The Pro Football Hall of Fame is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2013. To commemorate this milestone, NFL Media historian Elliot Harrison is picking his Hall of Fame 50th Anniversary Team. Selecting from the pool of more than 200 players voted into Canton, Ohio, there are sure to be disagreements. Hit up Elliot at @Harrison_NFL to share your opinion.
When a guy has been referred to many times as the greatest player of the NFL's first 50 years, you'd figure his name would resonate on the sports landscape, like Babe Ruth or Stan Musial. Unfortunately for Baugh, and despite the immense popularity of the NFL, that just hasn't happened. Not only was Baugh the NFL's greatest quarterback before the days of Otto Graham and Johnny Unitas, but he was also a solid safetyman who once intercepted 11 passes in a season. However, this slot has nothing to do with either of those roles. Baugh was as good a punter as this league has ever seen -- a fact that remains true to this day. His 45.1-yard average is second among retired players to Glenn Dobbs, who only kicked in the AAFC (which later merged with the NFL) and didn't have Baugh's sample size. Baugh's 51.4-yard mark in 1940 is still the highest of all time. (No, that figure has not been Lechler-ized.) Baugh was simply a football player in every respect, leading the league in passing, interceptions and punting in 1943. He led the Redskins to two NFL titles (1937, 1942), with his leg playing a big role.
Competition at special teams: There isn't much special teams recognition in Canton, but that doesn't mean Baugh didn't have competition. Gale Sayers was the most dynamic returner in league history. Yes, even over fellow Bear Devin Hester. The "Kansas Comet" averaged over 14 yards per punt return in his career, which is awesome in and of itself. But his 30.6 yards per kick return is No. 1 all time. Perhaps most impressively, Sayers took eight punts/kicks to the house, despite only 118 combined returns. That equals a score every 15 returns. Hester? One every 24.5. Jan Stenerud was an exceptional kicker for 19 years, and remains the only kicking specialist to be inducted into the Hall. Lou Groza was a true rarity -- an offensive tackle who kicked for 21 seasons. He booted the game-winning field goal in the 1950 NFL Championship. "Bullet" Bob Hayes primarily made the Hall due to his work at wide receiver, but he was a great punt returner who averaged 20.8 yards per pop in 1968.
This selection probably doesn't come as much of a surprise. It shouldn't. After all, the Super Bowl trophy bears Lombardi's name, and for good reason. The Packers won five titles in nine years under the iconic coach. (That includes three NFL championships and each of the first two Super Bowls.) He never had a losing campaign, and that includes a one-year stint in Washington when he took over a club that hadn't posted a winning record in 14 seasons. Not to mention, the Packers team he inherited in 1959 was fresh off a 1-10-1 season. With essentially that same group -- remember, there was no free agency in those days -- Lombardi went 7-5 in Year 1, and made the NFL Championship in Year 2. And then the Packers simply won it all the next two seasons after that (1961 and '62). If the 13-1 '62 Packers were anointed the greatest team of all time, most historians wouldn't put up too much of a fuss. Moreover, his methods of leadership have inspired coaches across the sporting landscape.
Competition at head coach:Bill Walsh springs to mind. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993, Walsh is credited with revolutionizing the passing game. More than that, he won a staggering three Super Bowls in only 10 years at the helm in San Francisco. Don Shula retired with the most wins in NFL history at 347, a mark that still stands today. His coaching career spanned from 1963 to 1995, and in that time he had two losing seasons, while winning two Super Bowls and participating in four more. Tom Landry led the Dallas Cowboys to 20 straight winning seasons, making five Super Bowl appearances in the 1970s. Also, he's credited with perfecting the 4-3 defense during his time as defensive coordinator for the New York Giants (when Lombardi was the offensive coordinator). Chuck Noll coached the Steelers for 23 years, winning four Super Bowls in the process. George Halas spearheaded the Bears for FORTY years, winning the NFL Championship in 1933, 1940, 1941, 1943, 1946 and 1963. (He also won an unofficial championship game in 1932.) Paul Brown is yet another giant, changing the way offensive football was played while leading the Browns to 10 straight championship-game appearances from 1946-55. One Brown innovation you can see every Sunday: the passer's pocket.
Although Rozelle worked for the Los Angeles Rams prior to being elected NFL commissioner, we are highlighting his stewardship of the league over three decades -- three decades that saw pro football eclipse college football, boxing and, most notably, baseball, as America's most popular sport. To think this development happened by itself, or by virtue of the supremacy of football over other sports, would be a grave error. Even in his first year as commish at 33, Rozelle realized the key to growth would be having strength from top to bottom. He worked diligently toward complete revenue sharing -- particularly television revenue -- so that every member club would have a chance. Now, Rozelle didn't create the concept of revenue sharing, but his implementation of the model to gate receipts and stadium revenue made all clubs financially viable, and thus able to compete equitably. Rozelle is largely credited for the negotiation of television contracts that would ultimately be the clout behind the NFL's financial model. A New York Times Magazine article in 1984 illustrated his legacy well by describing how he took control of a league in 1960 that had 12 modestly valued teams run from a suburban Philadelphia bank ... and transformed it into an immensely popular, 28-team operation based out of headquarters on Park Avenue, with clubs being worth about 20 times more than they were when he took over. He presided over the league in its period of ascension, helping to usher in a number of key changes: expanding the schedule from 12 games, playing on Monday night and adding expansion teams like the Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Competition at contributor:Lamar Hunt created the American Football League, the most successful counter to an established professional sports league in the 20th century. The Hunt family still owns the Kansas City Chiefs, which won Super Bowl IV, and enters its 54th season in 2013. Tex Schramm's leadership of the Dallas Cowboys, use of computer technology to enhance scouting and incredible eye for marketing cannot be understated. Schramm and Hunt were the principal players in forging the AFL-NFL Merger. George Halas created, owned and played for the Chicago Bears, while being a major force behind the foundation of the National Football League in 1920. There have been so many contributors to the incredible success and legacy of the NFL, from former commissioner Bert Bell to the Mara and Rooney families. Still, Rozelle stands alone, which is why The Sporting News rated him as the most powerful person in sports back in 1999.