Smith finally makes HOF ballot; Chester leads HBCU HOF class; Fassel ponders Garoppolo deal


The Talk of Fame Network this week continues its annual visit with preliminary nominees for the Hall of Fame’s Class by dropping in on two-time Super Bowl champion and 1990s’ all-decade selection Neil Smith, who mysteriously has never been a Hall-of-Fame finalist or semi-finalist — and who was not included on the 2017 preliminary list — despite being a member of the 100-sack club.

How can this be?

‘’Like the NFL, out of sight, out of mind,’’ said Smith, one of the 108 candidates for the Hall’s Class of 2018, on this week’s broadcast. “(But) the numbers speak for themselves.’’

So does Neil Smith, who recalls what it was like sharing pass-rushing duties in Kansas City with Hall-of- Fame linebacker Derrick Thomas and how then-Denver head coach Mike Shanahan convinced Smith and the rest of the Broncos that, despite being 11-point underdogs to defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay, the Broncos could win Super Bowl XXXII.

“You want that that situation where people think you aren’t worthy of it,’’ Smith recalled. “Taking nothing away from Green Bay … we could have played that game any day, and we would have beaten them three out of four.’’

Also dropping by the show is Black College Football Hall-of-Fame 2018 enshrinee and four-time Pro Bowl selection Raymond Chester. Chester was the NFL’s Rookie of the Year in 1970 as well as a Super Bowl champion with the Raiders, yet he, too, has never been debated by Hall-of-Fame voters. Chester declined to argue his personal case for induction but did say he believes “older guys should get in first. The Hall needs to do something to recall the great players being pushed further and further back (by younger candidates).’’

Chester also recalled life in Oakland playing for Al Davis and explains why he ended up rejecting college scholarship offers from Penn State, Maryland and Notre Dame to attend Morgan State.

“I played offensive and defensive line in high school, but my senior year they put in a tackle-eligible play,’’ Chester recalled. “I had pretty good success. I got a taste of that glory. Penn State had a tight end they were pretty satisfied with named Ted Kwalick.  They wanted me to play defense. Morgan State offered me the chance to play tight end. I never regretted it.’’

Neither did the Raiders, who drafted him in the first round, or his hometown Baltimore Colts, who later traded for him.

Former Colts’ personnel director, New England Patriots’ general manager and World Football League club owner Upton Bell has a new memoir out this week called “Present At The Creation – My Life in the NFL and the Rise of America’s Game,’’ co-authored with our Ron Borges, and he stopped by to talk about how he built two Super Bowl teams in Baltimore and what life was like growing up as the son of NFL Commissioner Bert Bell.

Bert Bell was credited with saving the NFL during World War II and the lean years that followed. He created the first draft of college players in any sport, forced the owners to accept overtime and thus laid the ground work for the dramatic finish of the 1958 NFL championship game. That contest is considered the most important in pro football history because it had the league sign the first national TV contracts that brought it far wider exposure and unprecedented money.

Upton Bell was like Forrest Gump. He was present at all of the biggest moments in NFL history and this week was in our studios to recall the game’s formative – and often wacky – early years.

Also joining this week’s broadcast is former New York Giants’ head coach and quarterback whisperer Jim Fassel, who weighs in on the Patriots’ decision to trade backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers. Fassel felt Bill Belichick was “taking a big gamble’’ but thought the same about the 49ers.

“I’m a little concerned taking a backup quarterback,’’ Fassel said.

One quarterback he’s not concerned about is the Rams’ Jared Goff. Fassel’s son coaches on the Rams’ staff, so he has a special affinity for Goff. Which of the game’s best young quarterbacks – Goff, Garoppolo, Cameron Wentz or DeShaun Watson does he like best? Tune in to SB Nation Radio or listen to our free podcast available on iTunes or with the TuneIn app to find out. You can also hear the show on our website, talkoffamenetwork.com.

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