(Donnie Shell photos courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers)
Talk of Fame Network
When Tony Dungy was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame earlier this month, he said his presenter – former teammate Donnie Shell – belonged in Canton, too, calling him a “should-be Hall of Famer.”
Yet Shell isn’t in, and, frankly, isn’t on the short list of the Hall’s senior committee. And the reason: We’re not sure.
He has 51 career interceptions. He was named to the Super Bowl’s 50th anniversary team. He was a member of four Super Bowl winners and a key starter on the 1978-79 Steelers. He was a five-time Pro Bowler when that distinction actually meant something and a four-time All-Pro, and he has the endorsement of one of the most respected Hall-of-Fame members.
That would Tony Dungy, who coached Hall-of-Fame candidate John Lynch and former Defensive Player of the Year, Bob Sanders — both safeties.
So what’s Shell missing? A bust in Canton, that’s what.
“I don’t really think about it,” he said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “It’s out of my hands. It’s up to the selection committee to look back at an individual player’s body of work and see if they deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.”
But that’s the point. When you look at Shell’s accomplishments, he has Hall-of-Fame qualifications. In addition to Shell’s 51 interceptions he had 19 recovered fumbles – or 70 takeaways. Lynch and Sanders had 32 interceptions combined in 23 seasons. Moreover, Shell was voted MVP of the 1980 Steelers, a club that featured nine Hall-of-Famer players; was a first-team All-Pro three straight years, and was as good vs. the run as he was defending the pass.
But he’s been a Hall-of-Fame finalist only once when he didn’t make the cut from 15 to 10 in 2002. So, that body of work? Shell has it, and, if he’s pushed far enough – which he was on the Talk of Fame Network broadcast – he’ll admit it.
“I only made the Pro Bowl five times, but it was five consecutive times,” he said. “When you look at that … a pro player is always looked at regarding his consistency. It’s hard to make All-Pro, but to make it five consecutive times … I think … is outstanding.”
It is. One problem: Shell played a position — safety — that the Hall doesn’t favor. Not only are there only seven pure safeties in Canton; the last to play was Ken Houston … and he retired after the 1980 season.
“When I was coming up,” he said, “the average passing was about 15 passes per game. (At) strong safety … you almost played linebacker because you were the primary support guy on the run. But here’s a trivia question that you may not know: On third downs I came in as nickel back and played the slot position on the toughest receiver.”
We didn’t know that. What we do know is that Donnie Shell is Canton qualified.