Shortly after the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s Class of 2019 was announced, offensive lineman Alan Faneca went to Twitter to express his disappointment with a fourth consecutive failure to reach Canton.
“It sucks, and it hurts,” he wrote, “but don’t feel sorry for me. Life moves on, and we find the next challenge in front of us.”
Faneca’s unhappiness is understandable. He was a first-team all-decade choice. He was a nine-time Pro Bowler and eight-time All-Pro. He won a Super Bowl. He missed only one game in his career. And he was named to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 75th anniversary team.
In short, he checked all the boxes … except one.
Alan Faneca isn’t in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and he isn’t alone. All-decade tackle Tony Boselli failed to make it last weekend, too. So did all-decade guard Steve Hutchinson. Like Faneca, both were Top-10 finishers for the second straight year, and, like Faneca, both wondered what to take from another oh-so-close finish.
Disappointment? Yes. Sadness? Maybe. Discouragement? Hardly. In fact, If I had to leave them with one word it would be this.
Because help may be coming soon. In fact, it may be just around the corner.
Take a look at the players eligible for the Class of 2020, and you’ll understand why. Unlike the past few years, there’s not one slam-dunk candidate in there. Former Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu heads the lineup, but I wouldn’t exactly call him a cinch to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
The same goes for Patrick Willis. And Reggie Wayne. And John Abraham. And I think you get the idea.
The field is wide-open, meaning … meaning that Alan Faneca and Steve Hutchinson and Tony Boselli in 2020 have their best shots in years to gain admission into the Pro Football Hall of Fame without a $26 ticket.
For that matter, so do others on the doorstep. Like running back Edgerrin James. He was a Top-10 finisher this year for the first time in five years of eligibility. Or safety Steve Atwater. Like James, he moved into the Top-10 for the first time in 15 years of eligibility.
But they’re lone rangers compared to the three offensive linemen who seem to get in each other’s way. Boselli, for instance, will be in his 14th year of eligibility next year, and, after a third straight Top-10 finish, must wonder how to convince voters to push him across the finish line. As one of those 48 voters, I have a suggestion.
Because there’s a chance … and a good one … that two of the three offensive linemen waiting on Canton make it next year. Yeah, I know, it’s not all that common – nor is it popular -- to reach for two modern-era offensive linemen in one year. But it’s not rare. We did it in 2013 (Larry Allen and Jonathan Ogden), and we did it in 2012 (Dermontti Dawson and Willie Roaf).
Plus, there’s this: The past three years we’ve chosen two players from the same position in each class. In fact, we elected two players from two positions (wide receiver and linebacker) from the same positions for the Class of 2018.
So there’s precedence. But more than that, there’s willingness.
Voters understand the repercussions of stacking too many Hall-of-Fame worthy candidates at one position because they’ve done it before – not clearing the queue at wide receiver until Cris Carter was elected in 2013. That started the line moving forward, with Andre Reed named in 2014, Tim Brown chosen the following year and Randy Moss and Terrell Owens joining them in 2018.
Now it’s the offensive line, though the congestion there was eased somewhat with last week’s election of former center Kevin Mawae. And maybe, just maybe, that does for Boselli, Hutchinson and Faneca what the choice of Cris Carter six years ago did for wide receivers.
Not only do I believe it can; I believe it will.
When I channeled my inner Faneca last weekend to express displeasure that only one offensive lineman was elected, more than one voter told me, “Wait until next year. There’s going to be plenty of opportunity.”
And there will.
But voters, beware: If we’re going to address the glut of Hall-of-Fame worthy offensive linemen, we can’t wait any longer. It’s now or never. Because after 2020, there’s 2021 … and take a look at who’s eligible for induction then.
Peyton Manning. Charles Woodson. Calvin Johnson. Jared Allen. Logan Mankins.
So, yes, offensive linemen can wait. They have no choice. But voters cannot. Not anymore. Next year is our chance to give these guys what they deserve … and that’s our undivided attention.