Yeah, OK, I'm a little salty. How in the heck is Charles Haley not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Anyone? Anyone?
The '90s are when Mr. Haley cemented his legacy, starting the decade with an appearance as a San Francisco 49er in the 1990 NFC Championship Game, one of the best contests ever. Haley would go on to play in four of the next five NFC title games, all as a member of the Dallas Cowboys. He is widely regarded as the man who pushed Jimmy Johnson -- also a finalist this year -- and his young football team to a pair of Lombardi Trophies (and one more after Johnson left).
Sadly, I think one of those two guys won't hear the phone ring Saturday.
» Morten Andersen, kicker
» Jerome Bettis, running back
» Tim Brown, wide receiver/returner
» Don Coryell, coach
» Terrell Davis, running back
» Tony Dungy, coach
» Kevin Greene, linebacker/defensive end
» Charles Haley, defensive end/linebacker
» Marvin Harrison, wide receiver
» Jimmy Johnson, coach
» John Lynch, safety
» Orlando Pace, offensive tackle
» Junior Seau, linebacker
» Will Shields, offensive guard
» Kurt Warner, quarterback
Plus, there are three more specially designated finalists:
» Senior Finalist: Mick Tingelhoff, center
» Contributor Finalist: Bill Polian, executive
» Contributor Finalist: Ron Wolf, executive
For a more in-depth look at those last three, click here for Tingelhoff and click here for Polian and Wolf. As for the modern-era guys ... Well, it's time for the rubber to meet the road. In advance of the official announcement at "NFL Honors" on Saturday night (9 p.m. ET, NBC), here's my best attempt at who will be part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2015:
Three who make it
Junior Seau, as detailed a few weeks back, is an absolute shoo-in. Orlando Pace is the next closest thing to a lock there is in this particular class.
Dungy completely turned around the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and won a Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts. His social impact is difficult to ignore. And now that another head coach -- John Fox -- has failed to win a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning at quarterback, perhaps Dungy's title triumph takes on more meaning.
Harrison simply has ridiculous numbers. Take your pick: 143 catches in one season, eight straight seasons with at least 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns, and the third-most catches in league history (1,102). If it's simply about stats with him, then this should be an easy choice.
Lastly, Warner's career, while not completely consistent throughout, is dotted with absolute greatness: Two NFL MVPs, one Super Bowl MVP and the accomplishment of guiding the Arizona Cardinals to a Super Bowl at age 37 -- not a bad résumé. There were many factors that contributed to Warner's middling seasons of 2002 to '06, from injuries to franchise politics.
Of Dungy, Harrison and Warner, I like the latter's candidacy the most. I'm not sure voters -- or anyone -- can completely ignore the off-field allegations that surround Harrison. And my sense is that Dungy, who received much attention in 2014 as a first-year eligible, has fallen back to the pack. If coaches like Bill Cowher (whom Dungy once worked under) and Johnson are waiting ... well, you get the picture.
OK, now that we have Seau, Pace and Warner. Do the last two spots get taken? And if so, by whom?
... and two who I think make it
After bouncing around in Arizona this week, performing a little retro study and weighing what's down the road, I like two names to emerge:
Charles Haley and Tim Brown.
Last year I pleaded Haley's case. This year, I'm encouraged. Several people I've talked with consider this class to be weak enough ("weak" being a relative term, in relation to recent classes) for Haley to push through. If voters don't feel that Harrison, Dungy and/or Warner are better than a couple of the candidates who have suffered similar fates to those of the Art Monks and Harry Carsons of the world -- being a finalist for years -- then we should see the players who have waited longer get the call. Seems fair.
Rick Gosselin, a writer for the "Dallas Morning News" and a Hall voter, thinks Haley has his best shot this year, given the lack of surefire first-ballot candidates on the finalist list. He believes that Haley's candidacy might have been hurt by a couple of low sack years. But Gosselin also noted that "once he came back from back surgery, he immediately put up 12 and 10 sacks." Haley was a disruptive force -- period. (And that includes run support, by the way.)
Brown retired with 1,094 catches, and so many people I have talked with feel like "Mr. Raider" is as quality a player as anyone on this list, with three different media guys citing the quarterbacks he played (OK, suffered) through. I worked with Tim my first year in this business, and when I spoke to him Thursday, he acknowledged the process has been a bit trying: "It's been work!" You also get the sense he has enough pride that a bust in Canton would be an honor, not a necessity. I think this is the year. Had a chat this week with former Raiders LB Kirk Morrison and he put it succinctly: "Tim Brown is an absolute Hall of Famer ... he shouldn't have to wait."
Aeneas Williams Upset Special candidates
The two guys I think could be this year's Aeneas Williams -- i.e., the guys who could surprise everyone -- are two coaches: Jimmy Johnson and Don Coryell.
The thinking here is: If you were to build a team, or even wanted to win one game, would you (or the voters) rather have Johnson or Dungy? At the very least, that answer is probably split. Talking to some of my colleagues, I can tell you they hold Johnson in higher esteem. Gosselin, who covered Johnson while in Dallas, points out that his biggest deterrent might be a scant win total.
Meanwhile, Coryell has gained momentum the last couple of years -- with his presence as a finalist this year, despite having coached his last game 29 years ago, being indicative of that. He was a true innovator, a characteristic that could trump Super Bowl wins in some voters' minds.
Another name that could surprise -- although it certainly wouldn't carry the wow-factor shock of Johnson or Coryell -- is Will Shields. Shields, of course, is in his fourth year as a finalist. Prognosticating who among the multi-time finalists could make the cut has proven to be nearly impossible over the last few years. But if Brown or Haley were to get beat out by one of the other long-waiting candidates, Shields would be my guess. If Seau is considered a slam dunk with his 12 Pro Bowls lighting up the résumé, why can't Shields -- who lit up Seau's Chargers many times in his career -- ride his 12 Pro Bowl nods up the steps in Canton? If I were a voter campaigning for the former Chiefs lineman, that is precisely what my argument would be. Guards play football, too. Just ask first-ballot Hall of Famer Larry Allen. Well, don't. He might talk about his second date with his wife.
Not this year
With Jerome Bettis being on the proverbial doorstep for the fifth straight year -- and I see him staying there -- I have a hard time seeing Terrell Davis getting the call in his first year as a finalist. I'm on the record with Davis; I feel he deserves the honor. But, as an employee of the NFL, I am currently ineligible to be a voter.
Morten Andersen, John Lynch and Kevin Greene are the only remaining names we haven't covered. Andersen certainly has a shot, considering that punter Ray Guy made it last year. However, Guy was a seniors nominee, and those candidates do not have to compete with modern-era finalists for induction.
On the subject of Lynch ... Surprisingly enough, voters haven't given safeties as much respect as you would think over the years. The last true safety to be enshrined was Ronnie Lott, all the way back in 2000. So besides merely competing with the phenomenal players in this finalist group, Lynch faces a whole different kind of uphill battle, as well.
Lastly, Greene racked up 160 sacks -- the third-highest total in NFL history. But he has two things working against him when it comes to Hall enshrinement: 1) He is somewhat viewed as a hired mercenary (he played for four different teams, including two separate stints with the Panthers); and 2) he doesn't have the hardware of a Charles Haley or Michael Strahan or ... you get the point.
One final thought: Let's get some Hall love for ...
Lastly, here is a public mention for Chuck Howley. The longtime Dallas Cowboys linebacker played until he was 37 years old, was a five-time first-team All-Pro and is still the only player from a losing team to be named Super Bowl MVP. Howley was an all-around player who often performed at a higher level in the postseason, especially later in his career. His three Super Bowl interceptions are tied for most all time. Oh, and he's in the Cowboys Ring of Honor with a bunch of Hall of Famers -- guys named Aikman, Dorsett, Staubach -- again, you get it. Give him a look, Seniors Committee.