(Henry Ellard photos courtesy of Los Angeles Rams)
Talk of Fame Network
Our Hall-of-Fame “Outsiders’’ series continues this week with former Kansas City Chiefs’ All-Pro defensive end Neil Smith and one of the NFL’s most productive receivers of all-time, Henry Ellard.
Smith is the latest in our assembly of Hall-of-Fame “outsiders,’’ guys we feel have the credentials to deserve at least a discussion and vote but are not even listed on the preliminary list of 94 Hall-of-Fame nominees for the Class of 2017.
An all-decade selection in the 1990s with 105 career sacks, Smith has never been so much as a Hall-of-Fame semi-finalist in his 11 years of eligibility, which is only one difference between him and his Hall-of-Fame teammate and fellow quarterback disrupter, Derrick Thomas.
“He always said he wanted to be a Hall of Famer,’’ Smith recalled of Thomas on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “I never spoke those words. I wanted my play to speak for itself.’’
It did, but not yet loud enough to bring Smith’s credentials into the Hall-of-Fame voting booth despite two Super Bowl championships after making the difficult decision to leave Kansas City for his AFC West rival, the Denver Broncos.
“That was very hard,’’ Smith admits. “I told my wife when free agency came I’d have to look further, (but) I never once thought about Denver until my last trip.’’
Smith said Broncos’ Hall-of-Fame finalist Steve Atwater convinced him he was the final piece in their defensive puzzle to make Denver a Super Bowl contender. Turns out he was right. So what was better, chasing John Elway or playing with him?
“Playing with him,’’ Smith said. “We knew if we didn’t have a great game against Denver, we didn’t have a prayer. John Elway brought the best out of us.’’
It was enough to make Derrick Thomas a Hall of Famer. Neil Smith is still waiting for his case to be argued.
The same is true for Hall-of-Fame candidate Ellard, who is one of the most productive receivers in NFL history yet who has never been a semi-finalist in the Hall-of-Fame debate. Nevertheless, he is among this year’s 94 preliminary names and for good reason: When he retired he was third all-time in receiving yardage with 13,777, a figure that — 18 years — is still 13th all-time.
“When I compare myself to guys already there, I think I do (belong),’’ Ellard tells The Hall of Fame Guys Clark Judge, Ron Borges and Rick Gosselin. “My body of work speaks for itself.’’
Here’s one remarkable example of that work. In 1994, Henry Ellard had over 1,400 receiving yards, averaged 18.9 yards per catch and – ready for this? – converted 71 of his 74 catches into first downs. That’s a remarkable 96 per cent of his catches accounting for a first down, which remains an NFL record 22 years after he did it.
The Hall of Fame Guys also visit with former Indianapolis Colts’ P.R. director Craig Kelley, who, along with ex-Broncos’ PR man Jim Saccomano, has written a book on Peyton Manning. Kelley and Saccomano were the publicity directors for all of Manning’s NFL career and know him as intimately as anyone could. “Peyton Manning: A Quarterback for the Ages,’’ tells his story from a perspective few others had – from on the inside.
There’s that and much more during a lively two-hour show on nearly 100 SB Nation Radio Network stations, as well as an iTunes podcast, availability on the TuneIn app or by going to the show’s website at www.talkoffamenetwork.com and clicking on the helmet icon.