By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
Quick now, name the only two first-team wide receivers – and I mean split ends -- from all-decade units of the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s not in the Hall of Fame. Here’s a hint: One of them is former Dallas standout Drew Pearson, whom we interviewed earlier this year on the Talk of Fame Network.
So who's the other? Try Del Shofner.
If you haven’t heard of him, shame on you. Del Shofner was one of the most dangerous, feared and respected wideouts of the late 1950s and early 1960s -- so good that, despite his career getting short-circuited after 1963 by injuries and illness, he was one of two wide receivers named to that decade’s all-star team.
Washington’s Charley Taylor was the other, and he’s in the Hall. Shofner is not, and it's time to reconsider his credentials.
He was a five-time All-Pro. He was a five-time Pro Bowler. He was among the NFL’s top four in receiving yards all five times – leading the league with 1,097 yards in 1958 – and was in the top 10 in receptions and TDs all five times. Furthermore, for nearly 20 years (1963-81) he was the NFL’s only four-time 1,000-yard receiver before Steve Largent and Charlie Joiner tied him.
They’re in the Hall, too.
Unlike those two, however, Shofner was a deep threat. In fact, Hall of Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle once said that while former San Francisco great Billy Wilson had the best hands of his receivers and Hall-of-Famer Frank Gifford was the smartest, it was Shofner who was “the best and most dangerous of them all.”
Reason: He could stretch a defense – and the numbers prove it. He averaged 18.5 yards per reception for his career, including 21.5 yards in 1958 and 21.4 in 1962.
When he helped lead the New York Giants to three straight championship-game appearances from 1961-63, he caught more passes (185) for more yards (3,439) and more touchdowns (32) than any receiver in the NFL and once hauled down 11 passes for 269 yards in a 1962 defeat of Washington … and I know what you’re thinking: Yeah? Well, big deal.
As a matter of fact, it is. Fifty-four years later, those 269 yards are still a Giants’ record, and they’re 13th all-time among NFL receivers.
But that’s not all. Shofner could punt, too. In fact, he handled that job for the Los Angeles Rams from 1958-60, averaging 42 yards per kick and ranking sixth in the league in 1960 with a 42.6-yard average.
Yet, in the end, it is those numbers that betray Del Shofner. Injury and illness cut short his career and caused a decline in his performance after the ‘63 season, and it is career numbers that we often use to measure greatness for Canton. Shofner had five outstanding seasons, and while that’s enough to gain him all-decade recognition it’s not enough for the Hall’s board of selectors to commit to him.
And that’s unfortunate. Because as accomplished as he was, he was also a pioneer – one of the first legitimate deep threats in NFL history. League historian John Turney of the Pro Football Journal mentioned that on a recent Talk of Fame Network broadcast when we asked him to name five guys he'd put in Canton who aren’t there now.
Del Shofner was one of his five.
“(He) was the deep, deep threat who, pre-Bob Hayes caused defenses to roll the zone toward his side,” Turney said. “He was a split end and, as you know, on the one-receiver side usually they (defenses) don’t roll the zone that way. They did that for Shofner, and they did that for Bob Hayes.”
Hayes is in the Hall of Fame, too, though it took over three decades for him to get there. Del Shofner not only isn’t in Canton; he’s never been a finalist, and, yeah, I’d like to see that change. It only seems right and fair that someone who was ahead of his time … someone who dominated the league before injuries and illness cut short his career … should have his case heard.