(EDITOR’S NOTE: The Pro Football Hall of Fame will announce the Class of 2018 semifinalists Tuesday at 8 p.m. Eastern)
Fred Smerlas was a great nose tackle.
The guy spent most of his 14 years in the NFL plugging the middle of the defensive line, tying up blockers and freeing his linebackers to make plays. And he did it well, named to five Pro Bowls and one All-Pro team.
What he didn’t do, however, was pile up significant numbers like sacks and tackles for losses because … well, because that wasn’t his job. But that dearth of discernible numbers might be costing the former Buffalo star a shot at the Pro Football Hall of Fame because, as he pointed out on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast, numbers count with voters.
And if voters didn’t see him play … or haven’t seen tapes of his games … they might not appreciate his value. And that, he suggested, is what might be happening. Because while Smerlas is in his 20th year of eligibility, he has never been discussed as a finalist and never been chosen as a semifinalist.
“Do I get angry?” he asked. “No, because I kind of played in a fit of rage, and that’s why I dropped down in the draft into the second round … because they thought I was uncoachable. But I wasn’t. I thought it was my job to beat the crap out of guys in front of me, and that’s what I did.
“But I watched what I did, and I watched what other guys did … and I don’t need someone to tell me, ‘Oh, you’re in the Hall of Fame. So you’re good.’ I played that way. I two-gapped, and I played extremely well outside …. always had front-side player.
“There are a lot of guys that played around the league that don’t get any mention that were great guys. I played with (former offensive lineman) Jimmy Ritcher for 17 years . Phenomenal. As good as it gets. But he goes to the Pro Bowl in his 12th year. How is that?
“So I see guys get crapped on more (than me). I went to see guys in the Pro Bowl who came up and said, ‘Coaches gave us your film to teach us how to play two-gap and said it’s kind of a lost art now.’ And so that to me was the biggest compliment you can get. But, yeah, I probably wouldn’t want to be in the room with guys keeping me off the Hall of Fame. … and I know who a few of them are.”
Maybe. But we don’t. What we do know, however, is that Smerlas’ chances might have been enhanced with the recent induction of former nose tackle Curley Culp. Culp was chosen as a senior candidate to the Class of 2013.
“Does that give you hope?” Smerlas was asked.
“I don’t think I should need hope,” Smerlas said. “I didn’t ask for anyone’s help on the field. I didn’t ask for anyone’s help when I was working out. All I asked for was a fair shot.
“Curley Culp was more of a 4-3 defense guy who played a little bit of nose. I had a guy run the stats. I was the number-one rated nose tackle in history of All-AFC, all Pro Bowls, all that stuff. But Curley … because he was the grandfather of the nose tackles … should have gotten in long ago. There’s no question he should’ve gotten in.”