It is very doubtful that Pace doesn't get a phone call on the Saturday morning before Super XLIX (that's No. 49). The longtime Ram looks to be a first-ballot guy. Will voters punish him for the injury-riddled, subpar end to his career? No -- he was just too good for too many years. A three-time first-team All-Pro, Pace did a great job protecting Kurt Warner's blind side in that score-points-till-you-drop Rams' run of 1999-2001. And ultimately, Pace will join his former quarterback in the Class of 2015.
Although memories fade, those from the Colorado area swear by Randy Gradishar, and they should. The former middle linebacker didn't take long to make a difference, making the Pro Bowl in his second season in a conference that had plenty of competition at the position. While all AFC middle linebackers from this era lived in the shadow of Jack Lambert -- who also entered the league in 1974 -- that doesn't mean there weren't other Hall of Fame-caliber players at the same position. After all, Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin and Cris Carter all played wideout in the same era. The major catalyst for Gradishar could be the enduring prominence of the Broncos. If they continue winning 12 to 13 games per season over the next couple years, Denver media and fans will likely raise the question of why only a handful of Broncos are in the Hall (with zero representation from the 1977 Super Bowl team).
A Hall of Fame Finalist in both 1993 and 2012, Dick Stanfel was left at the altar. Presumably what kept him there was his short career. That said, this isn't a Terrell Davis situation. Players didn't elongate their careers back then like they do now, so seven years wasn't terribly short. Shoot, Stanfel's Hall of Fame Lions teammate, Doak Walker, played just six years. Stanfel was named first team All-Pro five times and won two NFL Championships in his short but brilliant run. One more thing: it is a nice touch when a former player is voted in while still living, like Jack Butler was last year. Stanfel would be 88 years old, young enough, I'm sure, to be thrilled to be a Hall of Famer. He closes out the Class of 2015.
Class of 2016
We're guessing you're not shocked. The NFL's all-time leader in passing yards, touchdowns and, yes, interceptions becomes eligible in 2016. Will he text pictures of joy at being inducted? We can only hope. For all the bad press and team hopping, and his penchant for the big turnover, no one can debate that Favre is a living legend of the game. He is a walk-in first-ballot Hall of Famer who deserves it ... and there's nothing overrated about him.
Christmas comes to Canton in early August 2016. Favre and T.O. being enshrined in the same class is a reality ... a probability ... let's call it a lock. Like Favre, Owens has his detractors, but at the end of the day, he walks into Canton. He'll probably still be ripped, too. This is not a player to be blocked by the wide receiver logjam, either, as Owens was clearly one of the top three players at his position -- arguably the best -- from 2000 to 2007.
The logjam of wide receivers becomes less of a logjam as voters finally put Tim Brown in the Hall of Fame. The more guys pile up numbers, the less impressive Brown's stats will become. And yet, the league's fifth all-time leading pass catcher also ranks fifth in all-purpose yards -- he was a pretty darn good returner, too. There aren't a lot of guys out there with more than 1,000 catches who also averaged 25 yards per kick return and 10 yards per punt return. In fact, there's only one, so ...
It's time. Shields is equal to offensive-line contemporaries Walter Jones and Orlando Pace, but he played guard as opposed to the prestigious left tackle position. The voters have shown a willingness to, well, show the O-line some love, as Jonathan Ogden and Larry Allen were first-ballot guys in the 2013 class. Former Steeler Dermontti Dawson and Willie Roaf -- a former teammate of Shields -- got in last year. The 12-time Pro Bowler will have his day in 2016.
18) Kevin Greene
» Defensive End/Linebacker
» 1985-92 (Los Angeles Rams), 1993-95 (Pittsburgh Steelers), 1996 (Carolina Panthers), 1997 (San Francisco 49ers), 1998-99 (Carolina Panthers)
» Hall of Fame Finalist in 2012, 2013
The dude was a pass-rushing monster, posting 160 sacks in a 15-year career -- with almost 100 of those coming when he was in his 30s. Greene never played on a Super Bowl champion, however, and some view him as a one-trick pony. Seeing his career through that prism isn't much different than staring through a wall. Meanwhile, the wall keeping the underrated Greene out of the Hall should come down over the next few years.
Kramer's name pops up in the media every year around Hall of Fame time, and every year, Packers fans are disappointed. A 10-time finalist in the voting process, Kramer has been shot down enough times to make even Andre Reed shake his head. Dave Robinson just became the 11th Vince Lombardi-era Packer to get a bust in Canton. Kramer, the author of the most famous block in NFL history and a player riding a surfer's wave of support, should become No. 12 over the next few years.
I was speaking with legendary Cowboys executive Gil Brandt at the enshrinement ceremonies over the weekend, and we both came to the conclusion that something in the football universe has gone awry. Howley must get into football's most illustrious fraternity at some point. How about the weekend prior to Super Bowl L? In the year leading up to the special anniversary Super Sunday, fans and more voters will be constantly reminded of the only player from a losing team to be named Super Bowl MVP, which he accomplished in Super Bowl V. He also played well in Super Bowl VI, which his Cowboys actually won. This five-time first-team All-Pro played at a high level through his mid-30s.