Sunday, February 6, 2011

NFL Announces Pro Football Hall of Fame Selections; Faulk, Sanders and Sharpe Lead Class of 2011

It was announced on Saturday, February 5th, 2011 which, of a number of great players that were eligible to be voted in to the Hall of Fame, would be given the call to Canton, Ohio.  The list consisted of many great players who were coming into their first year of eligibility for the hall.  The newest members to become eligible, and those who have played in the modern era of pro football, first had to be selected as finalists to enter the second round of voting that decides who made the Hall of Fame.  Ten finalists were chosen out of 15 modern-era candidates but only a maximum of five out of those ten modern-era players could be selected for induction.  In addition to those modern-era players, two senior selections were also eligible for a call to the hall. This year was nearly impossible for voters to choose with more worthy candidates in a single year than has been seen in a number of years. Here's a breakdown of those who were eligible for selection on Saturday, starting with those who made the final selection for induction:

Marshall Faulk
Marshall Faulk's 19,154 yards from scrimmage is only bested by NFL elite Hall of Fame players Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton

Marshall Faulk was one of two players that most NFL observers had as slam-dunks for the NFL Hall of Fame on their first ballot in 2011 and it seems the voters overwhelmingly decided that would be the case.  Looking at Faulk's career, which spanned 13 seasons with both the Colts and Rams, an argument for him not making the Hall of Fame is impossible.

Faulk is one of only three players(Marcus Allen and Tiki Barber) to amass 10,000 rushing yards and 5,000 receiving yards in a career.  He's the only one to have 12,000 and 6,000.  Faulk had 5 games with 250+ yards from scrimmage and 14 games with 200+ yards from scrimmage, both NFL records.  He's the only player in NFL history to record 70+ rushing touchdowns and 30+ receiving touchdowns in a career.

He is one of only four players in league history to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, Offensive Player of the Year(3 times) and NFL MVP.  The others are Earl Campbell, Barry Sanders, and Marcus Allen, all of whom are in the Hall of Fame already.  Add all of that to a Super Bowl Championship in 1999 with the Rams and the case for Faulk to be a first ballot inductee is impossible to refute.

Deion Sanders
Deion Sanders' multi-sport ability inspired this 1992 Upper Deck brand sports card when he played for both the Braves and Falcons in Atlanta

Deion Sanders, well known for his on-field theatrics, high-stepping into the endzone and celebrating touchdowns with his patented dance, was equally as well known for his grace, impossibly instant change of direction, ball catching skills and feared top speed.  He made his name on defense but was equally as dangerous as a punt return man for a number of years with the Atlanta Falcons before he left for San Francisco, then Dallas, Washington, and eventually a final short stint with the Baltimore Ravens.

"Primetime," as he was well known as by self-proclamation, was the first of a rare breed of cornerback that invented the term, "shut-down corner".  Only a few have been given this distinction in recent years, such as Green Bay Packers' corner Charles Woodson, Jets' corner Darrelle Revis and the Oakland Raiders, Nnamdi Asomugha.  Deion was the first though and arguably no one in NFL history has played the position more dominantly than Deion did in his career.  Teams would make entire offensive schemes in their passing game around him and they could count on whoever he was covering to get blanked on catches for the day most times.  He became so feared by quarterbacks in the NFL that he would often finish seasons with only a couple of interceptions on the year for the lack of opportunities to make them because he'd only get one or two balls thrown his way in an entire game.

What was most impressive about Deion was his athletic versatility.  He not only was an outstanding NFL standout coming into the pro's from Florida State University, he was also a well accomplished baseball player.  Drafted by the New York Yankees and playing a couple of seasons for them, he eventually made a deal to play for the Atlanta Braves so he could play for both the Braves and Atlanta Falcons.  He would eventually retire from baseball after playing seasons with the Giants and Reds before his NFL career was over.

 In his brilliant career that spanned 15 years in the NFL, Deion had a highly respectable 53 interceptions for an astounding 1,331 yards; a 25.6 yards per interception return average that is easily the greatest in NFL history of those with at least twenty interceptions.  Sanders also had 22 touchdowns in his career(19 on punt and interception returns); the most of any primarily defensive player in NFL history.  Like Faulk, you just can't make a case against Sanders.  He was an easy vote for the pro football Hall of Fame voting board.

Shannon Sharpe
Covering Shannon Sharpe was an impossible task because he was too fast for linebackers and had too much size for defensive backs

It was to great surprise that it took Shannon Sharpe his third year of eligibility before he was finally selected for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  Sharpe could very easily be considered the greatest tight end to have ever played the game.  He forever changed the position when he came into the league in 1990 when he started dominating the field as a pass catcher rather than a blocker as the tight end position was always thought of as a primarily blocking position and only a passing outlet if all else failed on a play.  Sharpe changed the mentality of making the tight end an outlet to being the primary option on many plays.

Excellent hands and an ability to stretch the field with his 6'2" 225 lb. body was something never seen before Shannon Sharpe and is still rarely seen today.  Only the likes of today's top tight ends Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzales are comparable in their ability to be dominant in the passing game.  Although he made catching the ball famous for tight ends, he was an unsung hero of the Broncos' famously effective zone-blocking scheme that made a 1,000 yard rusher out of anyone you put behind the Broncos' line and a 2,000 yard rusher out of Terrell Davis in 1998.

Sharpe, the brother of former Green Bay Packer and NFL star Sterling Sharpe, who's career ended well too soon due to severe injury, not only made his case for the pro football Hall of Fame with his 10,060 yards, 815 receptions and 62 touchdowns, but further solidified his case being an integral statistical and team leader for three Super Bowl winning teams.  He won back-to-back titles with John Elway and the Denver Broncos in '97 and '98 but joined the Baltimore Ravens and was the teams regular season leading receiver on another Super Bowl champion team in 2000.  Sharpe should not have had to wait until his third year to be selected, however, at least he is now in the Hall of Fame where a player of his caliber belongs.

Richard Dent
Richard Dent has the sixth most sacks in NFL history and had quite possibly the greatest defensive postseason in NFL history in 1985 where he recorded 6 sacks and 3 forced fumbles on his way to Super Bowl XX MVP honors

For six years before this year, Richard Dent waited to get the call to hear that he was receiving pro football's highest individual honor and for each of those six years, Dent was disappointed.  In 2011, Dent is disappointed no more.  It's again confusing to me how it took Dent as many years as it did to get the nod from the hall selection committee.  His resume would state a more strong case for the hall than someone who would have to wait til his seventh year of eligibility to be selected.

Dent, who played 12 of his 15 seasons with the Chicago Bears, is that franchises all-time leader in sacks and is still sixth overall in career sacks with a gaudy 137.5.  He was so dominant at the line of scrimmage in his best years, Dent recorded an NFL record 34.5 sacks in just two seasons in '84 and '85.  He was part of an '85 Bears defense that won Super Bowl XX and is widely considered the greatest defense to have ever played together for an NFL team.  He was the MVP of that Super Bowl becoming one of only two defensive ends to ever be awarded that honor(Harvey Martin SB XII - 1978) by recording two sacks, two forced fumbles and a pass knock-down in a 46-10 landslide over the New England Patriots.  He would later add another Super Bowl victory to his resume with the San Francisco 49ers in a season he spent mostly injured.

It's hard to appreciate the difference an elite pass rusher can make on a team as much of what they do doesn't involve recording a lot of statistics to show for their efforts.  It's usually the statistics of the players on the opposing offense that prove a defensive lineman's worth.  Despite that reality, Dent still gave the Hall of Fame numbers to work with in an illustrious career as one of the greatest defensive lineman to wear an NFL uniform.


Other Hall of Fame selections that made the class of 2011 as senior candidates were Chris Hanburger and Les Richter.  Hanburger played his entire 14 year career as a linebacker with the Washington Redskins from 1962 through 1978.  He became famously known as "The Hangman" for his clothesline style of tackling that the NFL would later outlaw in a rule inspired by his play.  He was named to nine consecutive Pro-Bowl teams in that time.

Richter was an odd mix of football talents for the Los Angeles Rams from 1954 through 1962.  Though his main position was linebacker, he also played games at center and even at kicker, accruing 16 interceptions on defense and had 106 extra-points and 29 field goals in his career; unimaginable in today's game.  Famously traded in the 1952 draft by the Dallas Texans for eleven players, Richter lived up to that trade by becoming a Pro-Bowl selection eight of his 9 seasons.

To round out the list of Hall of Fame selections for the 2011 class is a Hall of Fame selection for a non-player who has made a monumental contribution to the sport.  Ed Sabol, founder of NFL Films, was a part of the 2011 class for pioneering the chronicling of the history of the NFL.  He becomes just the 4th person to be selected for the pro football Hall of Fame that was neither a player nor a coach or executive that worked for a pro football team.  Only an NFL President, an NFL Commissioner and a Supervisor of Officials stand as the others who have been inducted without association with a pro football organization.  Sabol and his small-time film production company, Blair Motion Pictures, bought the rights to film the 1962 NFL Championship, five years before the first Super Bowl was played, for $3,000.  Commissioner Pete Rozelle, the only NFL commissioner in the pro football Hall of Fame, was impressed with Sabol's film work and decided to buy the company and make it NFL Films with agreement that Sabol would make a season highlight film for each team every year.  NFL Films provides almost all of the historic NFL video we enjoy today.


Some of the Hall of Fame candidates who did not make the cut this year, but will have a great chance at 2012 are WR Cris Carter, RB Jerome Bettis, RB Curtis Martin, WR Tim Brown, C Dermontti Dawson, OT Willie Roaf and DT Cortez Kennedy.  No more than five of them can make the hall next year, but it could be their best chance to sneak in for a while.  They only have Will Shields, Bill Parcells and Tiki Barber becoming eligible in 2012 and I don't see any of them getting in on their first ballot, especially with the log-jam of historic players trying to squeeze into five slots next year.  Whoever is left behind in 2012 will face a great challenge to get in to the hall in 2013 as Larry Allen, Jonathan Ogden, Warren Sapp and Michael Strahan are all very strong first ballot eligible selections.

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