On Saturday, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2018 was announced, with Ray Lewis, Randy Moss, Brian Dawkins, Brian Urlacher, Terrell Owens, Bobby Beathard, Robert Brazile and Jerry Kramer getting the nod. Elliot Harrison breaks down the latest crop of legends headed to Canton below:
1) The Terrell Owens debate is settled
We can say goodbye to the rancor and consternation over Terrell Owens not being on the Canton guest list. Most sports Hall of Fame discussions not involving Barry Bonds over the last couple of years have been T.O.-centric. That is largely because of his dominance on the field and the numbers he boasted in an era during which fantasy football exploded. That said, I spoke with several voters who didn't vote for him in his previous two years as a finalist, including a couple who weren't planning to change their minds this time -- that's why I didn't predict Owens getting in this year.
The main reason to argue against his induction was the "team cancer" argument, with five teams supposedly being more than happy to see Owens leave town over the course of his career. While I see the spirit of that point, facts don't really care about the spirit of anything anymore, right? Sure, the Eagles felt Owens was partially responsible for ripping their locker room in half. The Cowboys endured their own troubles with him, as well. But Philadelphia's best team of the Super Bowl era came in Owens' first season with the team. And, despite a sometimes rocky run in Dallas, the man did catch 38 touchdown passes in three years there. The other organizations cited by those in the anti-Owens' bloc simply don't pass the smell test, or at least their version of it. Owens was at the end of the line in Cincy in 2010, with the Bengals starting over on offense the next year with Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. The exit from Buffalo came off a one-year deal to put butts in the seats. And as my colleague Steve Mariucci said of his former player's tenure in San Francisco, How many star players play more than eight seasons with one team anymore? Thankfully, we don't have to suffer through the Why isn't T.O. in the Hall? garbage ever again.
2) The lock and the virtual lock
If there was one member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2018 who was almost guaranteed to get in, it was Ray Lewis. Winning Defensive Player of the Year twice, plus a Super Bowl MVP, coupled with incredible longevity at a demanding position made his inclusion not only merited, but obvious. You can almost say the same about Randy Moss, although the backers of a certain controversial contemporary of Moss' (with nearly the exact same numbers) would have thrown up in their 49ers koozies if Moss had waltzed right through Canton's doors in his first year of eligibility while said controversial contemporary continued to wait. There are also those who have called out Moss for taking plays off, as he admitted to doing as a young player. Then again, scaring the crap out of defensive coordinators trumps taking a few running downs off. Leroy Hoard would have gained 3 yards whether or not Moss whiffed on his block, right? (You're right: Moe Williams would've gained 4.)
3) Surprise, surprise, surprise
Well, I don't know if Brian Urlacher was a "Gomer Pyle" guy, but even he must've been a little surprised when he heard he was receiving pro football's highest honor in his first year of eligibility. There didn't seem to be a great push for the former Bears middle linebacker, unlike Owens. Not to mention everyone in the know agreed that Lewis was a certainty. Sometimes it's harder to get two players of the same position group in the Hall at the same time (especially when it's as specific as middle linebacker). This is in no way to suggest that the eight-time Pro Bowler and former Defensive Player of the Year (2005) isn't deserving. Yet, in our current era, where fans and the media alike crave sacks from their linebackers, the traditional Mike 'backer in the 4-3 has lost some shine. You can thank all the spread formations and sub-packages (and the sub-packages of those sub-packages) for that trend. Urlacher was every bit as good as Bobby Wagner, Luke Kuechly and Sean Lee.
4) The long, strange odyssey of Jerry Kramer
Perhaps no player not in the Hall of Fame has had his exclusion discussed more than Jerry Kramer over the years. You thought Andre Reed had to wait? Man, Kramer hung up his cleats in Green Bay some 50 years ago. And it's not because he is some obscure dude who played middle guard on the 1926 Rochester Jeffersons. Kramer was a well-known player on the Lombardi Packers, the franchise that dominated the 1960s NFL, while their head coach's name adorns the trophy Nick Foles (?) will be hoisting Sunday. Anyway, Kramer's name was first tossed around the voter's room decades ago. He's been a finalist 11 times -- 11! Yet, 2018 marked the first time he was a finalist in over 20 years. Talk about an uphill battle with voters. Ross Perot got more love. Following the 1969 season, the NFL named its 50th anniversary team. Kramer had been the only member of that elite group without a bust in Canton. Needless to say, this announcement provides relief for the former All-Pro guard and his family, not to mention voters who have heard (and read) about his omission for years. Good for him.
While we're here, a hearty congratulations to both the other senior finalist, Robert Brazile, and contributor Bobby Beathard. As Doug Farrar tweeted, Brazile was one of the first star players in a 3-4 system, with his Oilers being among the very first teams to employ that defense, while playing in their own style (the Bum Phillips 3-4). Many know Beathard as the architect of the Redskins' Super Bowl teams of the 1980s. Yet, often overlooked is the time he spent with Don Shula and the Dolphins, helping to build the nucleus of a Miami squad that won back-to-back Super Bowls in the 1972 and '73 seasons.
5) Encouraging ... and discouraging
Call it wonderful that three of the modern-era inductees come from the defensive side of the ball (in addition to senior finalist Brazile), with Brian Dawkins joining Lewis and Urlacher. Analytics have ascended in our era to the point that the eye test is often questioned -- even retroactively. Interested observers are so numbers-centric now that people look at the numbers of Bob Griese or Troy Aikman and ponder whether they deserve to be so revered. Winning matters, as does how you play the game, and anyone who saw Dawkins play knew he was an impact player. That's the great news ...
... while we're on the subject of stats, did you know that the ratio of offensive to defensive players in the Hall of Fame is roughly 2:1? While that indicates the bias toward statistically flashier resumes (specifically with regard to yards, touchdowns and the like) has been in play for decades, it can be corrected. That's why it was frustrating to not see finalists Ty Law or Everson Walls be inducted. First of all, Law carries stats -- 53 of them, in fact. He picked off 53 balls and took seven to the house. He intercepted 2003 NFL co-MVP Peyton Manning three times in the AFC Championship Game that season, while his pick-six in Super Bowl XXXVI changed the tenor of that contest. Walls, meanwhile, intercepted 57 balls himself while being the only CB to ever lead the league three times. If league observers say Moss was a Hall of Famer as a rookie, based on his 17 touchdown receptions, what of Walls, who picked off 11 passes in his first season, a feat that hasn't been matched since by anybody?
If we are to glorify the men who catch the ball -- Moss and Owens -- what about the best in the business at covering them? And ask any GM or coach which position they think is harder. OK, rant done.