Some 53 years ago, the Pro Football Hall of Fame had some making up to do. The NFL had been around for over 40 years at that point, and it was time to produce the first class of legends.
Jim Thorpe needed a bust. Red Grange, too. How about Slingin' Sammy Baugh, perhaps the greatest player of the first half-century of pro football?
Here we are, a half-century later, and there is still a backlog of all-timers waiting for their names to be called. Kevin Greene and his six billion sacks are waiting. Kurt Warner has waited one year for each NFL MVP award he owns (two). And then there are those newbies, like Brett Favre, who certainly deserve to walk into football's ultimate club and order bottle service.
First, here are the 15 modern-era finalists, presented in alphabetical order:
Morten Andersen, Steve Atwater, Don Coryell, Terrell Davis, Tony Dungy, Alan Faneca, Brett Favre, Kevin Greene, Marvin Harrison, Joe Jacoby, Edgerrin James, John Lynch, Terrell Owens, Orlando Pace and Kurt Warner.
1) Brett Favre, quarterback: I don't see any way the 20-year vet fails to get the necessary votes. Favre is as strong a lock as any of the eligible players whose names turned up on the Hall's list of nominees and is virtually guaranteed to receive 100 percent of the vote. Forget the stats. Or the NFL MVP awards (all three of them). When your name is synonymous with toughness among fellow players, you are a Hall of Famer. Starting 297 straight regular-season games under center is a testament to that aspect of Favre.
2) Kevin Greene, linebacker: Last year was cleanup time for the Hall voters, as longtime finalists Jerome Bettis, Tim Brown, Charles Haley and Will Shields all finally were ushered into the ranks of pro football's elite in Canton. Greene racked up almost 100 sacks after turning 30. I've written that line several times before. So basically, I'm saying I shouldn't have to type it anymore. If a player has been a finalist five times, it's time.
3) Tony Dungy, coach: This is where the prognosticating becomes tougher. Dungy has gotten close the last couple of years, and from the voters I've spoken with, it's a matter of time ... and not a matter of career résumé. The man who turned around the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and won a Super Bowl while with the Indianapolis Colts is often disparaged by some fans as never being a top-five coach. But it's hard to argue with a pedigree that includes 11 postseason appearances in 13 years.
4) Marvin Harrison, wide receiver: Two Colts in the same class? Difficult proposition, but here's the thinking: With Owens eligible and Randy Moss coming down the pike, Harrison has to make it soon. As much as Antonio Brown's productivity is lauded, it should be noted that he still hasn't eclipsed Harrison's single-season record of 143 catches. Consider also that Harrison has more career receptions (1,102) than Owens (1,078), Moss (982) and Tim Brown (1,094). Peyton Manning making it to the Super Bowl should help bring that 2006 Colts team -- the won that won Super Bowl XLI -- to the forefront on Saturday.
5) Orlando Pace, offensive tackle: Taking Pace over Warner here because of the consistency of his overall career. There are two ways to look at this: Warner made the "Greatest Show on Turf" offense go, but Pace kept him from getting waylaid, so that Warner could do it. With contemporaries Jonathan Ogden (Class of 2013) and Walter Jones (Class of 2014) riding in on the first-ballot train, maybe Pace was too big to fit. In their primes, those three left tackles were on par with each other.
Not this year, but likely 2017 or 2018
Terrell Owens, wide receiver: I would be shocked if Owens doesn't get inducted by 2017. Ranking second all-time in career receiving yards (15,934) and third in receiving touchdowns (153) should make this a no-brainer.
Terrell Davis, running back: The de-emphasis on the run game is great for Davis' candidacy, as his rushing numbers, which were limited by his shortened career, don't look quite as small as they once might have. Davis' per-game postseason rushing mark (142.5 yards) can only be overlooked for so long.
Morten Andersen, kicker: Andersen must be included sooner than later. With the kicking game making such an impact, how do you leave out the NFL's all-time leading scorer?
Alan Faneca, offensive guard: It's easy to overlook a guard. Voters shouldn't, and won't. There aren't many six-time first-team All-Pros waiting for that call, especially in the modern era.
Wait a bit longer ...
You can make an argument for Edgerrin James (running back), Steve Atwater (safety) and Joe Jacoby (offensive tackle). As with Davis, the dearth of fantastic running backs coming down the pike should lead to James' inclusion in due time. The man did rush for over 12,000 yards. Atwater made eight Pro Bowls in 10 years with the Broncos, and he owns two rings that even Gollum hasn't managed to get to, while Jacoby earned three on a Redskins team known for its stalwart offensive line.
A note on the senior and contributor finalists
Ken Stabler (quarterback) and Dick Stanfel (guard) have been nominated by the Seniors Committee this time around. I would be shocked if Stabler, the 1974 NFL MVP and owner of the highest passer rating in 1976 (103.4), failed to make it in ... especially after all the discussion of his career following his unfortunate passing last summer. Stanfel might not be a shoo-in, but getting two seniors in has not been an issue in the past. The former All-Pro guard is a link to the fantastic Lions teams of the early 1950s.
As far as the contributor finalist, look for former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. to walk into Canton. This category was created in 2014, and I have a hard time seeing someone turned down in the infancy of this specialized Hall slot. Especially given the struggles of the current 49ers ownership in regards to Jim Harbaugh's departure and the club's dismal 2015 campaign, which certainly can't hurt DeBartolo's viability.