This weekend brings the enshrinement of seven new members into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Throughout my years in football, I've collected stories and anecdotes about each person in the Class of 2013. With the ceremonies on the horizon, let's get to it!
In November 1993, I was chairman of the selection committee for the East-West Shrine Game, and I invited Allen -- who was a standout player at Sonoma State -- to participate in the game the following January. Allen had a pre-practice physical, as all invitees did, and I remember that he had stab marks on his body, the result of a rough childhood in Compton, Calif. It was hard to believe he survived. Now, as he gets ready to be enshrined, he's requested that a scar from a similar wound on his forehead be included on his official bust.
The thing that was amazing about him is that he didn't really play organized football until he was 15 years old -- and he went on to be named to the NFL All-Decade teams for the 1990s and 2000s. That's a rare feat. Allen had great strength, even though he never lifted prior to attending Butte Junior College. He also had top-notch speed when he entered the NFL.
Both of those traits were on display in one famous play that came in a Monday night game against the New Orleans Saints in 1994, Allen's rookie year. Darion Conner had intercepted a pass from Troy Aikman, and it looked like he was headed for an easy touchdown -- until Allen ran him down and tackled him. You talk about a signature play, that was a signature play. Allen was so strong, so athletic and so competitive, it was just hard to believe.
I got to know Carter personally in May of 1986, when he was named to the Playboy Preseason All-America Team, which I helped pick for many years. Carter participated in the weekend celebration that came with being named to the team.
When you spend three days with a person, you get a good idea about who they are, and Carter showed that he was a great competitor that weekend. The guys on the team would play these games during the weekend, like trying to stay on a mechanical bucking bronco, and he probably got on that horse more times than anyone I remember. Initially, he was thrown off in three seconds. But eventually, he could stay on for three minutes. If it had been a real horse, Carter would have brought it to its knees.
Carter was a great high school basketball player, and he almost quit football to concentrate on hoops. His football coach saved him from doing that by convincing him he could play both sports.
He had outstanding hands; they were so soft, you could hardly hear the ball hit them. For 10 seasons, from 1991 to 2000, he led the NFC in third-down catches. His speed in the 40-yard dash (4.63 seconds) was just slightly above average for the receiver position at the time, but he managed to make more big plays than highly regarded contemporaries Tim Brown and Andre Reed. He might have been the best ever at catching sideline passes while keeping his feet in-bounds.
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I remember Culp well from his playing days, starting with his time at Arizona State under Frank Kush. With the Kansas City Chiefs, Culp was part of one of the best defensive teams ever. He's the fifth member (joining Bobby Bell, Buck Buchanan, Willie Lanier and Emmitt Thomas) of that unit to make the Hall.
Culp was an NCAA-champion wrestler at ASU, and I think his wrestling background helped him a great deal in the NFL. Most good wrestlers have the quickness and strength to excel at football, and that was certainly true of Culp. He wasn't a pass rusher, but he was almost unblockable on running plays. In Super Bowl IV, Culp destroyed Minnesota Vikings center Mick Tingelhoff; he was completely responsible for shutting down the Vikes' offense that day.
In 1974, he became a full-time nose tackle, marking the first time we had such a thing in the NFL. That year, Culp was traded from Kansas City to the Houston Oilers, and helped his new team turn things around after a horrendous 1-5 start. He then went on to have a great season in 1975, earning Defensive Player of the Year honors after notching 11.5 sacks. That's a big deal for a nose tackle; it's the equivalent of a 30-sack season for a pass-rushing defensive end.
Ogden is another guy I came to know via my involvement with the Playboy All-America Team. When he did athletic things, it was like, "Wow, no one can be this big and fast."
He's a prime example of why it's usually better to draft according to ability rather than perceived need. When the Baltimore Ravens made him the fourth overall pick in 1996, they were thought to desperately need a running back. But if they had gone in that direction, they would have missed out on a gentle giant who dominated the trenches for the next 12 seasons (making the Pro Bowl every year but his rookie campaign).
Incidentally, the 1996 NFL Draft was the first one at which we had players answering questions via the Internet, and Ogden insisted on typing every answer himself. He didn't want anybody to do it for him -- though eventually his mother took over.
I go back a long way with Bill Parcells. Back in the early 1960s, I was on a scouting trip to the University of Wichita (now Wichita State University) when I was introduced to Parcells by his college coach, Hank Foldberg. I remember Foldberg telling me that Parcells, a linebacker at the school, was the smartest player he'd ever coached.
Over the years that we've known each other, I've never received a call from his secretary -- only from the man himself. It's unusual that someone in his capacity would not use a secretary.
One time, while he was coaching the Cowboys, he called to ask if I would speak to Greg Ellis, who was apprehensive about making a position change. Another time, before a preseason matchup between the Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers in 2006, he called me and said, "Are you going to the game tonight?" When I told him I was, he said, "Look at No. 25 for me and tell me what you think of him and who he reminds you of." The player in question was Pat Watkins, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound safety out of Florida State. The player he reminded me of? Don Burroughs, another tall (6-4) and skinny (190 pounds) defensive back who was known as "The Blade" when he played in the late 1950s and early '60s.
I've never been around anyone who understands all the phases of the game -- everything from on-field stuff to the salary cap -- like Parcells. He had specific criteria for every position, even kick returners: He wanted guys with strong legs to field kicks.
On more than one occasion, I've gone out with Parcells and college basketball icon Bobby Knight -- some great storytelling moments, to say the least. Parcells is a special person and a special friend.
Robinson was a cerebral player who was very good against the run as a strong-side linebacker, truly one of the great linebackers to ever play in the NFL. In particular, I remember one time when he out-positioned Hall of Fame tight end Mike Ditka; Ditka shifted out to try to get a better blocking angle on Robinson, but Robinson countered in such a way that Ditka had no way to stop him. I also remember Robinson forcing Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith to throw an interception in the last minute of the 1966 NFC Championship Game -- on a play that Green Bay had never seen before. As a result, Green Bay went to Super Bowl I and Dallas went home.
Sapp's trademark was his quickness for the position. He had 16.5 sacks in 2000, which was unheard of for a defensive tackle, and finished with 96.5 for his career. He was a great competitor and a great trash talker.
He didn't play much as a rookie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1995, but that changed when Tony Dungy arrived to coach in '96. Along with Derrick Brooks and John Lynch, Sapp served as a catalyst for change in Tampa Bay, a key part of Dungy's Tampa 2 defense. (And by the way, it's only a matter of time before Brooks and Lynch join Sapp in Canton.)