Monday, December 26, 2011

Pro Football Hall of Fame 2012 Semi-Finalists Hope For A Happy New Year

The Pro Football Hall of Fame voters announced 28 semi-finalists for induction into the 2012 class. As always, it is a dubious list missing a ton of superior players, coaches and contributors languishing in a black hole called the "Seniors Pool". Just two players from that pool have a chance each year, which shows the huge flaw of this voting process.

The voters have an extremely hard group of players to sift through this year. There are as many as 13 or more players I feel belong in Canton.

While the next vote to slim the list will not come for a few months, yours truly thought his ineffectual vote should be heard despite not counting. Here is the list :

Steve Atwater
Denver Broncos
11 Seasons
8 Pro Bowls
2 First Team All-Pro Teams
24 Interceptions

I don't think he is even the best safety in Broncos history, an honor I bestow on Goose Gonsoulin then Dennis Smith and Billy Thompson. Atwater will never get my vote.

Jerome Bettis
Running Back
Pittsburgh Steelers
13 Seasons
6 Pro Bowls
2 First Team All-Pro Teams
13,662 Yards Rushing
94 Total Touchdowns

Bettis was involved in one of the biggest steals ever, when the Steelers got him from the Saint Louis Rams in a trade. He ran for over 1,000 yards in eight of his first nine seasons, showing remarkable durability because his game was running between the tackles.

Not much of a receiver, he could be depended on once handed the ball. He fumbled 41 times, but he usually rewarded his teams with a pounding style that wore out opponents while chewing up the clock.

There is no question that Bettis is worthy of Canton, so I would vote him onto the finalist's list without hesitation.

Jack Butler
Pittsburgh Steelers
9 Seasons
5 Pro Bowls
3 First Team All-Pro Teams
52 Interceptions
10 Fumble Recoveries
9 Touchdowns

I profiled Butler on Crazy Canton Cuts back in 2008.

He is the last person to play in the NFL from Saint Bonaventure University because the school dropped their football program after 1951. Butler joined the Bonnies football team at the request of Bonnie athletic director, Father Dan Rooney, the brother of Steelers owner Art Rooney. Butler then joined Pittsburgh as an undrafted free agent rookie.

He retired early because of an injury, but his 52 interceptions in nine seasons were second most in NFL history at the time. He still ranks second in the Steelers history in total interceptions.

When he retired from playing, Butler became an NFL scout. He was the director of BLESTO for over 40 years until he retired at 80 years old in 2007. Butler has helped start the career of innumerable scouts, player personnel directors, and general managers in the NFL.

Butler was one of the hardest hitting cornerbacks to have ever played the game. Yet, he also had shut down ability, which is shown with his 52 thefts. Personally, I think his contributions off the field make him worthy two different ways.

But, sticking to just his play on the gridiron, there is no question that is is truly a disgrace that Jack Butler has not yet been inducted into the Pro Football Hall Of Fame already. He goes into Canton if I voted. NO question.

Tim Brown
Wide Receiver
Oakland Raiders
17 Seasons
9 Pro Bowls
1,094 Receptions
105 Touchdowns

Brown certainly is a product of the rule changes that allows receivers to roam untouched after five yards, but he was more than just a pass catcher. Brown also made an impressive mark on special teams

My issue with his being inducted is the fact he was never selected First Team All-Pro and led the league in receiving just once. Brown did lead the NFL in punt and kickoff return yards.

But is that worthy of induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame? I say no and chalk him up as a good and reliable player who lasted a long time.

Cris Carter
Wide Receiver
Minnesota Vikings
16 Seasons
8 Pro Bowls
2 First Team All-Pro Teams
1,101 Receptions
130 Touchdowns

Carter, like Brown, go to enjoy rules friendly to the offense in an obscene fashion. He had a gift, however, of making catches in the end zone.

That gift had him once released by the Philadelphia Eagles, where head coach Buddy Ryan the reason was that all Carter did for the Eagles was "catch touchdown passes". The truth was that Carter was abusing drugs and the wide receiver credits his being cut as the wake up call that saved his life.

The Minnesota Vikings claimed him off the waiver wire right away, where he eventually started and would hold that spot the remainder of his Vikings career. One of Carter's strengths was his conditioning and durability. Though he missed four games because if injury in one season, he played every other game possible for Minnesota.

He led the NFL in receptions once and in touchdown catches three times. Seven different quarterbacks were the primary starter in his 12 seasons with the team. Despite all the lunacy and confusion, Carter was a beacon of steady leadership and consistent production.

Carter accumulated double figures in touchdown receptions in five of his Pro Bowl years. What also made his production even more special is the fact he had to share receptions with future Hall of Fame wide receiver Randy Moss, Pro Bowl wide receivers Jake Reed and Anthony Carter, and Pro Bowl tight end Steve Jordan.

Carter has been a finalist for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame three times so far. He ranks third in NFL history in career receptions, fourth in career touchdowns catches and eighth in career receiving yards and total touchdowns.

Then there are the old school fans who point to the obvious fact Carter never dealt with the ten-yard chuck rule, which makes it much harder to excel as a receiver, as opposed to the offensive-friendly rules he participated in. Rules that greatly inflate statistics and can help make a player look better than players who did not benefit from the rule changes. This fact has made modern statistics dwarf the numbers from the ten-yard chuck era.

Men like Mac Speedie, Lionel Taylor, Charlie Hennigan, Harold Carmichael, Drew Pearson, Gino Cappelletti, Sonny Randle, Cliff Branch, Harold Jackson, Pete Retzlaff, and LaVern Dilweg are just a few great receivers on par with Carter, Brown, and Andre Reed also awaiting their inductions. Men who dealt with a much rougher game, let alone the ten-yard chuck.

Carter has a feel-good story attached to his career, one that has now extended to where he provides analysis on television. With his career on the ropes because of drugs, he rebounded and became a leader and won the Bart Starr Man of the Year Award, the Bryan "Whizzer" White NFL Man of the Year Award and the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.

Besides the 17 NFL records he either owns or shares, he is a member of the NFL's 1990s All-Decade Team. He is one of the 50 Greatest Minnesota Vikings as well as being a member of their 40th Anniversary Team.

The Vikings have retired his jersey and have had a huge amount of great receivers to play for them. Cris Carter may be the best ever for this franchise and certainly deserves to move on to being a finalist once again.

Don Coryell
Saint Louis Cardinals
San Diego Chargers
14 Seasons
111 Wins
First Coach With 100 Wins In Pro And College Football
Only Coach To Lead NFL In Passing 6 Straight Years
5 Division Titles

The biggest no-brainer of the semi-finalists. It is disgusting he hasn't been inducted already, and even more revolting he passed away last year and will never get to enjoy his deserved respect from a game that still leans heavily on his genius to this very day. Crazy Canton Cuts profiled Coryell in 2009.

Coryell played college football at the before getting into coaching. He succeeded George Allen, who later became a Pro Football Hall Of Fame coach.

He also showed his innate ability to develop players, especially on offense. He had 54 players go to the NFL from his college teams, including five players drafted in the first round. Nine of his players were First Team All-Americans. In 1967, he had eight players drafted, and five went in the first two rounds.

The Coryell coaching tree from his collegiate era is very impressive as well.

Joe Gibbs was a player on Coryell's team at first and won the team's Most Inspirational Player Award once. Gibbs later became a graduate assistant, then assistant coach at San Diego State.

He also was an assistant under Coryell with both the Cardinals and Chargers before becoming head coach of the Washington Redskins. Gibbs is a member of the Pro Football Hall Of Fame.

Another Pro Football Hall Of Fame coach who coached under Coryell at San Diego State was John Madden. Madden would join the Oakland Raiders and then become the youngest head coach of the league the next season at 32 years old.

Legendary men like Jim Hanifan, Ernie Zampese, and Rod Dowhower also coached under Coryell at San Diego State. Coryell's 104 victories and .840 winning percentage are the best in Aztec history, and he is a member of the College Football Hall Of Fame.

He then moved to the NFL to lead the Saint Louis Cardinals. His 42 wins are the most by any coach in the Cardinals franchise's history, and his five years as head coach with the team is the second longest tenure ever.

The San Diego Chargers would later hire Coryell. This was when "Air Coryell" was born as a common term, even though Coryell's years in Saint Louis also featured high-powered offenses running under much of the same schemes also used in San Diego.

When Coryell retired from the NFL with 111 wins in 195 games overall, he is the first head coach with 100 victories in both professional and collegiate football.

To try and sum up this man's career or impact on football is nearly impossible. Virtually every offense today, on all levels of the game, is a variation of his system. In his 14 seasons as a coach, his offenses led the NFL in net yards gained per passing attempt five times. They finished in the top-five of the NFL six more times.

His teams led the NFL in passing yards seven times and none of his teams finished lower than seventh. They led the NFL in passing touchdowns three times and finished in the top ten nine other times.

Many Hall Of Fame players and Pro Bowlers were coached by Coryell in the NFL. The list of players inducted into Canton includes Dan Fouts, Kellen Winslow, Charlie Joiner, Dan Dierdorf, Jackie Smith, Fred Dean and Roger Wehrli.

Coryell changed the way football was played. It is still being played the way Coryell invented to this very day. The now all-to-common sight on multiple receiver sets was first started by Coryell, as are many versions of offenses being run these days.

They are all spawns of his genius.

Winslow stated it best when he said, "For Don Coryell to not be in the Hall of Fame is a lack of knowledge of the voters. That's the nicest way that I can put that. A lack of understanding of the legacy of the game."

An ignorance that has wrongly kept Don Coryell from taking his rightful place.

Roger Craig
Running Back
San Francisco 49ers
11 Seasons
4 Pro Bowls
1 First Team All-Pro Team
8,189 Rushing Yards
566 Receptions
83 Touchdowns

A lot will point to Floyd Little as reason why Craig belongs in Canton. Like Little, Craig had a couple of great seasons and a couple of good ones. Unlike Little, he did not play on lousy teams nor did he save a city from losing their football team.

Many will point to his three Super Bowl rings, which could get him in but my opinion is that a championship is a team accomplishment. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is an individual accomplishment.

A versatile back, Craig also had the luxury of being surrounded by a ton of talent that included two Hall of Fame quarterbacks and a Hall of Fame wide receiver. He certainly was a reason the 49ers won three titles, but he was part of an offensive onslaught opponents could not stop.

I consider him a guy on the cusp, but equal to many other deserving running backs like Larry Brown, Spec Sanders and more. It wouldn't bother me to see him a finalist, but I do not consider him more worthy of induction than many other players.

Terrell Davis
Running Back
Denver Broncos
Seven Seasons
3 Pro Bowls
3 First Team All-Pro Teams
7,607 Rushing Yards
65 Touchdowns

Davis had four consecutive years of over 1,000 yards rushing before a knee injury basically ended his career. Two seasons were monstrous, where Davis led the league in rushing scores. He led the NFL with 2,008 rushing yards once as well.

Gale Sayers is an argument for Davis in a way. Sayers had a career also cut short by an injury, but he still got into Canton. Unlike Davis, Sayers was a terror as a punt and kickoff return specialist as well.

Davis was like a comet that burned brightly and flamed out fast. It shouldn't be enough to get him into Canton.

Dermontti Dawson
Pittsburgh Steelers
13 Seasons
7 Pro Bowls
6 First Team All-Pro Teams

Dawson first started out as a guard before switching the center and became one of the very best in the business. He has been a semi-finalist three times and and finalist twice. It is time he gets inducted.

Eddie Debartolo Jr.
San Francisco 49ers
23 Seasons

Ummm....No! Really? This guy is a semi-finalist with a ton of worthy players not? I hope he never reaches these heights again.

Chris Doleman
Defensive End
Minnesota Vikings
15 Seasons
8 Pro Bowls
3 First Team All-Pro Teams
150.5 Quarterback Sacks
8 Interceptions
2 Touchdowns
2 Safeties

Defensive end is a position stacked with worthy candidates who are not amongst the current semi-finalists. Men like Claude Humphrey, Jim Marshall, Coy Bacon, L.C. Greenwood and many others head a list of men at this position worthy of induction.

Doleman's numbers do not lie. He was a play-making machine. But he was more than a pass rush specialist at defensive end, which is shown by the fact he exceeded 100 tackles twice in his career. Doleman did get more than 10 sacks eight season and led the league once.

There is no doubt Doleman is worthy of induction, and it would be a shame if he had to wait as long as other past greats like Humphrey or Bacon. Yet I can't say he deserves to go into ahead of them too.

Kevin Greene
Los Angeles Rams
15 Seasons
5 Pro Bowls
2 First Team All-Pro Teams
160 Quarterback Sacks
5 Interceptions
26 Fumbles Recovered
3 Safeties

A hired gun as a pass rush specialist, Greene played for five different teams in his career. While getting to a quarterback was his main focus, he did get 87 tackles one year. He had 10 or more sacks in 10 different seasons.

Greene was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year once and led the league in sacks twice. He is a lot like Charles Haley in that he did just one thing really well, but the fiery player was versatile enough to create turnovers defending the pass on occasion.

He is worthy of being a finalist, but there are a ton of other outside linebackers I'd put into Canton ahead of him.

Charles Haley
San Francisco 49ers
13 Seasons
5 Pro Bowls
2 First Team All-Pro Teams
100.5 Quarterback Sacks

The only reason Haley has been a semi-finalist three times and finalist once before is because he played on five teams that won Super Bowls. Strictly a pass rush specialist, he never had more than 69 tackles in a season.

Honestly, Charles Haley does not belong in Canton. He never led the league in any category, though he did have the good fortune to play on good teams and was able to line up at defensive end as well. There are way too many candidates more richly deserving of induction over him.

Cortez Kennedy
Defensive Tackle
Seattle Seahawks
11 Seasons
8 Pro Bowls
3 First Team All-Pro Teams
58 Sacks
3 Interceptions

Kennedy is a bit of a conundrum for me, as far as being worthy of Canton. He was a playmaker who sacked the quarterback pretty often for a defensive tackle. He did enjoy three excellent seasons where he piled up 242 tackles over that time.

Yet he recovered a measly six fumbles in his career and he had four mediocre season. I can't say he is worthy, just because there are many defensive tackles, like Curly Culp, I consider superior. Yet it wouldn't be that frustrating if he went in either.

Curtis Martin
Running Back
New York Jets
11 Seasons
5 Pro Bowls
2 First Team All-Pro
14,101 Rushing Yards
484 Receptions
100 Touchdowns

One of the more underrated running backs of his era, Martin rushed for over 1,000 yards in each of the first 10 seasons of his career. Reliable and durable, he led the NFL in carries and rushing yards in his tenth season.

Martin was much more than a guy who carried the ball. He was an effective receiver and fumbled just 29 times in his career. He is easily the most worthy running back amongst the semi-finalists and surely gets my vote.

Clay Matthews
Cleveland Browns
19 Seasons
4 Pro Bowls
69.5 Sacks
16 Interceptions
14 Fumbles Recovered
2 Touchdowns

The Matthews family may be the most famous in the NFL. Bruce is already in Canton, something Clay Jr. hopes to do as well.

His longevity is a big reason he got this far, and he was still a very effective player at the end of the career. Matthews Jr. was an excellent player, I just can name a great deal many more outside linebackers I would put in first.

Karl Mecklenburg
Denver Broncos
12 Seasons
6 Pro Bowls
3 First Team All-Pro Teams
79 Quarterback Sacks
2 Touchdowns Scored
1 Safety

After starting out as a pass rushing specialist, Mecklenburg moved to inside linebacker and became a star. He once 13 sacks despite just nine starts.

An effective tackling machine, he had eight years of 97 tackles or more. He was a leader by example, and is one of the greatest Broncos defenders ever.

Yet I consider Randy Gradishar, who is still awaiting induction into Canton, the greatest Broncos linebacker ever. Mecklenburg was a very good player, but I would not vote him into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Bill Parcells
Coach/ General Manager
31 Seasons
172 wins
2 Super Bowl Wins

Parcells is here because he coached the New York Giants, a team flooded with media attention. While a good coach who has 42 more victories than defeats, he also had some limited successes with the New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots.

Known as the "Big Tuna", he was named NFL Coach of the Year three different seasons and is a member of the NFL's 1990s All-Decade Team. He then went on to become a general manager and had mixed results.

Does Parcells belong in ahead of such legendary coaches like Buddy Parker, Chuck Knox, Tom Flores, Dick Vermeil and others? He doesn't belong in ahead of Don Coryell, but the New York City factor might push him in. I think he fairly worthy, but I think that of a few others as well.

Andre Reed
Wide Receiver
Buffalo Bills
16 Seasons
7 Pro Bowls
951 Receptions
88 Touchdowns Scored

Reed was a precise route runner who was more good than great. He never led the league in any category and exceeded 1,000 yards receiving just four times despite playing in a era that caters to offensive production.

What gets him this far is the fact he played on four teams that reached the Super Bowl. He had a Hall of Fame quarterback and running back helping him as well. I classify Reed as a very good player, but I'd put a ton of wide receivers into Canton ahead of him.

Willie Roaf
Offensive Tackle
New Orleans Saints
13 Seasons
11 Pro Bowls
3 First Team All-Pro Teams

Roaf deserves induction this year. Plain and simple. I think there are a ton of blockers who belong, but the position is usually overlooked.

Even though he missed 17 games because of injuries, Roaf started in every one of the 189 games he played in his career. A cerebral player with immense strength and incredible dexterity, the nimble tackle was rarely beat whether run blocking or protecting the blind side of the quarterback.

Donnie Shell
Pittsburgh Steelers
14 Seasons
5 Pro Bowls
3 First Team All-Pro Teams
51 Interceptions
19 Fumbles Recovered
4 Touchdowns

Shell is the fourth Steeler on this list. A key member of the famous "Steel Curtain" defense, he is a lot like L.C. Greenwood in that he has been overlooked because that defensive unit already has three members in Canton. Yet there should be three more, even if the voters appear to have a quota per team

The 70 turnovers and four scores in his career may show that Shell was incredible, but he was mainly known for his bone-jarring tackles. There were few safeties more feared in his era.

While I feel Johnny Robinson may be the most deserving strong safety not yet in Canton, I'd put Shell in as well.

Will Shields
Kansas City Chiefs
14 Seasons
12 Pro Bowls
2 First Team All-Pro Teams

Shields better go in immediately. He missed one start, but played in all 224 games in his career. He was always one guards in the AFC annually. He deserves induction now, but I have been saying this about Chiefs legends Jim Tyrer, Johnny Robinson and Ed Budde for years and years as well.

Dick Stanfel
Detroit Lions
7 Seasons
5 Pro Bowls
5 First Team All-Pro Teams

Stanfel lasted only seven years, but he was amazing in his time. His rookie year was the only season he did not earn an accolade. After four seasons with the Lions, he joined the Washington Redskins and suddenly retired at just 31 years old.

He played in an era where the pay scale was so minimal, players usually made more money working other jobs. Stanfel left the game so he could feed his family at a higher-paying job. There were just three starting offensive lineman in the NFL older than Stanfel when he left the game.

Yet many historians agree there were few guards better. Despite his limited years, Stanfel is a member of the 1950s All-Decade Team. I'd put him in Canton, so hopefully he gets to the list of finalists.

Paul Tagliabue
17 Seasons

No way does this basketballer belong. He helmed the the ruination of the NFL by gearing the rules of the game to carry the offenses while building a false pedestal for the quarterback. His toad, Roger Goodell, continues to carry that message today.

Steve Tasker
Special Teams
Buffalo Bills
14 Seasons
7 Pro Bowls

Tasker was an overachiever who became a terror on special teams as a gunner. But no way does anyone belong in Canton via the special teams ahead of Ray Guy.

Aeneas Williams
Arizona Cardinals
14 Seasons
8 Pro Bowls
3 First Team All-Pro Teams
55 Interceptions
23 Fumble Recoveries
12 Touchdowns Scored

Williams is one of many cornerbacks who belong in Canton, joining greats like Lemar Parrish, Pat Fischer, Louis Wright and more, but he may beat them in the race for induction. Like them, he was a premier defender.

One fact easily seen is that Williams made opponents pay when they tried to move the ball in his direction. I believe he is worthy of immediate induction, but I been saying that about Parrish and others for years.

Ron Wolf
General Manager
Green Bay Packers
24 Seasons

Wolf had a career that even traveled into the Canadian Football League. He orchestrated a deal with the NFL so Joe Kapp could leave the CFL and quarterback his Minnesota Vikings team. Not only did he build them into a powerhouse where the defense was named the "Purple People Eaters", he helped the Oakland Raiders build into dominant franchise as well.

He joined the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers and suffered through a 0-25 record until the team got to the NFC Championship Game. Wolf later went to the Green Bay Packers and acquired the services of Brett Favre in a trade that would later result in a Super Bowl win for the team.

Wolf belongs in Canton, but I believe coaches, owners, contributors and executives should be in a separate category so they do not steal a slot from players.

George Young
New York Giants
33 Years

An employee of the Baltimore Colts, Miami Dolphins, New York Giants and NFL, Young was named Executive of the Year five different times. His teams won three Super Bowls and one NFL Championship.

Young belongs in Canton, but coaches, owners, contributors and executives should be in a separate category so they do not steal induction slots from players.

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