(Photo courtesy of the Oakland Raiders)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
NEW YORK -- There are dozens of qualified former players who aren't in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, many of whom haven't been discussed by the Hall's board of selectors. But let's say you could change that. Let's say you had a chance to put one of them in tomorrow, no questions asked.
Who would it be?
I posed that question to Hall-of-Fame receiver Jerry Rice, and it wasn't his answer that was surprising; it was the speed with which he delivered it.
"Tim Brown," he said. "Without a doubt."
The former Raiders' receiver has been a Hall-of-Fame finalist the past five years but is still waiting to cross the finish line. And with Marvin Harrison added to the list of candidates last year and Terrell Owens and Randy Moss joining it the next two years, there's the possibility he may never get there.
Rice understands that Harrison is the immediate competition, but he also understands that Brown's chances were enhanced by the recent inductions of Cris Carter (2013) and Andre Reed (2014). Brown has more catches and touchdowns than Reed and more yards than Reed or Carter, and Rice believes he's waited long enough.
"What Tim did for the Oakland Raiders and the game of football ... it was just an honor for me to line up next to the guy," said Rice, in New York to promote the MetLife Premier Client Group. "He was pretty much the voice for the Oakland Raiders, even when they had success.
"When I went to the Oakland Raiders (in 2001), and I lined up next to Tim, I got a feel for the guy ... and he was a great leader. And that's what you want on your ball team. You want a leader; a guy who's going to represent the team in the right way and who's going to go out there and give 100 percent.
"(What people don't know about him) is his heart. He's willing to sacrifice, which means he doesn't have to pad his numbers. It was whatever is in the best interests of the team. As long as the team is winning and the fans are happy ... that's what Tim is all about."
Rice appreciates what Brown is up against, especially with an oncoming wave of receivers with inflated numbers. Reed appreciated it, too, which is why he told me last summer he felt fortunate to be inducted now and why he nominated Brown as the next receiver he'd send to Canton.
But Rice went a step farther. He said he'd make Tim Brown the next player he'd put in the Hall.
"It's more of a passer league now and the ball is in the air," said Rice, the only wide receiver to be named to more Pro Bowls (13) than Brown (9), "and with the new rules -- like no touching after five yards ... We played back when everything was like gladiators. You were fighting all the way downfield; hands on and there was contact."
Brown was one of four wide receivers named to the 1990s' all-decade team. Michael Irvin, Cris Carter and Andre Reed were the others, and two things separate Brown from that group. Irvin, Carter and Reed played with Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks. Brown did not. He caught touchdown passes from 11 different quarterbacks, with Rich Gannon -- the league's 2002 MVP -- the best. Irvin, Carter and Reed are in the Hall of Fame, too. Brown is not.
"To me," said Rice, "Rich Gannon was a backup that Jon Gruden made into a starter. Not saying anything bad about him, I just think if Tim had one quarterback throughout his career what he would have been able to accomplish on the field. And I think that's something you have to really bring up in the discussion -- the numbers he put up, what he was able to accomplish with so many quarterbacks and what he meant to game."
"Then, he'd be the first guy you'd put in the Hall? " I said.
"With no hesitation," Rice said.