By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
The list of preliminary candidates for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2015 is out, and here's what I know: It's deep and it's strong. Now, here's what I think: Of the first-year candidates, linebacker Junior Seau is the most likely to make it in January, while Kurt Warner will generate the most interest ... and the longest debates.
It's not that Warner's not Hall-of-Fame material. On the contrary. The guy raised the Titanic, and he did it twice -- first in St. Louis, then in Arizona. Nope, this one's all about shades of grey. They don't exist with Kurt Warner. Voters either love him, or they don’t.
Me? I love him. He took two franchises off life support, winning a Super Bowl with St. Louis and coming within a minute of winning another in Arizona, where that wasn't supposed to happen under the stewardship of the Bidwills. But it did, and Warner was the catalyst.
Yeah, I know, he burned out quickly in St. Louis, had only three 3,000-yard seasons in his last eight years and, during that time, threw 35 more touchdown passes than interceptions in a pass-friendly era where that's not considered Hall-of-Fame worthy. But he didn't just perform magic once. He did it twice. Plus, when he was good, there was no one better.
Warner's a cinch to make it as a semifinalist in November, but there are 112 other ex-players and coaches on a list that's cut first to 25 before it will be cut again to 15. So let's go to the videotape to see what's ahead:
MOST LIKELY TO SUCCEED AS A FIRST-YEAR CANDIDATE
Seau. He could make it on his resume alone: 12 Pro Bowls, eight All-Pros and member of the 1990s all-decade team. But there's a sympathy element that's bound come into play, too, and, no, that's not supposed to happen. But how do you prevent it? You don't. You can't. Voters will feel the urgency to get him ASAP.
FIRST-YEAR CHOICE MOST LIKELY TO PUSH HIM
St. Louis tackle Orlando Pace. He's going to make it. The question is: Does he make it in his first year of eligibility? The last two years Jonathan Ogden and Walter Jones did, and, like Pace, they were left tackles. Pace could make it a hat trick, but was he so accomplished he deserves to jump the queue of candidates waiting to get in?
Guard Will Shields. The guy's resume speaks for itself: 12 Pro Bowls, seven All-Pro nominations and member of the NFL's all-decade team for the 2000s. So where's the hole? Answer: There isn't one. Voters are in no rush to promote guards, but they should make an exception for this guy.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT DENVER?
The Broncos have a history of success, but not with the Hall. They have only four guys in there. Denver running back Terrell Davis and former head coach Dan Reeves are worthy, but neither has made it as a finalist. I know, Davis' career was short, but he was a load when he played -- running for 2,000 yards one year, winning the league's Offensive Player of the Year twice and making the 1990s all-decade team. Plus, he played his best in Denver's biggest games, rushing for 100 yards in seven of his eight playoff appearances, averaging 5.6 yards a carry and scoring 12 times. Check, please. And Reeves? Like Hall-of-Fame coach Marv Levy, he went to four Super Bowls without winning. Unlike Levy, he did it with two franchises.
When I asked Hall-of- Fame receiver Andre Reed whom he'd send next to Canton he named wide receiver Tim Brown. Yet, the guy can't get a sniff. Yes, he's been a finalist the past five years, but his candidacy seems to be fading -- with Brown not making the final 10 last year. My fear: He gets lost in the tsunami of wide receivers with inflated numbers, and that would be a shame. He's the only wide receiver on the 1990's all-decade team not in Canton. Then there's linebacker Kevin Greene. All he did was produce more sacks (160) than everyone but Bruce Smith and Reggie White, yet his candidacy seems to have hit the wall, too. If you have more sacks than Lawrence Taylor and more sacks than Michael Strahan shouldn't you be at the finish line? Greene's not. Not yet, anyway.
Kicker Morten Andersen. This one's easy: He's the game's all-time scorer. The Hall inducted the league's career leaders in passing, rushing, receiving, touchdowns, sacks and interceptions. So why hasn't it inducted its leading scorer? The good news: Andersen was a finalist last year for the first time. The bad: He didn't make the cut to 10.
Defensive end/linebacker Leslie O'Neal. Read the list of 113 candidates, and tell me where you find O'Neal's name. You don't, and that's a disgrace. The guy had as many sacks as Lawrence Taylor despite missing nearly two seasons with a knee injury, was a six-time pro Bowler, Defensive Rookie of the Year and just got named to the Chargers' Hall of Fame. Yet he doesn't qualify for the preliminary list? Operator? Give me information.
(FOR COMPLETE LIST, SEE ACCOMPANYING STORY)
Photo Courtesy of St. Louis Rams