(Photo courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
If there’s a virtual certainty with this year’s list of Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s finalists, it’s that linebacker Junior Seau makes it to Canton on his first try.
But that’s it. The field is wide open, which means … yep, which means the opportunity it there for those standing for years at the finish line. I’m talking about guys like Charles Haley, Tim Brown, Jerome Bettis, Kevin Greene and Will Shields – all of whom have been finalists anywhere from four to six years.
Haley and Brown probably have the best chance to break through this time, though Shields may be the most qualified. He made the Pro Bowl in 12 of 14 seasons and was an All-Pro choice seven of those years. That’s the good news. The bad? He was a guard, an unglamorous position that often gets overlooked by the Hall, and the evidence is Shields himself.
This is his fourth crack as a finalist.
Maybe the wait ends now, I don’t know. I just know that all of these candidates are qualified, and the hope is that they get to Canton sooner rather than later. I said hope. Because the reality is the more they wait the more their chances decrease – with someone like, say, Brown moving backward as more candidates join the queue, particularly at a position (wide receiver) where staggering numbers are beginning to dominate.
You think I’m kidding? Look what happened to punter Ray Guy. He failed seven tries as a finalist before he was rescued by the Hall’s senior committee and inducted in August, 2014 … nearly three decades after his retirement.
Then there’s Brown. A year ago, he was among the first five cut from the debate, and that’s not good. It tells you his candidacy is losing, not gaining, momentum. Yet all he did in his career was produce 10 consecutive seasons with 75 or more catches, get named to more Pro Bowls than any wide receiver not named Jerry Rice and be chosen to the 1990’s All-Decade team.
So what? So Cris Carter, Michael Irvin and Jerry Rice were the other All-Decade receivers, and they’re in the Hall of Fame. Tim Brown is the only one who's not.
“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. “He was a great leader, and that’s what you want on your ball team.”
Brown’s candidacy was helped by the inductions of Carter and Andre Reed the past two years, and when I met Reed prior to last year’s Hall-of-Fame ceremonies he was adamant whom he thought should be next. If you’re talking about wide receivers, he said, there’s only one.
And he named Tim Brown.
Yeah, I know Marvin Harrison is the competition. But he’s only his second year of eligibility. Tim Brown is a six-year finalist. So is Haley, another candidate whose time may have come now that the field is wide open. He’s a popular pick among many of his former opponents and teammates, with Hall-of-Fame safety Ronnie Lott last fall telling the Talk of Fame Network’s radio show that Haley would be his first choice.
And I haven’t even mentioned Bettis, the game’s sixth-leading rusher, and Greene, who has more sacks (160) than all but two players in NFL history – Bruce Smith and Reggie White, both in the Hall of Fame.
Me? I just hope one … or two … or maybe three of these guys makes it. The board’s 46 selectors have shown a willingness lately to induct holdovers. Reed made it last year after eight years as a finalist. Aeneas Williams made it, too, on his fourth try. The previous year it was Carter, inducted after six years as a finalist.
Here’s hoping the trend continues. Because the time is right.