HOUSTON — Talk about the thrill of victory and agony of defeat. Morten Andersen is in the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s Class 2017, and Paul Tagliabue is not.
Yes, Andersen becomes only the second pure kicker in 54 years to again admission to the Hall, while Tagliabue – the commissioner who presided over 17 years of labor peace and who made a late push for Canton – was rejected for the fourth, and perhaps, last time.
Andersen joins running back LaDainian Tomlinson, quarterback Kurt Warner, running back Terrell Davis and defensive end Jason Taylor as members of the Hall-of-Fame’s Class of 2017, with senior nominee Kenny Easley and contributor candidate Jerry Jones completing the cast.
Tagliabue won’t be with them, and that’s a blow to his supporters. His candidacy seemed to gain traction late in the week, but, apparently, it didn’t gain enough … which begs the question: Will he ever be put in front of the board again?
I don’t know, either, but what I do know is that the board of selectors gained more traction with the addition of Hall-of-Famers Dan Fouts and James Lofton – each of whom were vocal in the near nine-hour meeting and who added invaluable insight to the candidates.
If you missed it, don’t worry. We have the game summary.
The Chargers’ LaDainian Tomlinson was the easy choice. The league’s fifth all-time leading rusher, he was a virtual cinch from the moment he became eligible. In his first appearance as a selector, presenter Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune didn’t have to convince anyone of Tomlinson’s worth. His speech was short, and so was the debate. Now there are two L.T.s in Canton.
THE CINCH, PART DEUX
Quarterback Kurt Warner. He was expected to make it in his third try as a finalist, and he did. As one selector said, he’s “a Hall-of-Fame story,” one of the most unique in modern NFL history, and voters lapped it up. They should. Warner not only was a two-time league MVP, Super Bowl winner and Super Bowl MVP, but he did the improbable: Raise the Titanic twice, first with the Rams and, later, with the Cardinals – putting both in Super Bowls. Neither has been back since he left.
Short careers. Once, they were a concern of voters. Not anymore. Davis and Easley made it despite playing seven seasons – careers that were short enough for voters to freeze them out. Offensive lineman Tony Boselli was a third candidate who had a relatively brief career, cut short (as was the case with Easley and Davis) by injuries, and he made it to the Top Ten in his first try as a finalist. That’s encouraging. Apparently, longevity doesn’t matter to voters as much as it once seemed.
The NFL Network. Tomlinson, Warner and Davis are all analysts. Davis becomes just the fifth Bronco to reach the Hall, and it’s about time. Denver has been to three more Super Bowls (8) than it has Hall-of-Fame inductees (5).
Safeties and kickers. We had our first pure safety in 36 years and our first kicker (and only the second overall) since Jan Stenerud was inducted in 1991. Maybe life is fair.
It happened at two positions – offensive line and safety. There were four offensive linemen in this class, and there was concern they could cancel each other out. And that’s precisely what happened. First-time finalists Kevin Mawae and Tony Boselli jumped the queue by moving ahead of Alan Faneca and Joe Jacoby, both of whom were second-year finalists. But their candidacies died there. Now let’s see what happens a year from now. The consensus seems to be that all are Hall-of-Fame worthy, and that’s great. Except something has to give. All-decade guard Steve Hutchinson joins the list in 2018.
As for the safeties, John Lynch and Brian Dawkins also ran into each other. Both made it to the Top 10, but Lynch was there a year ago and should have moved forward to the Final Five. He did not. He has one year to make another push. Otherwise, he competes with Dawkins and Ed Reed, who joins the lineup in 2019, and with Troy Polamalu one year later.
Andersen. For only the second time in the history of the Hall … and for the first time in 54 years … it admitted a pure kicker, and hallelujah. As an all-decade choice twice, Andersen was the most qualified candidate in this year’s class. He not only is the career scoring leader in the NFL; he’s the career scoring leader for two teams – New Orleans and Atlanta. Colts’ kicker Adam Vinatieri called Andersen’s selection a “no-brainer,” and he’s right. He had longevity (he played for 25 years, or until he was 47). He was productive (no one has more field goals). And he changed the game, a strong-legged kicker who convinced coaches to try field goals of 50 yards or more (he hit an NFL-record three in one game). But he never made it into the Top 10 in first three tries as a finalist, and, considering the quality of the upcoming classes, this was probably his last shot at Canton. Andersen’s choice is a boost for special teamers everywhere and Vinatieri in particular. He’s the second chosen in three years, and while that isn’t exactly a landslide consider this: Before him and punter Ray Guy, there was one chosen in the first 50 years – Stenerud.
Paul Tagliabue. The former NFL commissioner was shot down for the fourth time, and he was dismissed after the day’s longest and most passionate debate. The vote was expected to be a photo-finish, and, as the week wore on, it appeared he might make it. But he didn’t, and if there’s something that sabotaged his candidacy it was concussions. Voters weren’t convinced he did enough to address an issue that is the hot-button of the sport today, and so he became the first contributor candidate to be rejected since the category was opened in 2015. Now the question: Was that Tagliabue’s last crack at Canton? Unlike his previous three tries, he wasn’t competing against players and coaches. This time he was one of two contributor candidates, requiring only 80 percent of support from the room. Jerry Jones, the other contributor, got it. Tagliabue did not.
IT’S A YOUNG MAN’S GAME
There were seven first-time finalists in this year’s class, and six of them finished among the Top 10. Only wide receiver Isaac Bruce missed the call.
THE MAGIC OF A POSITION
One defensive player made it, and, no surprise, that one was defensive end Jason Taylor. Taylor was the only pass rusher in this class, and that was of enormous help to the first-year finalist. Reason: The Hall has inducted pass rushers 10 of the past 11 years. Taylor had the numbers – he ranks seventh on the all-time sack list – but to go to the head of the class in his first year was a surprise. Remember, it took Kevin Greene, who ranks third in career sacks, 12 years of eligibility to make it to Canton.
No longer is Kenny Houston the last pure Hall-of-Fame safety to play. Now that distinction belongs to senior nominee Kenny Easley. The Hall hadn’t recognized a pure safety since 1998 when the league’s all-time leading interceptor, Paul Krause, was inducted. But Krause had to wait 14 years. That made Houston, who retired after the 1980 season, the last Hall-of-Famer to play the position … that is, until now. Easley was an easy choice, especially after more than one selector walked out comments comparing him to Hall-of-Famer Ronnie Lott. The knock was supposed to be longevity. Easley played only seven seasons and had never been a finalist. But voters didn’t care, with the debate one of the day’s briefest.
FIVE LONGEST DEBATES
1:00:55 – Paul Tagliabue
33:35 – Jerry Jones
32:24 – Terrell Owens
29:53 – Don Coryell
28:04 – Kevin Mawae
FIVE SHORTEST DEBATES
5:26 – Alan Faneca
5:48 – LaDainian Tomlinson
7:54 – Isaac Bruce
10:30 – Jason Taylor
11:53 – Ty Law
FIRST CUT: THEN THERE WERE 10
Here are the first cuts, with voters going from 15 modern-era candidates to 10:
Wide receiver Terrell Owens. The debate wasn’t different from a year ago, and here’s why: Nothing has changed. Owens still has the numbers and still has the reputation. The debate was passionate on both sides of the aisle, but it wasn’t long before it became clear that, as happened a year ago when he was a first-year finalist, his candidacy would be put on call-waiting. Owens can complain … and he and his supporters have … but he has an uphill climb to reach Canton.
Don Coryell. This was his last best shot, and he didn’t make it as far as a year ago when he reached the top 10. Ouch. Now stop if you heard this before: His 3-6 playoff record and failure to reach a Super Bowl sabotaged him. It did the previous three times he was a finalist, too. His only chance, it now appears, is as a contributor … provided, of course, the league makes coaches contributor candidates in the future. For the moment, a contributor is defined as anyone who is not a coach or player, and there are no plans to change that.
Guard Alan Faneca. The all-decade choice will get in the Hall one day. The only question is: When? It won’t be this year, and no surprise there. It typically takes voters years to act on guards, with Will Shields – a no-brainer who went to 12 Pro Bowls in 14 years and never missed a game – waiting four.
Tackle Joe Jacoby. This was a surprise. A year ago, he reached the top 10 in his first shot as a finalist … in his 18th year of eligibility, no less. So he was a favorite to push for the Final Five. Instead, he went in the other direction, and now … well, now he almost certainly will be sent to the senior committee in a year, where his chances of reaching Canton are put on life support.
Wide receiver Isaac Bruce. This is a tough one. He is Hall-of-Fame worthy, and he was the most dangerous receiver on the Greatest Show on Turf. He was also the anti-Owens, a team player who was a team leader. But he wasn’t an all-decade choice, while teammate Torry Holt was, and, yes, that could be an issue. Nevertheless, he’s in the room, and that’s a start. But let’s see if he stays there with Randy Moss joining the queue in 2018.
SECOND CUT: GETTING DOWN TO 5
And here are the second round of casualties, with voters trimming the 10 modern-era candidates to five:
Safety Brian Dawkins. There was sentiment in the room to make him a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but it didn’t happen … and no sweat. Hearing what voters had to say about the all-decade choice, it’s apparent he makes it sooner rather than later.
Tackle Tony Boselli. Another solid showing by a first-year finalist, especially considering the longevity concerns about Boselli’s career. But, remember, longevity wasn’t an issue Saturday. Boselli caught late momentum during Super Bowl week, and the smart money is on him making it to Canton soon.
Safety John Lynch. He didn’t move from his Top 10 spot a year ago, and it’s hard to know where he finished. Voters never are informed of poll numbers. It’s also hard to now what that finish means for him. What we do know is that the arrival of Dawkins hurt his candidacy, splitting the safety votes, and one of them better move this time next year. Otherwise, they compete with Ed Reed, and good luck.
Cornerback Ty Law. A first-time finalist, he made a strong showing, and this just in: He may have this position to himself a year from now — which would enhance his chances. His arrival in the Top Ten signaled that voters recognize there was more than just Tom Brady to the Patriots’ early Super Bowl winners.
Center Kevin Mawae. An all-decade center, Mawae is the fourth first-time finalist among finishers from spots 6-through-10. Support was strong for him, with voters leaving the room convinced that he, too, will reach Canton sooner rather than later.
WHAT’S NEXT: THE CLASS OF 2018
Now comes the tsunami of talent. In next year’s class we have … drum roll, please … Randy Moss, Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, Ronde Barber and Steve Hutchinson. All of them were all-decade choices, and all could be first-year finalists. But why stop there? James Farrior, Jeff Saturday, Matt Birk and Richard Seymour are included, too, with Seymour another all-decade choice. Maybe now you understand why it was so important for longshots to make their moves Saturday.
… AND THE CLASS OF 2019
The hits keep on coming. Tony Gonzalez, Ed Reed and Champ Bailey are the big names, and tell me: Which of them doesn’t make it in on the first ballot? Someone? Anyone?
… AND 2020
Look out. Troy Polamalu, Reggie Wayne and Patrick Willis are next.
… AND 2021
Ay-yay-yay. We have Peyton Manning, Charles Woodson, Calvin Johnson, Jared Allen and Marshawn Lynch on the way. Check, please.