(Charles Woodson photo courtesy of the Oakland Raiders)
(Peyton Manning photo courtesy of the Denver Broncos)
By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
If you’re a star player who recently retired and thinks that maybe, just maybe, you have a shot at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, here’s a suggestion: Make it before 2021.
Reason: Take a look at the first-year eligibles in that class.
With the retirement of wide receiver Calvin Johnson, you now have Peyton Manning, Jared Allen, Charles Woodson, Marshawn Lynch and Megatron in the mix. Manning is a first-year slam dunk. Woodson? Maybe. Probably. Megatron? Not so much, but he almost certainly gets in at some point.
Allen and Lynch are uncertainties, though you can make the case for each – not as first-year inductees but as Hall-of-Fame candidates. Allen is the frontrunner here because while Lynch had an impressive five-year stretch in Seattle he’d have to get in line behind other Seahawks like Ricky Watters and Shaun Alexander – neither of whom made the cut to 25 this year.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s go back to the top. Manning’s resume is virtually bullet-proof which means … yep, which means whoever presents him has it easy. Simply say his name and sit down – much like what happened this year with Brett Favre, whose discussion lasted six seconds.
That’s how long it took Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette to tell us he wouldn’t make a presentation … basically because one wasn’t necessary. Favre was a slam dunk. Pete did the right thing, which was to say, “Brett Favre,” then take a seat.
He was applauded.
Charles Woodson’s resume is equally impressive from the other side of the ball. The Raiders’ star defensive back was an eight-time All Pro, a Defensive Player of the Year, a Defensive Rookie of the Year, a Super Bowl champion, a two-time single-season interceptions leader and a member of the 2000s’ all-decade team.
In short, he was a great player.
(Marshawn Lynch photo courtesy of the Seattle Seahawks)
I know my colleague, Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News, can’t tolerate the term “first-ballot Hall of Famer,” and I get it. There are precious few who are deserving, yet people can’t wait to put the next retiree on the first plane to Canton – with assistant coach Marty Mornhinweg pushing the envelope two summers ago when he proclaimed running back Chris Johnson “a first-ballot Hall of Famer.”
But Manning and Woodson? No question, they check the boxes.
Then there’s Calvin Johnson, who fits the Hall-of-Fame description, though there are holes in the resume. He didn’t make it to a Super Bowl. In fact, he never won a playoff game. He’s also 43rd on the career receptions list, 27th in yardage and 22nd in touchdowns.
But that’s because he’s retiring at 30. The guy put up astounding numbers, including 1.964 yards in 2012 and an NFL-record five 200-yard games (tying him with Lance Alworth). Moreover, he played his entire career with one team, was a respected and valued teammate and, frankly, was THE playmaker who made the Lions a threat when they reached the playoffs.
But a first-ballot choice? Nope. Jerry Rice is the only wide receiver in the last 20 years to make it to Canton on his first attempt. But who cares? Look, I don’t give a rip if Johnson makes it on his first try or his 10th because, as Gosselin is quick to point out, the resume reads the same for all worthy of Canton. And Johnson is worthy. That doesn’t mean he gets in; it means he’s in the conversation, and, yes, I say he makes it sooner rather than later.
But keep this in mind: There could be a glut of receivers with inflated numbers waiting at the doors when he arrives. I don’t know what happens with Terrell Owens, but I know what should. Hines Ward is eligible in 2017; Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt have been waiting a couple of years. Randy Moss is eligible in 2018. And Tony Gonzalez comes along a year later.
I think you get the idea.
Then, of course, there are Allen and Lynch … and their candidacies are harder to figure out. Allen is a four-time All Pro who twice led the league in sacks, including one year where he had 22 – a half-sack less than Michael Strahan’s single-season record. With 136 career sacks, he has more than Lawrence Taylor (132.5), Rickey Jackson (128), Derrick Thomas (126.5), Charles Haley (100.5), Andre Tippett (100), Warren Sapp (96.5) and Howie Long (84).
So what? So they’re in the Hall of Fame, and Allen’s not. Not yet, anyway.
And here’s why it may take him years to get there: Kevin Greene had more sacks (160) than all but Hall-of-Famers Bruce Smith (200) and Reggie White (198), yet it took him 12 years – and five tries as a finalist – before he finally was voted in last month. I don’t know that he makes, and I believe Lynch probably does not.
But I also believe 2021 will be a class to remember. In fact, it already is.