By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
The Denver Broncos have been to eight Super Bowls, yet they have only four players (John Elway, Floyd Little, Shannon Sharpe and Gary Zimmerman) who spent significant portions of their careers with them in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Call it what you will … but I’d say that’s more than an oversight.
I’d say it’s flat-out wrong.
OK, so at least they’re getting close. Former running back Terrell Davis made it to this year’s final 10 as a second-time finalist, and former safety Steve Atwater made the cut to 15 for the first time. That’s a start. But where’s the love for Randy Gradishar, Karl Mecklenburg or former coach Dan Reeves? Or how about Louis Wright?
Yes, that Louis Wright.
Before there was Champ Bailey as a shutdown corner for the Broncos, there was Louis Wright – a guy who was so good at what he did for Denver’s fabled “Orange Crush” defense he was named to five Pro Bowls when they meant something, a two-time first-team All-Pro and a member of the 1970’s all-decade team.
Yeah, well, I know what you’re thinking: So what? So the other three cornerbacks on that all-decade club … they’re in the Hall. Wright is the only one who isn’t.
Welcome to Denver, people.
Atwater was an all-decade choice, too, and he’s not in. Neither is Davis, an all-decade choice of the 1990s. From the 1960s through the 1990s only four all-decade cornerbacks haven’t made it to Canton, and Wright is one of them (Bobby Boyd, Frank Minnifield and Lester Hayes are the others). Worse, he hasn’t even been discussed.
Now, tell me: How can someone who was so good that he was considered one of the four best cornerbacks of his era and so good for so long that he was first chosen to the Pro Bowl in 1977 and last picked in 1985 never be considered one of the top 15 players in any year to make it before the Hall’s board of selectors?
Louis Wright was tall (6-feet-2) and fast. He was a sure tackler who was terrific in run support. He was a hard hitter. He was glue to an opposing receiver, surrendering just one touchdown in 1984. In short, he was everything you’d want from your cornerback.
Ah, but he wasn’t, critics charge, because he only had 26 career interceptions. So try explaining that. OK, I will. Quarterbacks respected him so much they rarely threw to his side of the field. I know, detractors say his hands weren’t the best, and I don’t know about that. All I know is that opponents didn’t like throwing to his side of the field … and there must be a reason.
“They use the term ‘shutdown cornerback’ today,” former Broncos’ defensive coordinator Joe Collier once told the Denver Post. “We didn’t have that term back then, but Louis Wright was a shutdown cornerback. He was a great run defender. He played the left side, and in those days most teams were right-handed, and their running plays usually went to our left side.”
Former draft expert Joel Buchsbaum in 1979 rated his top NFL cornerbacks and put Wright ahead of Mike Haynes and Mel Blount, both Hall of Famers. His reason? “He is the prototype cornerback,” Buchsbaum wrote. “Wright forces the sweep in textbook fashion and is so adept on coverage he often is asked to guard super receivers like Lynn Swann, John Jefferson or Cliff Branch without assistance.”
Buchsbaum’s sentiments then were echoed by Hall-of-Fame quarterback Dan Fouts this week.
“As far a Louis Wright is concerned,” Fouts said, “yeah, I do think he qualifies as a Hall of Famer. For me, he was tough. He was in the mold of Mike Haynes and Mel Blount as big and really athletic corners. We had to shy away from him, and that was not easy because he was on their left side … our right side … and it seems like you throw more passes to that side of the field. Anyway, I’d recommend him, no question.”
OK, let’s see if I have this straight. Louis Wright could play the run. He could play the pass. He was a sure tackler. He was a terrific special-teams player. He could jam receivers at the line or re-route them through the Denver defense. He went to two Super Bowls, five Pro Bowls and was an all-decade choice. And he has the endorsement of a Hall-of-Fame opponent.
So why can’t we at least hear why he does … or does not … belong in the Hall? Why can’t we once make him a Hall-of-Fame finalist?
Certainly Louis Wright deserves that.