The Pro Football Hall of Fame hasn’t been kind to tight ends. There are only eight enshrined, with John Mackey having to wait 15 years for entry, Mike Ditka 12 and none making it on the first ballot.
Of course, all that may change next year when Tony Gonzalez becomes eligible for the Class of 2019. But in the meantime, we’re left to wonder: What are voters missing about the position?
For an answer, we consulted another tight end eligible next year, and that’s former Indianapolis star Dallas Clark, one of only three tight ends in NFL history with a 100-catch season.
“That’s kind of the thing about the tight end,” Clark said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast, “I think it kind of translates into the Hall of Fame. I don’t know if anyone knows where we fit.
“With running backs, they don’t like us because we get to catch the ball and get touchdowns and do all that. Offensive lines don’t like us. And receivers hate us because now we’re taking away their catches and their touchdowns. I mean we’re literally like … we’re on our own island. We have no friends.
“So we’re friends with kickers and punters, (but) linebackers? They hate us because they can’t cover us. So it’s a lonely position. And that’s why I think it resembles that in Canton. Because we need more tight ends there … in maybe just a little closet. We don’t need to be in there with all the other great athletes, you know?
“But it’s interesting. Marv (former teammate Marvin Harrison, a 2017 Hall-of-Fame inductee) would be the first … I don’t think he was happy when I came to the team. Because he would tell me, ‘Man, Dallas, last year I’d catch 12 balls (in a game),’ and you’d look at his stats, and we’d watch old film and it was like, ‘Holy cow, Marv. That’s incredible.’ He would just run circles around (everyone) and get the ball all the time.”
But so did Clark in 2009 when he tied teammate Reggie Wayne with 100 catches and 10 touchdowns apiece, had 1,106 yards receiving and was part of a team that went 14-2, won the AFC and lost in Super Bowl XLIV.
So one more question: What does it take for a tight end to produce 100 receptions in a single season?
“It takes hell,” Clark said. “You’ve got to play all 16 games. You’ve got to be available. That was a blessing from God, just staying healthy. I think what’s a common denominator with all these guys in their careers, (and) it’s health.
“You look at Tony Gonzalez … I think he missed three games … maybe (he actually missed only two in his career). I don’t have the stats in front of me. But it was just incredible, just how that guy did that. Jason Witten the same way. Just tough, tough men. And I think that’s a big key … is to stay healthy, stay on the field, be an option. And then it’s just having that mesh with the offense with your quarterback and having those mismatches and creating those mismatches.
“We were just running on all cylinders that year. We had a lot of things going right for us. We just had a lot of momentum, and, man, we just road it all the way through the year. And unfortunately we came up short in the Super Bowl.”