canton.
(Tony Dungy photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts)
With those four at or near the head of the class, that leaves room for a wild-card entry – and former coach Tony Dungy could be that guy. Dungy resurrected the Tampa Bay Bucs after years of incompetence, led the Indianapolis Colts to a Super Bowl victory and made an NFL-record 10 straight playoff appearances. But he was more than a coach. He was a pioneer. He was the youngest assistant coach (25) in NFL history. He was the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl. And he was the first coach to defeat all 32 teams.
Quarterback Kurt Warner is an intriguing choice. He raised the Titanic not once but twice, taking the Rams and Cardinals to Super Bowls, and was a league and Super Bowl MVP. The knock, of course, is that he had a career that resembled a barbell, weighted heavily at both ends with a flat line in the middle. The Rams let him go. The Giants let him go. And the Cards first nailed him to the bench. But that shouldn’t keep him out. He will get in … but probably not this year. Reason: There’s another quarterback ahead of him, and while the Hall has put two in together (2005 with Steve Young and Dan Marino) that probably doesn't happen here.
While John Lynch is more than qualified (the guy was a nine-time Pro Bowler), he has a significant obstacle to overcome: His position. The last safety inducted into the Hall was Paul Krause, and that was 1998. The last safety to play and be inducted was Ken Houston … and he retired after the 1980 season. For some reason, safety is not a favorite among voters – with Lynch not making the cut to 10 this year and only seven pure safeties in the Hall, period. Look for that to change now that Lynch and, soon, Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu join the queue.
COACH WITH THE BEST CHANCE
Make it Dungy, with the Cowboys’ Jimmy Johnson next in line. But Johnson didn’t make the cut to 10 last year. Dungy did, and that’s big.
(Terrell Owens photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers)
This one’s easy: Terrell Owens. Some people contend he’s a first-ballot choice. Others say he’s a no-ballot choice. What's certain is that his name provokes a heated debate. Owens put up considerable numbers in his career, ranking second in career receiving yards, third in career touchdown catches and sixth in career catches, but there's also this number on his resume: Zero. That’s the number of teams that wanted him at the top of his career. “The most divisive guy I ever coached,” one assistant told me.
Runner-up would be Darren Sharper, but let’s face it: While the Hall is not supposed to consider off-the-field misconduct, there is no way voters support his candidacy. Reason: When you think of Darren Sharper, it’s not a six-time All-Pro that comes to mind; it’s a serial rapist whose alma mater – William & Mary – already removed him from its Hall of Fame. The Hall won’t disqualify him from its preliminary list, but it doesn’t have to. Voters won’t acknowledge him.
IT’S ABOUT TIME
It was nice to see the names of pass rushers Leslie O’Neal and Simeon Rice finally appear on the ballot. O’Neal has as many career sacks as Lawrence Taylor, and there are some in San Diego who believe he … not Junior Seau … was the better defensive player. I don’t know about that. What I do know is he belongs on this list. Rice was part of the Tampa Bay defense that has two members (Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp) in the Hall, with a third (John Lynch) in the waiting room. He was a terrific pass rusher, but, sorry, Warren, he's not more qualified than Michael Strahan.