Saturday night, seven men will join the ranks of the immortals in Canton, complete with bronze busts and mustard-colored jackets. The annual exercise usually raises questions regarding men who aren’t and should be in the Hall of Fame, and regarding men who are and shouldn’t be.
So let’s raise a few of those questions of our own, identifying five who should be in and another five who should be out.
And, yes, I recognize that this is entirely subjective. But the whole process is subjective, no matter how objective anyone tries to make it.
Should be in
Kenny Stabler, Raiders
From 1971-79, Stabler led one of the best teams of the decade. Plenty of close calls finally culminated in a Super Bowl victory. Along the way, Stabler won 69 regular-season starts in Oakland, losing only 26.
The biggest knock against Stabler comes from his stats. He threw for only 27,938 yards and 194 touchdown passes, against 222 interceptions.
Fine, but his numbers were better than Joe Namath’s — and they own the same number of Super Bowl rings.
Tillman didn’t play long enough to merit serious consideration based on his on-field accomplishments. But his career wasn’t cut short due to injury or ineptitude. He walked away from millions to join the military, and Tillman made the ultimate sacrifice for his country.
Under the current rules, Tillman never will be considered for the Hall of Fame, because off-field conduct doesn’t count. (More accurately, it’s not supposed to count.)
The rule needs to change, and the first beneficiary of it should be the man who turned his back on fame and fortune to set an example that should never be forgotten.
The NFL wisely adjusted the rules throughout the ’70s to open up the passing game. And the late Don Coryell took full advantage of the changes, devising an offensive attack that has placed players like Dan Fouts, Charlie Joiner, and Kellen Winslow into the Hall of Fame. Coryell needs to join them.
His passing likely will aid his candidacy in 2011. He should have been more appreciated before he died, but when it comes to the Hall of Fame it’s better late than never.
Like Archie Manning, the highly-skilled Plunkett played for bad teams early in his career. Unlike Manning, Plunkett landed in Oakland just in time to secure two Super Bowl wins.
He’s the only eligible two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback who has failed to land in Canton. With championships carrying so much weight, the fact that Plunkett guided a team not once but twice to the top of the mountain should be enough to get him immortalized in Canton.
He retired as the all-time leader in every receiving category among tight ends. He won a total of three Super Bowls with two different teams.
I could say more, but there’s really no need to.
Should be out
The first real dynasty of the Super Bowl era resulted in a parade of Pittsburgh Steelers rolling black-and-gold floats on the short trip to Canton. Plenty of them were worthy.
Lynn Swann wasn’t.
Though he was responsible for some of the most remarkable catches during an era where the football didn’t fly as often as it now does, Swann finished with only 336 catches and 5,462 yards. He scored a scant 51 touchdowns, an average of fewer than six per season.
His total catches don’t even rank in the top 250 all time, per Pro-Football-Reference.com. He’s at No. 184 in receiving yards.
Over the years, he’ll keep falling farther and farther down those lists. But that bust will never leave Canton, even if it never should have been put there in the first place.
Specialists shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame, unless they were so good that they changed the game. Though Stenerud was a pioneer and a great kicker, he’s not a Hall of Famer.
Besides, if any specialist should be in the Hall of Fame, it should be former Raiders punter Ray Guy. Great punters like Guy tilt the field, making it easier to play defense and in turn easier to score points on offense.
So put Guy in, or take Stenerud out. Or both.
The rules regarding the Hall of Fame contain no provision that would permit Hall of Famers to be expelled. The rules in this regard should be changed.
Regardless of whether off-field conduct during the player’s career should be considered when determining whether to put a player in, there should be circumstances in which off-field conduct should be considered when determining whether to kick a player out.
I won’t pretend to know where the line should be. But I know that O.J. Simpson is on the wrong side of it, and he’s got no business having a bust in Canton.
LeBeau has been a great coach. Possibly a Hall of Fame coach. But he’s not been enshrined for his coaching. He’s entering the Hall of Fame for his playing.
His playing simply didn’t reach the Hall of Fame level. And if LeBeau never became a coach, and if he never became the architect of the Steelers’ 3-4 Blitzburgh defense, he wouldn’t be entering the Hall of Fame on Saturday.
While I’ve got no problem with LeBeau receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award in the form of a spot in the Hall of Fame, the fact that something other than what he did as a player was considered by the voters means that voters always should consider things other than what a man did as a player, opening the door for men like Pat Tillman.
And if the response is that LeBeau deserves to be in Canton for his coaching, then he should be first considered for the Hall of Fame five years after he retires as a coach.
I’m finishing where I started, sort of. Joe Namath achieved less than Ken Stabler during his career. So either Stabler should be in or Namath should be out.
It’s that simple. Statistically, Stabler was the better quarterback. Each won a single Super Bowl.
Of course, Namath benefited from his "Broadway Joe" persona, using true fame to make it to the Hall of Fame. Still, the numbers don’t lie. Though one of the most famous quarterbacks in NFL history, his accomplishments don’t justify a spot in the Hall of Fame.
Especially since Stabler doesn’t have a spot of his own.
Mike Florio writes and edits ProFootballTalk.com and is a regular contributor to Sporting News. Check out PFT for up-to-the minute NFL news.