Hall of Fame cases: The receiver trio (Marvin Harrison, Andre Reed and Tim Brown) | Charles Haley | Jerome Bettis | Eddie DeBartolo | Aeneas Williams | Kevin Greene | Tony Dungy | John Lynch | Morten Andersen | Will Shields
It is not transparent, it reeks of politics and infighting and it has become obvious over the years that some grudges and personal differences matter more than the merits of some of the individuals who played the game. Standing up and stumping for a guy in a room in which everything is supposed to remain more or less confidential with the legacies of men hanging in the balance does nothing for me.
There is no accountability, no rationale for what transpires within the debating process as finalists are whittled down, and often the results leave many scratching their heads. So, with that out of the way, I've been asked to do a ballot for CBSsports.com (I do not take part on the actual Hall of Fame vote and have no desire to under the present format), so this is how I would go about taking the list of 15 modern candidates and two senior nominees and deciding who gets in the 2014 class.
Charles Haley: Any ballot, to me, has to start here, because the oversight that has gone into keeping him out this long is mind boggling. I get it -- the writers and broadcasters hated him, he did some pretty nasty things that he tried to pass off as practical jokes and he wasn't a model citizen. Great. That's not what this is about.
There are plenty of bad guys already in the Hall, guys who have long rap sheets (Lawrence Taylor, for one, from the same era as Haley), and it's time for these guys to put their wounded feelings aside and put Haley in. He was a beast, he changed the outcome of games, he changed the outcome of seasons, and when he switched teams, the balance of power in the NFL shifted with him. At his size and strength and speed, he could play in any era. He is the only dude with five Super Bowl champion rings. He dominated at two different positions. He was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year. Please. Ask anyone who played against him when he went from the 49ers to the Cowboys. They know he is Hall of Fame-worthy, and has been for quite some time.
|2014 Hall of Fame Finalists|
|Jerome Bettis||Running back|
|Tim Brown||Wide receiver|
|Edward J. DeBartolo, Jr.||Owner (49ers)|
|Tony Dungy||Head coach (Bucs, Colts)|
|Kevin Greene||Linebacker/defensive end|
|Charles Haley||Defensive end/linebacker|
|Marvin Harrison||Wide receiver|
|Claude Humphrey||Defensive end|
|Andre Reed||Wide receiver|
|Michael Strahan||Defensive end|
Walter Jones: No one did it better, as a big man with the feet and grace of a ballerina. Just like Jonathan Ogden was an automatic first-ballot Hall of Famer at left tackle (you could have a hell of an argument picking between Ogden and Jones), so, too, is Walter Jones. He helped Shaun Alexander to some historic seasons, chunks of those yards and so many of those touchdowns coming running to the left side behind Jones's massive frame. He was named to an All-Decade team and came to define the way a position should be played. This is a total no-brainer to me. This is what a first-ballot Hall of Famer looks like.
Will Shields: Guards are easy to overlook and have been for quite some time. But this is another candidate who to me is beast of breed, who became synonymous with what outstanding play at his position was for a long period of time, quite frankly, the breadth of his career. He never missed a game -- 224 straight, 223 starts -- and led the way for some huge seasons by Priest Holmes. And while he was surrounded by some elite talent on the Chiefs' offensive line in their prime, he remained a standout among greats. He's another All-Decade performer who earned 12 straight Pro Bowl berths at one time.
Marvin Harrison: Let me get this out of the way: Based on everything I have read about Marvin Harrison's post-playing career, and the circumstances of a homicide that took place involving one of his weapons, his behavior and character have come into question. He has never served a day, but in the court of public opinion, especially among those who may have read up on this case, it is impossible for that not to color one's impression of him and trump anything he did on the football field.
But this honor is about what he did in the NFL, and what he did was rewrite the record books. He was an absolute difference-maker from the moment he got in the league, and certainly playing nearly his entire career with Peyton Manning as his quarterback helped. And he was surrounded by plenty of offensive talent. But for eight straight years he topped 1,000 yards receiving (at a time when that number meant something) and at least 10 touchdown catches. He had almost 150 catches in 2002. If not for Jerry Rice becoming the GOAT at the same time, Harrison, ever quiet during his career, might actually be looked at even more highly. Based on his production I don't see how you keep him out, especially with the likes of O.J. Simpson still in.
Michael Strahan: Take Brett Favre flopping for the single-season sack record out of it. Doesn't matter. Whatever you may think of Live With Kelly and Michael does not matter here.
This dude was named first-team All-Pro four times in a seven-year period, he amassed 141½ sacks and he was no one-dimensional, situational pass rusher. He could play the run back at a time when the NFC East was still grinding away on the ground and in 2001 was a unanimous choice for Defensive Player of the Year.
Another member of an All-Decade team (to me a very telling indication of where an individual ranked compared to his peers over a sustained period of time) who also saved big performances for big games and played a big part in the Giants' overall success during his career.
So that's my five. Of the first-time guys, I had the hardest time keeping Derrick Brooks out, but I know he will get in, perhaps even this year especially should the grudge against Haley continue (and I suspect it does). I think in time Aeneas Williams should go -- the fact he played for such a miserable franchise cannot be held against him -- and if there were not so many worthy men this time around, Eddie DeBartolo would have been my next man up. If I could put in six, he would be the sixth for how he changed the game as the 49ers' dynastic owner.