|08-05-2007, 03:38 AM||#1|
Join Date: Apr 2006
Who will score a bust in Canton?
Who will score a bust in Canton?
By Mike Klis
Denver Post Staff Writer
Once again, the NFL has traveled to Canton, Ohio, for its annual weekend of pomp and circumstance. And once again, under no circumstances was there reason to color the pomp in shades of blue and orange.
For the 44th time in the 45-year history of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, immortality has escaped the Broncos. Charlie Sanders was inducted - the tight end of one, and only one, 600-yard receiving season - while leading the Detroit Lions to zero playoff points in his 10-year career.
But no Broncos allowed.
Then again, besides having the NFL's best regular-season record since 1974, and trailing only the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl appearances, why should Broncos not named John Elway be considered worthy of football's highest individual honor?
"In my opinion the electorate has too much media influence, very largely based on the Eastern half of the country," Broncos owner Pat Bowlen said. "That is unfair to players. A very good example is this organization right here. If everybody has to live up to John Elway's reputation in order to get voted in, it may be a long time before we get somebody else."
Bowlen hit his team's Hall of Fame problem directly on Elway's bust. The Rocky Mountain region may not completely grasp this, but there is a perception among the rest of the country that the Broncos during their heyday were a one-man team.
Elway's enormous legacy shadowed not only his quarterback successors - Brian Griese, Jake Plummer and Jay Cutler - but everyone associated with the Broncos. Coach Mike Shanahan has won two Super Bowls, none without Elway. Bowlen has led the Broncos to five Super Bowl appearances, none without Elway.
"In a way, we all live under his shadow," Broncos safety John Lynch said. "The way to change that is to win one without him."
Should the Broncos win the Super Bowl this season, it likely would enhance the Hall of Fame chances of seven team members - Shanahan, Bowlen, Lynch, cornerback Champ Bailey, center Tom Nalen, kicker Jason Elam and wide receiver Rod Smith.
Who from this seven are most Canton-worthy? "The owner and the coach," Smith said. "Look at their winning percentages. Look at what 'Mr. B' has done on the inside for the league that people don't see. Coach Shana- han's record speaks for itself."
Besides one more Super Bowl, though, there may be one other way for a former Bronco to pass through Canton's doors - finish up a career before Elway started his. Running back Floyd Little has a chance to become the second Bronco inducted because his candidacy falls under the pre-1982 jurisdiction of the nine-man senior selection committee.
This same fraternity made Sanders the third Lion in 15 years to have his bust set in bronze. When Little retired in 1975, he was the NFL's seventh all- time rusher. The first six have long been resting in Canton.
Then again, with seven of the nine senior voters residing east of the Mississippi, Little might want to wait to plan an Ohio vacation next summer.
"I'm not advocating any change in their policy," Bowlen said. "What I'm advocating is that the league and the guys who run the Hall of Fame see that we have a disparity here."
A look at the seven active Broncos who should one day receive Hall of Fame consideration:
HEAD COACH: Mike Shanahan
Every retired coach who was won at least three Super Bowls is in the Hall of Fame. Shanahan has won two. He also ranks 17th all time with 139 coaching wins, which puts him within six good seasons of 200 wins and the top 10.
Would Shanahan be inducted if he retired today? Not without a wait. The recently retired Bill Parcells, Bill Cowher and Marty Schottenheimer are ahead of him in wins - as is Mike Holmgren, still coaching in Seattle.
"I think everybody would love to one day get in the Hall of Fame," Shan- ahan said. "But for someone to even talk about it while you're working would take away from what it's all about. If after you're done working, if people feel you deserve it and that happens, it would be the biggest honor in the world. But I don't plan on stopping working for a while."
OWNER: Pat Bowlen
Only San Francisco (249) has won more games than the Broncos (243) since Bowlen bought the team in March 1984. As chairman of the NFL's broadcast committee, Bowlen negotiated a contract that exceeds the combined television revenue of Major League Baseball, the NBA, NHL, NASCAR and Olympics. That's all.
Yet the Jack Kent Cooke-owned Washington Redskins went to five Super Bowls (same as Bowlen) and won three (one more than Bowlen), and Cooke hasn't even been nominated.
Bowlen plans to own the Broncos until his final breath, so the Hall of Fame likely would become a posthumous award, if it happens at all.
"It won't if I keep telling those Eastern sportswriters they're out of their mind," Bowlen said, laughing. "I have no aspirations. Hopefully, someday after I'm in a pine box they'll consider me."
CORNERBACK: Champ Bailey
With a combined 19 interceptions and 401 return yards, Bailey is coming off arguably the best back-to-back seasons in cornerback history.
"He's a first-ballot guy," former Redskins GM Charley Casserly said.
Bailey's seven consecutive Pro Bowl appearances already exceed or equal five of the eight Hall of Fame cornerbacks.
"It's come up a lot lately, but until I get that ring, I really don't like to hear it," Bailey said. "If you're a player that everybody knows didn't get a ring, then it's tough to get in there."
SAFETY: John Lynch
Lynch has the ring Bailey is seeking. A prominent member of Tampa Bay's defensive-oriented Super Bowl title team in 2002, Lynch has played in eight Pro Bowls. When it comes to the Hall of Fame, eight Pro Bowls have been to safeties nearly what 3,000 hits are to baseball players - automatic induction.
"That's the thing with football - it's much easier to quantify baseball players with numbers," Lynch said. "In football, there's only a few positions where you can look at the stats to measure a guy."
CENTER: Tom Nalen
He was Elway's snapper when the Broncos won Super Bowls in the 1997 and 1998 seasons. He was the NFL offensive lineman of the year in 2003, was selected to five Pro Bowls and is the anchor to the team's unique blocking system that produces a different 1,000-yard tailback almost every year.
A Hall of Famer? Nalen wouldn't comment. The concern is the Broncos blockers' longtime media boycott cost Nalen a couple Pro Bowls, which in turn could cost him a speech in Canton. If he blocks for one more Super Bowl champion, though, Nalen's case simply would become: 'Nuff said.
WIDE RECEIVER: Rod Smith
At this time last year, Smith appeared to be only two typical seasons away from Canton. But he slumped last year while trying to play through a hip injury, and surgery has left him with a decided limp this year.
Smith ranks 11th all time with 849 receptions. The biggest question confronting Smith these days, though, isn't the Hall of Fame, but will he get catch No. 850?
If not, the ongoing Hall snub of Washington's Art Monk, who had 940 catches, suggests Smith may not make it.
"We're getting to the point where 1,000 catches is going to be the cutoff point to get in," said Shannon Sharpe, a former Broncos tight end.
KICKER: Jason Elam
Should Elam average 111 points the next three years (a total he has exceeded in 12 of his 14 seasons), he will have surpassed his stated career goal of 2,000 points and moved into third place, behind Morten Andersen and Gary Anderson, on the all-time points and field-goal lists.
Elam also shares the record for the longest field goal at 63 yards and has been more accurate from inside the 40 than Andersen and Anderson.
Problem is, there is not one pure punter in the Hall and only one kicker, Colorado Springs resident Jan Stenerud.
"But they're going to have to put Morten and Gary Anderson in," Elam said. "How do you leave those guys out? They played, what, 23, 24 years? And I've played 15. I feel like I'm not that old, yet."
Ranking the chances of past and present Broncos being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame:
BRONZE THEIR BUSTS
Shannon Sharpe, TE
All-time tight end leader with 815 catches, 10,060 yards.
Champ Bailey, CB
Seven consecutive Pro Bowls already enough at popular position.
PROBABLE WITH PATIENCE
Gary Zimmerman, OT
A four-time finalist, this left tackle should make it within two years.
John Lynch, S
Eight Pro Bowls equal or exceed five of nine Hall of Fame safeties.
Mike Shanahan, coach
One more Super Bowl appearance, or 61 more wins, will do it.
Pat Bowlen, owner
Problem is, almost all team owners in the Hall are team founders.
DESERVING, BUT A KICKER
Jason Elam, K
Prolific, accurate and long.
UP TO SENIOR COMMITTEE
Floyd Little, RB
NFL's leading rusher in six-year period from 1968-73.
Randy Gradishar, LB
Averaged 210 tackles in last nine seasons, but rarely seen by NFC media.
Rod Smith, WR
For all he has done, he needs 103 receptions to pass Andre Reed for fifth all time, and Reed isn't in.
Terrell Davis, RB
NFL's best back for three straight seasons, but career was too short.
Karl Mecklenburg, DL/LB
Broncos' second-best player during the Reeves-Elway era.
Louis Wright, CB
Did anyone ever have a better knack for the big play?
Dan Reeves, coach
62 more wins and two more Super Bowl appearances than Shanahan.
Bronze their busts, already!
Five players who aren't in the Pro Football Hall of Fame but should be:
1. Art Monk, WR, Redskins - Retired in 1995 as NFL's all-time leading receiver. Earned three Super Bowl rings.
2. Gary Zimmerman, LT, Vikings/Broncos - Figure this: Same writers who voted him to two all-decade teams didn't vote him into Canton.
3. Ray Guy, P, Raiders - The Hall is supposed to be for the best and this Guy was the best punter ever.
4. Richard Dent, DE, Bears - More career sacks than Lawrence Taylor. Most dominant player on best-ever defense, 1985 Bears.
5. Kenny Stabler, QB, Raiders - A personal preference. How can 13 Raiders stand living in Canton without the Snake?