There are two days left for Pro Football Hall-of-Fame selectors to submit ballots cutting the field of 27 for the Class of 2018 to 15 finalists, so there’s still time for one final appeal. And semifinalist Simeon Rice would like to make one.
The former Arizona and Tampa Bay star is one of two edge rushers among the 27 semifinalists. Former defensive end Leslie O’Neal is the other. And while both have been eligible for years, this is their first time as semifinalists.
Rice hopes it is not the last.
In fact, he made it clear on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast that both he and O’Neal should not only move to the final 15 but be in the Hall of Fame … and, frankly, the odds could be with them. Selectors inducted at least one edge pass rusher nine of the past 10 years, and Rice and O’Neal are the only candidates at that position in the Class of 2018.
The question, of course, is: What differentiates the two? So we asked Rice.
“Leslie waited longer,” he said, laughing.
Indeed, he has. O’Neal has been eligible since 2005. But he not only hasn’t been a semifinalist; he wasn’t included among the 126 names on the preliminary list of modern-era in candidates for 2014 … and was added the following year only after a voter submitted his name. Yet O’Neal’s 132-1/2 career sacks are tied with Hall-of-Famer Lawrence Taylor for 12th most in NFL history, and that’s significant. Of the 11 ahead of them, all are either in the Hall or not yet eligible.
This is significant, too: He missed nearly two years early in his career with a severe knee injury. Yet he returned to produce seven of his eight double-digit sack seasons — one reason former Hall-of-Fame voter Nick Canepa, columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune, calls him “the best defensive player in the history of the Chargers.”
“Leslie was great, man,” said Rice. “Listen, Leslie is deserving of the Hall of Fame, just as I am. Leslie is great. I think I broke his rookie sack record. So he deserves the Hall of Fame … and has been deserving of the Hall of Fame for years, much like myself.”
Rice has a point. He ranks 20th in career sacks with 122, but of the 19 ahead of him 12 are in the Hall and five are not yet eligible. Then there is he and Leslie O’Neal.
“The thing that separates us … if you look at the game, I was able to win the Super Bowl … and things of that nature,” said Rice. “And if you judge winning, I was a winner. I was a champion.
“But that doesn’t determine (if) was he a Hall of Famer. He was still a Hall of Famer. When I got to the NFL in ’96 that’s the name I remember most … (because) his rookie sack record was 12-1/2 sacks.”
Another thing that separates the two is the O’Neal was more of a technician and better vs. the run. But Rice … who appeared in one more playoff game and did, as he said, win a Super Bowl … had seven sacks in seven postseason contests, including two in Super Bowl XXXVII. O’Neal had two in six playoff starts.
“I don’t think I ever experienced one playoff where I didn’t flat-out dominate the whole game … against anybody and everybody,” Rice said. “I can always pick my play up a whole ‘nother level. And the timeliness of it … when I look at (today’s game) that’s what I miss now in watching the game. The timeliness of it. Can you take over the game when it matters the most? And that’s what I could do.”