The Pro Football Hall of Fame; An Opinion

There is much angst in Broncoland about the apparent snubbing of Bronco greats in the Hall of Fame. There are charges of East Coast Bias or conspiracy against the Denver Broncos in general. There is even tremendous infighting amongst ourselves on which Broncos deserve this honor and which just weren't good enough.

The problem is, we are so starved for Hall of Fame recognition that we are willing to sell our own great players short by including very good players in the same breath. The Hall of Fame should be reserved for the truly All-Time greats alone, and for this reason I agree with those who say the Hall of Fame is called the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Very Good. As fans we must ensure that we uphold the tenets of the sport above all else, even our own homerish bias towards Bronco players.

That said, we must also not sell ourselves short in any way. I have seen many fans be too stingy in their reservation for which Bronco greats are Hall of Fame worthy. There must be a balance. I offer my own system for categorizing Bronco greats in lieu of my own bias opinions. My system integrates an honest unbiased look at each players contribution to the game which include stats, championships, impact on the team and sport, and quality of character. Those who actually have the votes do not necessarily look at these things, but I feel these attributes display the kind of qualities and characteristics necessary for any player to be considered an all-time great.

For the all-time Bronco greats, I have broken these players into three tiers. The first tier I simply call, Insults. The reason for that is that their not being in the Hall of Fame is a direct slap in the face of all Bronco fans and the entire sport in general.

The second tier I call, Deserving. Meaning their total embodiment of work more than warrants a vote into the Hall of Fame. By them not being in does not necessarily mean it is insulting, but there should be no reason for them not getting into the Hall in the future.  These players, if not voted in, would eventually make it into the "Insults" tier.

The third tier is the Good but not Great. This appears to be insulting, but what I really mean by it is that these players were very good. Though I do not believe they were quite good enough to be considered an all-time great. So when fans put their names up for Hall of Fame snubs, what those fans are really doing is selling the guys in the first two tiers short and thereby hurting the chances they have at receiving the necessary votes to be inducted. 

I will now put our Bronco greats into each tier and explain why I think they belong where I put them.



INSULTS


1. Randy Gradishar


Photo via DenverBroncos.com

The greatest Hall of Fame insult to Denver Bronco fans should be Randy Gradishar. He was considered the leader and anchor of the renowned Orange Crush Defense of the 1970's and early 1980's. I don't want to go into who is in the Hall already and how insulting it is that Gradishar is not, but for this case alone I must. The reason I must go this route is simple; you will see why there is an East Coast Bias and why it is our own fault it exists.

My case study will be Harry Carson. A great linebacker for the New York Giants. He played thirteen seasons and helped his team to a Super Bowl title. His career stats are 173 games, 11 interceptions, one touchdown, with 9 Pro Bowls and 8 All-NFC honors. Although he had never won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, he was selected team captain for the Giants for ten consecutive seasons. That is an impressive resume for sure.

Now he faced many years of waiting and much of the same ridicule that Randy Gradishar has faced since his retirement. Harry Carson even went so far as to demand that his name be removed from the voting process in protest. That and the actions of his supporters would eventually convince enough voters that he was Hall of Fame worthy. Personally, I think he was the Tom Jackson to Randy Gradishar or the Bart Scott to Ray Lewis. A very good talent that benefited greatly from the superior talent around him. How much of Carson's success really came from an opposing teams attention being pointed Lawrence Taylor's way?

That said, Harry Carson was a true leader of a Super Bowl winning defense. So why is it that a guy like Randy Gradishar who has an impressive resume of his own that shows he played in 145 games, with 20 interceptions, 3 returned for touchdowns(including a 93 yard scamper in 1980), 7 Pro Bowls, 7 All-AFC honors, the 1978 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and team captain for much of his career. That resume is every bit as impressive as Harry Carson's and the only major difference is that one guy has a ring while the other came close.

Well that's not true either. The one deciding factor between why Carson is in the Hall of Fame and Gradishar is not is this; Harry Carson had an army of angry New Yorkers who basically demanded that he get inducted into the Hall. Which leads me to believe that we, as fans, have utterly failed Randy Gradishar. Sure we have angst and anger of his snubbing, but really, how much farther does it go from the random message board or an angry fan spot on MHR? We prefer to complain rather than to take action. We have done that for 25 years now. I have a hunch that, because of websites like Milehighreport.com and the committees spawned from it, this injustice will be corrected and Randy Gradishar will be enshrined within the next couple of years.

The biggest obstacle from voters when it comes to Randy Gradishar is his so-called tackle stats as kept by the Denver Broncos organization.  The Main Stream Media(MSM) refuses to acknowledge those stats nor does the NFL itself.  It is counterproductive for us to tout something not accepted by anyone but ourselves.  There is only one way to bypass this obstacle.

My suggestion is for us to accept the official stats only. DenverBroncos.com needs to remove the tackle stats attributed to Gradishar from their website and focus on the official stats. I will no longer acknowledge Gradishar's tackle stats. I don't need too. His official stats are more the enough to get him enshrined into the Hall of Fame. Harry Carson's own website, linked above, doesn't display the tackle stats, so by doing this we will remove all of the ammunition naysayers have used against Gradishar since he became eligible.

Then we, as a united community, need to become more vocal and indignant about Gradishar's exclusion from the Hall of Fame.  We will win this fight because we are right and this injustice, this INSULT, to all Bronco fans and the entire Sport will be rectified.

 

2. Floyd Little


Photo via DenverBroncos.com

Floyd Little may be number two on my list of insults, but this guy is surpassed only by John Elway in terms of importance to our franchise and its history. I was born three full years after Little's retirement, but there is no question how long lasting of an impact his career has had on our team. His stats were pretty elite in his day, but have since been surpassed by many modern era players.

I would argue that he helped redefine the game itself. He didn't just run the ball, return kicks, and receive passes. He helped bridge the gap between the average fan and the players. He helped define a super stars role outside the game. Floyd Little was a model citizen who carried the burden of playing for a perennial loser, while gaining Pro Bowl caliber stats while being the Broncos only offensive threat for much of his career.

He was selected to five Pro Bowls and led the NFL in rushing and yards from scrimmage for six consecutive years(1968-1973). He was also named Running Back of the Year in 1972, yet he is rarely even considered for the Hall of Fame anymore. For those of you who have been around here for less than a year, I really urge you to read a post I submitted last May that was mostly written by our esteemed Firstfan, who happens to be one of Floyd Little's most outspoken supporters. His tale of Floyd Little puts anything I have to say to shame.

Also, if you agree with me that Floyd Little has waited long enough for Hall of Fame enshrinement, then please sign this petition along with thousands of others who have already done so.

Floyd Little's Career Stats
Rushing Stats Receiving Stats
Games ATT YDS AVG LG TD REC YDS AVG LG TD
117 1641 6323 3.9 80 43 215 2418 11.2 74 9
Punt Returns Kick Returns
Games RET YDS AVG LG TD RET YDS AVG LG TD
117 81 893 11 72 2 104 2523 24.3 89 0
Total All Purpose Yards: 12,157

3. Shannon Sharpe


Photo via ESPN

Shannon Sharpe is an insult because he was not a first ballot Hall of Famer. Sports Writers' have decided he is more of a wide receiver than a tight end. This is a frightening development considering it is blatant revisionist history and must not be tolerated as an argument by any football fan. Sharpe lined up as a tight end for most of his career and it was his versatility that allowed the coaching staffs to scheme him in various roles. The Hall of Fame voters are taking Shannon Sharpe's biggest strength and using it as a weapon to keep him out of the sacred halls of Canton. There is no bigger insult.

I agree that Sharpe was a "tweener", with attributes of both a tight end and a wide receiver. That is what made him one of the most deadliest offensive threats available to John Elway for the better part of a decade. Linebackers were too slow to cover him, cornerbacks and safeties were too small to match up against him, and opposing defensive coordinators were mostly unable to stop him. How many wide receivers can claim that? How many tight ends can claim that? The answer is not many.

Shannon Sharpe is a member of an elite group of players that were a force on the field of play. That alone is what defines a Hall of Fame caliber player. You cannot write the entire history of the NFL without mentioning Shannon Sharpe, he built upon the new role of a tight end that was begun by Kellen Winslow. Winslow started a trend away from the traditional role of a tight end, while Sharpe shattered that tradition and cemented the role of the tight end that would spawn future Pro Bowlers like Tony Gonzalez, Dallas Clark, and Jason Witten.

To add to that, Shannon Sharpe has stats that go beyond just simple numbers.  Such as, 490 of his 815 catches went for first downs.  What is the job of a tight end in the passing game?  Yep, you guessed it!  Get first downs!  Shannon Sharpe also had just 7 fumbles in his entire fourteen year career.   Shannon Sharpe's yard per catch only fell below 10 once in his career and that was in 1999 when he missed all but five games that season.  No matter how you slice it, he has the body of work that epitomizes what the Hall of Fame is looking for at his position.

How many tight ends can boast an 82 yard touchdown pass? How many tight ends can boast 10,000 career receiving yards? How many tight ends can boast of blocking for a 2000 yard rusher? How many tight ends can boast of having over 60 touchdown catches in their career? And finally, how many tight ends can boast of 8 Pro Bowls, 5 All-Pro selections, 3 Super Bowl rings, and a selection to an All-Decade team?

I'm sorry for all of the rhetorical questions, but these are questions that voters NEED to ask themselves during the 2010 voting process. I don't want to hear that Sharpe will eventually get into the Hall. I want him into the Hall of Fame NOW, anything less is unacceptable. The gauntlet has been laid and the battle is already underway. This is one fight we must win. Shannon Sharpe will not be passed up again.

Shannon Sharpe's Career Stats
GS REC YDS AVG LG TD 20+ 40+ 1ST FUM
204 815 10,060 12.3 82T 62 134 17 490 7


DESERVING



1. Steve Atwater

One of the bigger problems with the Hall of Fame process is that some positions are harder to get in than others. Two of those neglected positions are tight end and safety. For whatever reason, this is the case. Unfortunately for Bronco fans, two of our best candidates each play those respective positions. Shannon Sharpe was to the tight end position that Steve Atwater was to the safety position.

This time, the knock on Steve Atwater was that he couldn't play in coverage very well. Any Bronco fan would tell you this was not true. Sure he didn't intercept passes well, but he broke up a lions share of passes during his career. Take John Lynch for example. He is supposedly a sure fire Hall of Famer, but his stats are relatively similar to Atwater's, in fact, Atwater outperforms Lynch in several key categories. Also Steve played for just eleven seasons, Lynch for fourteen, yet Atwater finished with 100 more tackles in his career. John Lynch had one more Pro Bowl appearance, but Atwater was selected to the 1990's All Decade team over John Lynch. Both we selected to the first team All-Pro twice, but Steve Atwater has one more Super Bowl ring.

Comparison's aside, both men deserve to be honored in Canton as both were dominating at their positions for their entire careers. Atwater, by virtue of being around before Lynch, should be elected into the Hall of Fame sooner.

One of Atwater's better performances came during Super Bowl XXXII. If there were to be a co-MVP for that game it would undoubtedly have to be Steve Atwater. He had six solo tackles, a sack, forced fumble, and two pass defenses and was a major factor in the Packers frustrated inability to move the ball consistently. Memories of his play bring up bone crushing hits and a game intensity few safeties have exhibited in the modern era.

I just have a feeling that Steve Atwater will be snubbed; as the safety position, for whatever reason, is such a hard position to get inducted.

2. Terrell Davis


Photo via DenverBroncos.com

Terrell Davis must and will get into the Hall of Fame. It is only a matter of time. There is little doubt that he was one of the best running backs of all-time, but getting into the Hall of Fame is also about longevity and one fateful interception in 1999 ruined his career. One guy that comes to mind is Eric Dickerson. He waited a long time before he was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame, even though the guy still holds the all-time best season for a running back.

The argument here is that TD was unstoppable and after his injury the world saw that it wasn't just the Denver Broncos offensive line that was dominating. No running back was able to even come close to matching TD's total dominance during that three year period. Sure the Broncos had 1000 yard rushers and one guy even reached 1500, but none of them scored twenty touchdowns nor surpassed 1600 yards rushing.  Terrell Davis is also one of only three running backs in NFL history to have rushed for 1000 yards in just the first seven games of a season, joining Jim Brown(1958) and O.J. Simpson(1973, 1975) as the only other running backs to have ever matched that mark.

In my mind, if TD isn't inducted by his 10th year of eligibility then he will move into the Insult list. Voters cannot deny the impact he made on the game. The zone blocking scheme became legendary and successful because of his running during that four year period. Without TD, the game would be significantly different than it would be today. To prove my point, watch this video. The guy was a man among boys when he was on the field, which defines what a Hall of Famer is in my mind.

Terrell Davis' Career Stats
Rushing Stats Receiving Stats
Year G Att Yds Avg Lng TD Rec Yds Avg Lng TD
1995 14 237 1117 4.7 60T 7 49 367 7.5 31 1
1996 16 345 1538 4.5 71T 13 36 310 8.6 23 2
1997 15 369 1750 4.7 50T 15 42 287 6.8 25 0
1998 16 392 2008 5.1 70 21 25 217 8.7 35 2
1999 4 67 211 3.1 26 2 3 26 8.7 10 0
2000 5 78 282 3.6 24 2 2 4 2.0 5 0
2001 8 167 701 4.2 57 0 12 69 5.8 16 0
Career 78 1655 7607 4.6 71T 60 169 1280 7.6 35 5

 

3. Dan Reeves

This final position in my rankings was a tough one to fill.  There are many players, especially from that vaunted  Orange Crush defense, that could deserve to be in this spot.  For now however, after much consideration, Dan Reeves deserves his due. 

The man, along with John Elway, took what should have been a hapless Denver Bronco team to three Super Bowls in the 1980's.  Those games ended in defeat, but the fact that we were even there gives credit to a quarterback and coach for winning games they had no business winning in the first place.  I even recently wrote a Fanpost arguing for Dan Reeves to be inducted into the Ring of Fame.

After the turbulent relationship between Elway and Reeves ended in the early 90's with Dan Reeves being fired, Reeves would go on to coach the Giants and Falcons.  He arrived in Atlanta in 1996, following a 3-13 season for the Falcons.  Two years later, Reeves was coaching against Elway in the Super Bowl.  He lost 34-19, but again he took a team that had no business even being there.

Dan Reeves currently has 201 victories as a head coach in the regular season and playoffs.  Though Dan Reeves may be done coaching, he recently interviewed for the San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator job, so we may have yet seen the last of him in the NFL. 

This final selection will anger some and I know full well that there are at least a half dozen former Bronco greats that could easily be argued into this spot, but I felt strongly enough to give this recognition to Dan Reeves.  I will be the first to admit that I didn't much like Dan Reeves in the early 1990's and I even laughed in glee when we whooped on him in the 1998 Super Bowl, but since that time I have grown ever more fond of Dan Reeves and the amazing job he did coaching the 1980's Broncos to three Super Bowls.  I became a fan during that time and I always attributed it to John Elway, but in rare moments of honestly with myself, it becomes apparent that Dan Reeves had as much to do with my fandom as John Elway.  At least early on.

 

Conclusion

 

The hardest part of writing this piece, was coming up with a list I felt good about.  An impossible task for a fan like me to take on.  There are so many guys I want to include, but I forced myself to stick to this format over the several months I have been putting this together. 

I wish so much that I could have included guys like(but not limited to): Goose Gonsoulin, Lionel Taylor, Tombstone Jackson, Billy Thompson, Louis Wright, Tom Jackson, Haven Moses, Dennis Smith, or Karl Mecklenburg.  I would even say that Pat Bowlen is deserving. 

If there was one guy named above that I truly regret not putting on my list of six, it would be Lionel Taylor.  I actually had him at Dan Reeves' spot, but I had a crisis of conscience that sparked me to go with Dan instead.  I can't say for certain that this was the right decision, but if one of those guys gets selected to the Hall of Fame next season, then I can say unequivocally that Lionel Taylor gets bumped up to that list.  If you disagree, then read the bio on I wrote on the man.

As for the guys I selected for this elite list.  Randy Gradishar and Floyd Little easily top the list as the biggest insults to the Franchise and its fans and more than that, their omissions represent a glaring red mark on the entire League.  That mark will remain until this travesty is undone. Shannon Sharpe ranked third only because he has only been insulted once.  I believe he will be the first on this list to be enshrined, but he had better be the first of several Broncos inducted over the next decade. 

Steve Atwater will not likely get in for whatever asinine reason journalists give when it comes to safetys.  Terrell Davis had better get in within the next ten years.  Perhaps a wait like Eric Dickerson is justified, but there is no denying how dominate TD was in his time. And finally, Dan Reeves.  He was my most difficult selection, but he did as much to change the face of the Denver Broncos from the fledgling talent of the late 70's to the perennial winner of today. 

Now I would like to see your two sets of three.  It's not as easy as you might think. 

And it is great to be back on MHR everyday!!

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