Matt Forte is my favorite Bears player of all time. My dad had Gale Sayers and Walter Payton -- I have Forte. When Forte recently retired, I marched to my editor's office (actually, Slacked my editor at his cubicle) and demanded (meekly requested) that I get to write the definitive "Matt Forte should be in the Hall of Fame" piece.
No player in the last 10 seasons has had more scrimmage yards than Forte's 14,468. He had more than 100 receptions in 2014. He's one of just nine players ever to have at least 1,000 scrimmage yards in each of his first nine seasons. So I thought I was all set.
But much like the Bears on a trip to Lambeau Field, I was defeated. (Well, except for that one time Chicago beat Green Bay on Brett Favre's number-retirement night on Thanksgiving, know what I'm saying???) Still, we did end up having a pretty fun discussion about the best players on every team who will never be in the Hall of Fame.
Here's the thing: Sometimes your favorite player is not going to make it to the Hall of Fame. Like, just look at all of those Yankees fans still pissed Don Mattingly isn't in Cooperstown. I won't concede that Forte is never getting a bust (let me have my dreams, damn it), but since we're on the subject, here are the best players from every NFL team who will not get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They were great. Enjoy them. Retire their number. But they ain't donning that gold jacket.
Note: Years in parentheses denote time spent with the specified team.
ARIZONA CARDINALS: QB Jim Hart (1966-1983). Hart was a four-time Pro Bowler whose career really took off once Don Coryell became head coach in 1973. While I have you: Put Coryell in the Hall of Fame, please.
BALTIMORE RAVENS: LB Peter Boulware (1997-2005). Overlooked on a great defense. Don't sleep on what Boulware contributed to that team, though. He was an unsung hero, like LeBron James in "Trainwreck" or whatnot.
BUFFALO BILLS: RB Joe Cribbs (1980-85). Cribbs was the perfect bridge from O.J. Simpson to Thurman Thomas. Might have had a shot at the Hall if he didn't jump to the USFL in the mid-1980s. Thanks, Trump.
CAROLINA PANTHERS: LB Sam Mills (1995-97). Mills is the only player in club history to have his number retired. (Though I feel 89 is not far behind.) His inspirational battle with cancer and his "keep pounding" mantra have fueled the Panthers.
CHICAGO BEARS: QB Jim McMahon (1982-88). OK, despite Matt Forte serving as the inspiration of this piece, I'm actually not closing the door on him yet. Devin Hester is in. So, I'll pick McMahon, because he's the best Bears quarterback of my lifetime, ahead of Jay Cutler and Walter Payton. I know what I wrote.
DALLAS COWBOYS: WR Drew Pearson (1973-1983). I should add the caveat that Pearson might start getting some consideration if he continues to kill the alumni selection at the NFL draft every year. Because honestly, that's how the Hall of Fame works. But he was the best receiver on the Cowboys in the 1970s, and the original No. 88.
DENVER BRONCOS: WR Rod Smith (1995-2006). He's better than some of the guys currently in the Hall -- cough Tim Brown cough. Smith topped 100 receptions in both the 2000 and 2001 seasons, including a league-high 113 in '01.
GREEN BAY PACKERS: WR Donald Driver*(1999-2012)*. I think we can all acknowledge Sterling Sharpe was amazing and would have walked in if not for the neck injury. But give some love to Driver, who also established himself as one of the top receivers for a franchise that has had some damn good ones.
HOUSTON TEXANS: RB Arian Foster (2009-2015). You might think I picked Foster because of my extensive background in fantasy football. And you'd be right.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: C Jeff Saturday (1999-2011). We're hoping Edgerrin James is going to get in at some point. But what about the man up front who started everything?
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: DE Neil Smith (1988-1996). The 104.5 career sacks (85.5 of which came in K.C.) are nice. But let's be honest, we all remember the sack celebration in which he mimicked George Brett's home-run swing. And I'm a huge George Brett mark, so there you go.
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS: DE Leslie O'Neal (1986-1995). He was overshadowed by Junior Seau during their time together, but dude was legit. Had at least 12 sacks in seven of his nine seasons in San Diego and was a Pro Bowler six times. Or the same number of times as Dan Fouts. Just saying.
LOS ANGELES RAMS: WR Flipper Anderson (1988-1994). Prolific in a time when receivers weren't putting up the kinds of gaudy numbers they are now. Even saying that, Anderson had 336 receiving yards in one game against the Saints in 1989. That's more yards than Terrelle Pryor had in eight games last year.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS: DE Jim Marshall (1961-1979). Oh man -- I hate to believe one ill-fated play (running the ball like 60 yards the other way for a touchdown safety) would keep somebody from the Hall of Fame. But here we are.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: LB Willie McGinest (1994-2005). Anybody who ever doubts how great McGinest is needs to go back and watch the 2005 AFC Wild Card Game against the Jaguars, when he had 4.5 sacks.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: LB Pat Swillling (1986-1992).The Dome Patrol was amazing. His 1991 season, when he was Defensive Player of the Year and had 17 sacks, is still talked about to this day in New Orleans.
NEW YORK JETS: DE Joe Klecko (1977-1987). Klecko was overshadowed during his time with the Jets by the flamboyant Mark Gastineau, but on the down low, he was the legit better one. So he was the Noel Gallagher of the New York Sack Exchange.
OAKLAND RAIDERS: Coach Tom Flores (1979-1987). Pop quiz: Who has more Super Bowl wins as a head coach, John Madden or Flores? Of course it's Flores. Why else would I have asked? Flores has long deserved to be in the Hall of Fame. I feel bad for giving in to defeat. But it's time to be a realist. I've seen the voters.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: QB Randall Cunningham (1985-95). Man, I would argue Cunningham was one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history. He was, unfortunately, too far ahead of the game. But I will say, if he doesn't get hurt in 1991, the Eagles get back to back Super Bowl titles. Of this, I have no doubt.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS: RB Jerome Bettis (1996-2005). Another example of a player who was fun. Became a local legend. Had a rad nickname. But he's not a Hall of Famer. Wait, what's that? He's in the Hall of Fame? You have to be (pooping) me. Find me one person in this world who would take Bettis over Forte. This is why I won't give up on Forte!
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: RB Shaun Alexander (2000-07). Alexander had double-digit touchdowns in five consecutive seasons, including 27 in his MVP campaign in 2005. And sure, his career sort of cratered after that season. But what a magical ride it was.
TENNESSEE TITANS: QB Steve McNair (1995-2005). Take a moment and think about how great McNair was as an NFL player. Now realize that he did this with Jeff Fisher as his head coach. He might be the greatest of all time.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS: T Joe Jacoby (1981-1993). Dude was filthy. I would, at some point, just like to see all of the Hogs inducted into the Hall of Fame as one group. Like how the WWE inducted the Four Horsemen. But you know, that will never happen.