Cornerback Everson Walls is a Pro Football Hall-of-Fame finalist for the first time in his 20th and final year of modern-era eligibility. Which begs the question – if Walls was indeed a Hall-of-Fame talent, why did it take him 20 years to get into the room for the first time as a finalist?
And that would be a legitimate question if all Hall-of-Fame candidates were treated equally. Which they are not. Nor are they treated fairly.
During Walls’ first 19 years of eligibility, there were 274 spots available for modern-era finalists -- about 14-15 per year. If the selection committee discussed the careers of the top 274 candidates, Walls would not have a beef. But the committee has not discussed the careers of the top 274 candidates. It has discussed the careers of only 116 candidates in the last 19 years.
And that’s my pet peeve with this selection process. Not enough worthy candidates are cycled through the room for discussion. Bob Kuechenberg, Art Monk and Andre Reed were finalists eight years apiece in the last 19 years. Harry Carson and Richard Dent were in the room as finalists seven times apiece, and Tim Brown, Cris Carter, Russ Grimm and Charles Haley were all finalists six times.
Over the last 19 years, there have been 37 candidates who spent at least three years in the room as finalists. Add it all up, and those 37 claimed 161 of the 274 available spots in the finals. That’s a lot of time spent discussing and debating the careers of a select few, leaving little time to discuss and debate the careers of others.
So worthy Hall-of-Fame candidates aplenty have fallen through the cracks of this selection process.
First-team 1970s' all-decade wide receiver Drew Pearson has never been a finalist. Neither has Sterling Sharpe, who won three NFL receiving titles. Defensive ends Harvey Martin, Simeon Rice and Neil Smith are all members of the 100-sack club. None has ever been a finalist. Ottis Anderson, Eddie George and Ricky Watters are all 10,000-yard rushers. They haven’t been in the room, either. Neither have blockers Chris Hinton and Richmond Webb, who went to seven Pro Bowls apiece.
All deserve to have their candidacies discussed. As does Walls. He’s the only cornerback and one of only two players in NFL history to lead the league in interceptions three times. The other was safety Ed Reed, who becomes eligible for Canton in 2019 and projects as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Walls intercepted 57 passes in his career, which places him fifth all-time among pure corners.
In the last 19 years, only six cornerbacks have reached the finals: Deion Sanders, Darrell Green, Lester Hayes, Roger Wehrli, Aeneas Williams and Ty Law. They claimed 12 of those 274 available spots in the finals for the discussion of their careers.
On the flip side, there have been 12 wide receivers who have reached the finals over the last 19 years. They have claimed 48 of the available spots for discussion in the finals. If there are so few corners worthy of Hall-of-Fame consideration, why the rush to enshrine all these wide receivers? If there isn't worthy defensive competition for the wide receivers, how can we take any of their offensive statistics seriously?
And that’s the underlying issue. The Hall of Fame has never given cornerbacks a fair shake. There are only 14 pure cornerbacks in the Hall of Fame, and three of them were enshrined as seniors.
Dick “Night Train” Lane intercepted 68 passes, a record for cornerbacks that likely will never be broken. He wasn’t enshrined until his fourth year of eligibility. Ken Riley ranks second among pure cornerbacks with 65 interceptions. He has been eligible for the Hall for 30 years and has never been a finalist.
Dick LeBeau ranks third among pure corners with 62 interceptions. He had to wait 33 years for his bust and only then as a senior candidate. The same with Emmitt Thomas, who ranks fourth among pure corners with 58 interceptions. He had to wait 25 years for his bust as a senior candidate.
There have been 85 Hall of Famers enshrined in the last 19 years. More than half of them (48) played offense. Only 31 of them played defense. There have been more guards (8) enshrined in that time than cornerbacks (5), not to mention wide receivers (10), running backs (10) and quarterbacks (9).
The fact that Walls had to wait so long to become a finalist was not a fault of his resume. It’s a fault of a selection process that doesn’t cycle enough worthy candidates through the room.