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Sports Then and Now



Pro Football Hall of Fame Still Missing Many Deserving Players 0

Posted on August 06, 2016 by Dean Hybl
Jerry Kramer has shockingly been bypassed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame for more than 40 years.

Jerry Kramer has shockingly been bypassed for the Pro Football Hall of Fame for more than 40 years.

With the Pro Football Hall of Fame inducting its newest class of enshrines, it provides the annual opportunity for discussion about which former NFL stars that seem worthy of being included in the Hall of Fame still are without busts in Canton.

Since he first became eligible in the early 1970s, former Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Jerry Kramer has been high on most lists of best players not in the HOF. As other Packers, as well as other offensive linemen with lesser career resumes, have received their HOF moment, Kramer has annually been denied.

A ten time HOF finalist, it has been nearly 20 years since Kramer last received serious HOF consideration. Some speculate that Kramer’s exclusion has been due to a glut of Packers from the 1960s. However, given that linebacker Dave Robinson became the 11th member of the 1960s Packers inducted just three years ago, that doesn’t seem totally accurate.

Given that the HOF selection committee has a history of vendettas (Ken Stabler was not selected until a year after his death), the explanation that seems more plausible has to do with Kramer’s foray into the world of journalism.

Following the 1967 season, Kramer and journalist Dick Schapp chronicled what turned out to be the last of the five championship teams of the 1960s in the award winning book Instant Replay. Two decades later, Kramer and Schapp revisited those players in the book Distant Replay.

There has been some speculation that journalists at the time resented Kramer treading into their world. In addition, because the Packers were known for their team mentality, having one player step out as a self-proclaimed spokesperson may have also created resentment.

Kramer’s on-the-field accolades would seem to unquestionably be HOF worthy. A five-time first team All-Pro offensive guard, Kramer was one of the lead blockers of the famed Packer Sweep. He also threw the lead block on one of the most famous plays of all-time to help the Packers defeat Dallas in the 1967 NFL Championship Game. In 1969 he was honored as one of the members of the NFL All-Time team for the 50th Anniversary of the league.

In recent years, his contemporaries Gene Hickerson, Billy Shaw and Dick Stanfel have received HOF selection while Kramer continues to wait for the call. Given that Stanfel is being inducted this year, slightly more than a year after his death at the age of 87, I hope the HOF Committee doesn’t wait too much longer before electing the 80-year-old Kramer.

While he is the most notable, Kramer is one of many former NFL stars who seem to have a strong case for HOF selection, especially when compared to others from their own era who have been inducted. Below is a breakdown of how some of those players compare with others from their own era who are members of the HOF.

1970s Wide Receivers:
Inducted: Lynn Swann (9 yrs, 336 receptions, 5,462 yards, 51 TD, 1 time All-Pro; Career-Highs: 61 receptions, 880 yards, 11 TDs)

Not Inducted: Drew Pearson: (11 yrs, 489 rec., 7,822 yds., 48 TD, 3 time All-Pro; Career-highs: 62 rec., 1,087 yds, 8 TD)

Cliff Branch: (14 yrs, 501 rec., 8,685 yds., 67 TD, 3 time All-Pro; Career-Highs: 60 rec., 1,111 yds., 13 TD)

Harold Jackson: (16 yrs., 579 rec, 10,372 yds., 76 TD, 1 time All-Pro; Career-Highs: 65 rec., 1,116 yds., 13 TD)

Otis Taylor: (11 yrs., 410 rec., 7,306 yds., 57 TD, 2 time All-Pro; Career-Highs: 59 rec., 1,297 yds., 11 TD)

While I have included only these four, in reality there are perhaps a dozen or more receivers who like Swann played much of their careers before the new rules started to increase the numbers for receivers in the late 1970s and are more deserving of being in the HOF than the former Pittsburgh Steeler. Read the rest of this entry →

Pro Football Hall of Fame Continues to Play Catch-up With Class of 2016 0

Posted on February 06, 2016 by Dean Hybl
There was no surprise in the selection of Brett Favre for the 2016 Pro Football Hall of Fame class.

There was no surprise in the selection of Brett Favre for the 2016 Pro Football Hall of Fame class.

Between 2000 and 2009, the selection committee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame chose for induction a grand total of 54 former player, coaches and league officials. You might think that number reflects exclusivity and ensuring only the “best of the best” are recognized with the highest honor for the sport. However, in a sport with 32 teams and more than 1,600 players every year, the reality was that the committee left a lot of deserving players waiting in the wings.

Because of that, over the last seven years the committee has been playing catch-up. Where a class of six or seven was once an exception (only nine times between 1970 and 2009), every class since 2010 has included at least six inductees and with the addition of eight new members for 2016, there have now been consecutive classes of eight for the first time since 1967 and 1968. Since 2010, 50 former players, coaches and contributors have been selected for the Hall of Fame.

I applaud the current committee for recognizing the mistakes of the past and continuing to grow the HOF, but even with their larger classes there continues to be questions and confusing decisions.

When Brett Favre finally retired (for the last time) following the 2010 season, there was little doubt that he would be a member of the 2016 Hall of Fame class. The other seven people who will join Favre in Canton this August include a few more surprises.

Perhaps the most disheartening thing about the Class of 2016 is that both of the senior selections, Dick Stanfel and Ken Stabler, are not alive to enjoy their day in the sun. Both died within a month of each other during the summer of 2015.

What is especially frustrating is that both players have been eligible for the HOF for decades and in fact had both previously been finalists.

One of my biggest disappointments with the HOF has always been the high number of former players or coaches who wait sometimes for as many as 50 years after they have retired before they get selected.

You would think that if someone is “Hall of Fame worthy” they would be inducted within a reasonable time after retirement, but unfortunately that hasn’t always been the case.
Read the rest of this entry →

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.

NFL.com 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 →

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