Here’s a solution to Hall’s safety squeeze raised by Polamalu


(Polamalu photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers)
(Easley photo courtesy of the Seattle Seahawks)

By Clark Judge

Talk of Fame Network

Since Troy Polamalu announced his retirement last week, there’s been a lot of talk about safeties and how difficult it is for them to gain entry to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

And there should be. There are only seven pure safeties in the Hall, with Ken Houston – who retired after the 1980 season – the last to play. That’s 35 years ago … or longer than Troy Polamalu has been alive. Nevertheless, there’s no shortage of voices telling us that Polamalu is a slam-dunk for the Hall of Fame because … well, because he was one helluva player.

OK, fine. So what does that mean for, say, Johnny Robinson? Or Eddie Meador? Or Cliff Harris, Steve Atwater and Kenny Easley? They’re safeties deserving of Hall-of-Fame recognition, too. And you know what? They’ve waited a heckuva lot longer than Troy Polamalu for admission to Canton.

Robinson was a six-time All-AFL choice who five times led the Kansas City Chiefs in interceptions. Meador was an all-decade choice from the 1960s who still holds the Rams’ record for career interceptions, fumble recoveries and blocked kicks. Harris was another all-decade choice who was a four-time All-Pro and two-time Super Bowl champ. Atwater and Easley were all-decade picks, too, with Easley named the 1984 Defensive Player of the Year.

Bottom line: There are more safeties than just Troy Polamalu qualified for admission to the Hall of Fame, and they’ve been waiting on Canton for decades.

What we have here, then, is not a question of Troy Polamalu in particular or safeties in general. It’s much bigger than that, and it includes players at least as decorated as Troy Polamalu. Up until last year, for instance, there were 73 all-decade players not in the Hall … with 60 of them never discussed. Connect the dots, people.  There’s a long line of deserving candidates who can’t get a sniff because the line outside Canton is too long.

And getting longer.

It’s a problem that needs to be addressed, and our Rick Gosselin is on it. He suggests that the Pro Football Hall of Fame mark the 100th anniversary of the NFL in 2019 by declaring a limited amnesty – admitting a 20-person class of 10 seniors and 10 modern-era candidates.

“There’s a backlog in both categories,” he said. “Too many great players are falling through the cracks. This wouldn’t break the logjam, but it would certainly ease it.

“When you have all-decade players like Alex Karras from the 1960s, Robert Brazile from the 1970s and Kenny Easley from the 1980s who have never even been discussed as finalists, there’s an obvious blind spot in the process.

“Maxie Baughan, Eddie Meador, Harvey Martin, Dick Anderson, Drew Pearson, Harold Carmichael — how do all these elite players from yesteryear fall through the cracks without any discussion? Too many worthy candidates are on the outside looking in from the seniors pool. This needs to be addressed — and the 100th anniversary of the game would be the perfect time to address it.”

Gosselin’s proposal makes sense. It would shorten the queues at both ends and make it easier for safeties from the senior and modern-era pools to gain admission. And that’s long overdue. But it’s not just Polamalu who’s at issue here. It’s retired safeties Ed Reed, Brian Dawkins and John Lynch, too, with Lynch a Hall-of-Fame finalist the past two years.

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking: Ed Reed? Please. First-ballot lock. Maybe. After all, he did set the Ravens’ franchise record with 61 interceptions and was a Super Bowl champion. But let me remind you of something: Another safety, Paul Krause, has more interceptions than anyone in NFL history with 81 — or 20 more than Reed.

Yet it took him 14 years to reach Canton.

That’s why I like Gosselin’s idea. Only I’d make one change. I’d strengthen his proposal by broadening it. To celebrate 1919, I’d induct 19 seniors and 19 modern-era candidates – and don’t tell me that compromises the integrity of the process. Because it doesn’t. There’s an overflow of worthy candidates that can’t get in, and this is one way of opening the doors to those who belong.

But may never make it.

Heck, it took former Minnesota center Mick Tingelhoff 38 years after his last snap to reach Canton, and he was named to six straight Pro Bowls, five All-Pro teams and didn’t miss a start … or a practice … in 17 seasons. Yet, until he was elected in February, he hadn’t even been discussed by the Hall’s board of selectors.

And what about a guy like former linebacker Maxie Baughan? Gosselin wrote about him this week on this website. Baughan went to nine straight Pro Bowls in the 1960s, while the five linebackers named to the 60’s all-decade team went to a combined 10. Yet Maxie Baughan hasn’t been discussed as a Hall-of-Fame finalist, either.

So don’t tell me Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu and Brian Dawkins are dead-bolt first-ballot choices. The latest is not necessarily the greatest. Others have been standing in line for years, and the line is barely moving. It’s something that frustrates the candidates, frustrates the fans and frustrates the Hall’s voters.

But now, thanks to Rick Gosselin, we may have a solution that’s guaranteed to make that line move faster … by making it shorter. It’s an idea that makes too much sense not to be considered.





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1 Comment

  1. Rich Quodomine
    April 18, 2015

    A great article, and much like the interior DL, a safety, particularly a strong safety, can’t add INTs to his record *in comparison* to a CB. INTs are sexy, blowing up a RB after a 3 yard over the middle catch is only fun in that moment, but forgotten forever as RB Smith 3yd pass from Miller. Tkl by Jones. I am not sure if you’ll get the 1919 format, but maybe what you can do is every 10 years, get an induction class of 20 backlogged seniors. This way, you collect the back half that missed due to overstock or change in valuation of the position.

    But back to safeties, I think there’s going to be 2 things that will put more safeties in the HoF: First off, the tampa 2. That D created an emphasis on great safety play. Instead of being “less talented CBs we put back there”, the Tampa 2 created not just an emphasis on safety play, but the hybrid “Big 3rd safety / WIL” who was a nickel safety but was almost a LB on the field. They may have been listed as SS, but they hit people like LBs and covered in the box as the emphasis on QB play increased. Bob Sanders and John Lynch may or may not ever get to the HoF, but they will create an argument. And for every HoF argument made by a Lynch or Sanders, there’s their descendants: Pierson Prioleau, DaNorris Searcy, Yeremiah Bell, Deon Grant, etc. Bucky Brooks did an article on it: .

    The other trend that might help is the adoption of advanced statistics by writers as a means of comparison. These situational statistics, factored over the course of a career, can give a much better picture of how good a player was when the more known statistics, like INTs and Sacks, don’t do justice to the player. I know it sounds goofy, but if baseball can come up with a statistic like “defensive indifference” and measure how it impacts late innings based on the situation, then why can’t “passes defensed on 3rd down” also be a stat that factors into overall stats for a players career. In the paper, it might read 3rd and 4. Smith Att pass to Jones, inc. PD by Grant. Grant might have made a game saving play as a safety, but the statistic will only show a pass defensed.

    I’m not saying advanced statistics are the end all, be all. But in a game dominated publicly by Sacks, INTs, and TDs, it may open the HoF door to players who were truly great, but you’d never know.

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