Dave's Sports Views

Analysis, humor and opinion on the sports world

Location: Dallas, Texas, United States

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

From Cooperstown ... to Canton

With the Baseball Hall of Fame elections over, the spotlight can turn to the list of 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, announced today. It is perhaps the deepest class ever. The finalists are:

Troy Aikman, QB
Harry Carson, LB
L.C. Greenwood, DE
Russ Grimm, G
Claude Humphrey, DE
Michael Irvin, WR
Bob Kuechenberg, G
John Madden, coach
Art Monk, WR
Warren Moon, QB
Derrick Thomas, LB
Thurman Thomas, RB
Reggie White, DL
Rayfield Wright, T
Gary Zimmerman, T

Essentially, this list spans most the Super Bowl Era, from Wright - whose Dallas Cowboys lost to the Packers teams that won the first two Super Bowls - to White, whose Packers teams went to back-to-back Super Bowls in the late 1990s. All but Humphrey, Moon and the two Thomases won Super Bowls, and those four were dominant at their positions. In particular, Derrick Thomas was the heir to Lawrence Taylor as a speed-rushing linebacker, and Thurman Thomas was one of the first great catch-and-run tailbacks whose versatility opened up the passing game further.

No fewer than three and no more than six men can be elected when the committee meets in Detroit on the day before the Super Bowl. For me, four of the names jump out:

Aikman was a three-time Super Bowl winning quarterback. Earlier this year when he, Irvin and Emmitt Smith were being inducted into the Cowboys Ring of Honor at Texas Stadium, the radio programs buzzed with talk of whether Aikman or Smith was more valuable. And while Smith earned his deserved praise as the NFL's all-time leading rusher, most agreed that without Aikman's steadiness at his position, the Cowboys don't win three Super Bowls in four years. He was a great leader and remarkably consistent, having neither a slow learning curve at the beginning of his career nor a slow decline at the end.

Carson will always live in the shadow of his teammate, Taylor. But if you ask Bill Belichick, he couldn't have turned out such great Giants' defenses each year without the other linebackers. Carson was the best of those, adept at both defending the pass and the run. His combination of size and speed was the prototype for today's great linebackers, the Derrick Brooks' and Brian Urlacher's. He was on the all-NFL team seven times and was team captain for 10 of the 13 years he played. Carson has come tantalizingly close to election in the past few years and deserves the nod.

Derrick Thomas also lived in Taylor's shadow, because they were so similar, but in addition to his 126 sacks, Thomas added his own mark on the game. The Chiefs linebacker forced 42 fumbles in his career, and he was one of the first to tackle in such a way as to rip the ball out of the offensive player's hands. That type of technique is so common now, that some defensive players think of nothing else. Another stat that shows Thomas' legacy is that of the winningest teams of the 1990s. First was the 49ers, with 113 wins, then the Bills, with 103. Those are easy to guess. Third? That would be Thomas' Chiefs, with 102.

White was the most feared pass rusher ever, with apologies to Taylor and Bruce Smith. No one forgets the sight of him throwing offensive linemen aside with one arm, turning 300-pound men into rag dolls. He had 198 sacks in 15 NFL seasons after playing one year in the USFL. He made the Pro Bowl 13 years in a row. And he made it cool, no pun intended, to play in Green Bay. Whether God told him to go or not, White's decision as one of the league's first unrestricted free agents epitomized what the league has long tried to do: develop a structure where large-market teams and small-market teams can compete on a level playing field.

This is a hard field to handicap, and all of the finalists will have their defenders. The likes of Irvin and Thurman Thomas will have strong support, and both seniors candidates (Madden and Wright) will have sentimental value. (Both senior finalists were elected last year.) In my view, the four listed above were game-changers who bring the greatest credentials to the Hall.



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