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Sports Then and Now

Remembering the NFL Minister of Defense Reggie White 1

Posted on October 12, 2015 by Mike Raffone

Minister of DefenseToday’s Sports Then and Now blog remembers the late Reggie White.

An ordained pastor and Pro Football Hall of Fame lineman, this NFL defender brilliantly embodied his fitting Minister of Defense nickname.

During a storied 15-year NFL career, the Minister of Defense delivered his football version of a fire and brimstone sermon by dominating opposing offenses.

Whenever Reggie White set foot on the football field, he constantly administered defensive pressure. And, when away from the gridiron, he tirelessly catered to the needs of inner-city youth and those less fortunate through his work as a Christian minister. rated White as the #7 NFL player of all-time, and ESPN Sports Nation named him the greatest player in Philadelphia Eagles history. His storied career validates their lofty choices.

White graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1984 after being named SEC Player of the Year during his senior season. The Minister of Defense then played two years in the now defunct USFL with the Memphis Showboats, earning the 1985 USFL Man of the Year Award.

After the USFL folded, White proceeded to the NFL and starred for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1985 – 1992. Read the rest of this entry →

Pro Football Hall of Fame Welcomes “Workhorse” Class 2

Posted on August 08, 2015 by Dean Hybl
With eight inductees, the 2015 Hall of Fame Class is the largest since 1967.

With eight inductees, the 2015 Hall of Fame Class is the largest since 1967.

With no quarterbacks and only one first ballot selection, the 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame class isn’t quite as glamorous as some others in recent years, but it is an important group of workhorse inductees who all enjoyed long and successful careers.

After a period from 1991-2005 when the HOF selection committee created a glut of worthy inductees by picking no more than five people in 12 of 14 years, they have spent the last decade filling the HOF with both glamorous and workmanlike candidates. The HOF has admitted at least six candidates every year since 2006.

The 2015 class of eight selections marks the largest class since 1967 and includes six former players as well as two executives. Bill Polian and Ron Wolf are the first football executives who were not owners to be selected for the HOF since Jim Finks in 1995.

While the marquee player from this class is certainly Junior Seau, all six players enjoyed long and distinguished careers. Several have been eligible for the HOF for several years, but had to wait for others to take their rightful place before it was time for them to receive their busts.

Moving forward, there are still some outstanding players “in the que” as well as several new candidates that will be eligible in the next few years, so it will be interesting to see if the HOF selection committee continues to push the number of new enshrines each year or if they pull back slightly in the coming years.

Regardless, the 2015 class is one for the ages and helps tell the story of football history over the past several decades. Below are brief capsules of each selection:

Jerome Bettis: Known as “The Bus”, Bettis ranks sixth in NFL history with 13,662 yards rushing. He was a six-time Pro Bowl selection and twice was a first team all-pro selection. An eight-time 1,000 yard rusher, Bettis spent his first three seasons with the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams before being traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He rushed for a career-high 1,665 yards in 1997 and was a mainstay for the Pittsburgh rushing game for a decade. His final game was Super Bowl XL as he helped the Steelers win the Lombardi Trophy.

Tim Brown: Based on statistics alone, Brown certainly belongs in the Hall of Fame. He ranks fifth in NFL history with 1,094 receptions, sixth with 14,934 receiving yards and seventh with 100 receiving touchdowns. Between 1993 and 2002 he caught at least 76 passes every year (NFL high 104 in 1997) and had nine 1,000 yard seasons. Brown was a nine time Pro Bowl selection, but never received All-Pro honors. While Brown was a great talent and had great statistics, it seems hard to justify him as a HOF member when other great receivers from previous eras who were key parts of championship teams, most especially Drew Pearson and Otis Taylor, have not yet been recognized in Canton. Read the rest of this entry →

Pro Football Hall of Fame Welcomes Worthy Class 23

Posted on February 02, 2014 by Dean Hybl
Andre Reed finally received the "call from the hall" in his eighth year as a finalist.

Andre Reed finally received the “call from the hall” in his eighth year as a finalist.

For the fourth time in the last five years, the Pro Football Hall of Fame will add a maximum class of seven following the announcement last night of the 2014 class for induction.

Though some will question a couple of the selections, in total it is pretty impressive group that will be honored in Canton later this year.

Included are first year eligible players Derrick Brooks and Walter Jones along with wide receiver Andre Reed and defensive players Michael Strahan and Aeneas Williams. Also selected as senior-era selections were Claude Humphrey and Ray Guy.

While I think there was no debating the worthiness of both Brooks and Jones, who ironically are both products of Florida State, but am a little surprised that Jones made the cut during his first year of eligibility.

Though he didn’t always receive the same publicity as his defensive teammates in Tampa Bay Warren Sapp, John Lynch and Ronde Barber, Brooks was the consistent star of that unit. An 11-time Pro Bowl selection and five-time first team All-Pro, Brooks was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2002 when the Buccaneers won their only Super Bowl.

There is no question that Jones, a nine-time Pro Bowl selection and four-time All-Pro pick, has Hall of Fame credentials. However, with some other very talented players up for consideration (including 12-time Pro Bowl guard Will Shields), I wasn’t sure the voters would put Jones into the Hall in his first try.

Two players who also had Hall of Fame worthy careers, but who had to wait before receiving the call were Reed and Williams.

The Hall of Fame voters have always struggled with how to handle the wide receiver position. Reed is the 12th receiver since 1995 to be selected for the HOF, but only Jerry Rice and Steve Largent made it in their first year on the ballot. It took Reed eight times as a finalist before making the cut. Many believe that in the committee pecking order they had to get Cris Carter (who was selected last year in his sixth year of eligibility) into the HOF before Reed could make it in. The road is now clearer for Tim Brown, who has been a finalist five times, and Marvin Harrison, who was a finalist in his first year on the ballot, to be the next receivers in. Read the rest of this entry →

Can Pro Football Hall of Fame Voters Keep Their Winning Streak? 1

Posted on February 01, 2014 by Dean Hybl
Will this be the year that five-time Super Bowl champion Charles Haley adds the Hall of Fame to his resume?

Will this be the year that five-time Super Bowl champion Charles Haley adds the Hall of Fame to his resume?

It is that time of year again, when some of the great players we enjoyed watching on the gridiron receive their much-deserved place in pro football immortality.

With very few exceptions, the players considered each year are all among the NFL all-time elite and worthy of Hall of Fame induction. So, to me judging whether the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee does a good job has become less about which players, coaches or contributors they select, but more about how many they allow into the Hall of Fame each year.

Though the rules say that up to seven worthy candidates can be selected into the Hall of Fame each year, between 1988 and 2009 the Hall of Fame selection committee enshrined the maximum number of candidates only twice (1990 and 2001) while on six occasions choosing only four candidates, the minimum number allowed in a year.

The thing you must understand is that it isn’t like keeping the Hall of Fame classes so small for all those years was in some way preserving the elite status of the HOF.

Between 1988 and 2009 there were a total of 113 players, coaches and executives inducted into the Hall of Fame. Only 36 (31.9%) were inducted in their first year of eligibility. That means nearly 70% of all those who were eventually inducted were passed over at least once.

What this horrific and totally unnecessary display of incompetence did was create a back-log of worthy candidates. It also meant that some players whose careers were eventually recognized as Hall of Fame worthy were deprived of that honor until either after their death or far later in their life than necessary.

While the Baseball Hall of Fame selection process has some major problems, with only a few exceptions through their veteran’s program, most of those who are going to be honored as Baseball Hall of Famers receive the recognition no more than 20 years after their retirement.

In just the last five years there have been eight Pro Football Hall of Famers inducted more than 30 years after their retirement. Heck, Jack Butler, who was inducted in 2012 and passed away in 2013, finished his playing career in 1959.

I am not at all suggesting that these players should not have been inducted into the HOF, but rather that had the Hall of Fame selection committee been doing their job more efficiently for more than two decades these players would have received that honor earlier and thus would have been able to enjoy the recognition longer.

Fortunately, beginning in 2010 the Hall of Fame committee seemed to start understanding the mess they had made and since then have done a good job starting to reduce the backlog.

In the last four HOF voting cycles the HOF class has included the maximum seven members three times and six members once. Read the rest of this entry →

Cris Carter’s Long Journey Ends in the Hall of Fame 61

Posted on August 02, 2013 by Dean Hybl
Though best remembered for his years as a Viking, Carter started his career with three seasons as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Though best remembered for his years as a Viking, Carter started his career with three seasons as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.

When I met Cris Carter in July 1989 there was little doubt that he had the ability to one day be a Hall of Fame wide receiver. However, after spending six months around him during the 1989 season I would have put his chances of actually ever living up to that potential somewhere between none and less than none.

So, it is quite amazing (and a testament to how people can change) that 24 years later Carter will indeed be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend in Canton, Ohio.

Talent was never the problem for Carter. The brother of former Indiana University and NBA player Butch Carter, Cris was a great multi-sport athlete and heavily recruited as both a basketball and football player.

An Ohio native, he chose to stay in state and attend Ohio State University. Originally Carter planned on playing both sports in college, but after setting a Rose Bowl record with nine catches for 172 yards during his freshman year, he decided to concentrate on football.

By his junior season in 1986 Carter was a consensus All-American and had already set the Ohio State record for career receptions.

However, as a harbinger of things to come, Carter was declared ineligible for his senior season after it was discovered that he had signed a contract with sports agent Norby Walters.

Allowed to enter the NFL through a supplemental draft, Carter was selected in the fourth round by the Philadelphia Eagles.

Under the direction of colorful head coach Buddy Ryan and sporting an exciting roster of young stars including Reggie White, Randall Cunningham, Jerome Brown, Mike Quick and Keith Byars, the Eagles were a team on the rise. As a rookie, the 21-year-old Carter saw very limited action during the strike-shortened season. He played in nine games and caught five passes for 84 yards and two touchdowns.

The next season he moved into the starting lineup and was a key performer on an Eagles team that won the NFC East and reached the playoffs for the first time since the 1981 season. Carter caught 39 passes for 761 yards (19.5 ypc) and six touchdowns.

By 1989, Carter seemed to be on a path to greatness, but few realized that he was actually on a path to self-destruction.

It was at that time during the summer of 1989 that I joined the Eagles as a Public Relations intern fresh out of college at James Madison University, where I had worked in the school’s sports information office and covered the football team for the school newspaper.

Spending the season as an intern with an NFL team was a dream come true, but while most of the Philadelphia players were great to work with, dealing with Carter was often more of a nightmare.

Unbeknownst to most of his teammates (or PR interns), it turns out that while Carter acted with great confidence (some would call it cockiness) on the field and in the locker room, he was actually losing a personal battle with substance abuse.

In hindsight, it actually makes sense that Carter was dealing with such demons. When I would make my daily trips to the locker room, you never knew which Carter you were going to run into. Sometimes he was engaging, friendly and helpful, however, more often he was difficult, condescending and just plain mean.

As a 22-year-old from a rural part of Virginia, I had never dealt with anyone who was an alcoholic or drug addict, so while others may have been aware of his problems, I was completely naïve and just trying to fit into the professional world and eventually handled it by only going near him when I needed to as part of my job.

On the field in 1989 Carter became the “touchdown maker” for the Eagles. He caught 45 passes for 605 yards and 11 touchdowns. However, after catching eight passes for 113 yards in a Monday Night Football loss to the Chicago Bears in the fourth week of the season, he never caught more than four passes in a game the remainder of the season. Read the rest of this entry →

Pro Football Hall of Fame Voters Have To Make Tough Choices 1

Posted on February 02, 2013 by Dean Hybl
Both Michael Strahan and Bill Parcells could be part of the Hall of Fame Class of 2013.

Both Michael Strahan and Bill Parcells could be part of the Hall of Fame Class of 2013.

Selecting which candidates will gain admission into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is never easy, but with a number of deserving first time eligible players joining a crowded list of holdover candidates, whittling down the field will be especially challenging this time around.

Making their debut among the Hall of Fame finalists are four players that all seem destined to one-day receive a bust in the Hall of Fame: Michael Strahan, Warren Sapp, Larry Allen and Jonathan Ogden. Given the greatness they each exhibited during their careers, the question isn’t if they will get into the Hall, but when.

Joining these four newcomers among the 15 modern candidates are 11 former players, coaches and owners who all are making a return engagement among the HOF finalists and who all have compelling resumes that seem warranted of getting them into the Hall.

The selection committee will have the tough challenge of narrowing the list from 15 to more than five players who will be part of the Class of 2013.

In addition, the committee will separately decide if former defensive stars Dave Robinson and Curley Culp will receive football immortality this year.

As I have chronicled in previous HOF columns over the years, the selection committee is today paying for their past indiscretions.

The reason for the huge glut of deserving candidates is that the committee spent a prolonged period in the early part of the millennium making a mockery of the selection process.

Between 1995 and 2005 the voters chose the fully allowed compliment of five modern candidates only one time. The situation culminated in 2005 when only two modern era candidates were selected.

Interestingly enough, since 2006 24 players who were eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2005 have been inducted to the HOF. I would love to find out from the HOF voters exactly what those players did after 2005 to increase their worthiness for selection.

Of the four new candidates, you could very easily make a case for each one to receive entry in their first year of eligibility.

All four players earned at least one Super Bowl ring and were regular participants in the Pro Bowl.

Predicting what the HOF voters will do is never very easy, but given their past history of making deserving candidates wait at least one year before making it into the Hall, it seems doubtful that first year candidates will serve as a majority in the Class of 2013.

Because of his media stature, I would not be surprised if former New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan finds his way into the HOF in his initial year on the ballot. Read the rest of this entry →

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