State Your Case: Louis Wright


Cornerback Louis Wright heads toward the endzone after recovering a Raider turnover during a game in Oakland.
Cornerback Louis Wright heads toward the endzone after recovering a Raider turnover during a game in Oakland.
Cornerback Louis Wright heads toward the endzone after recovering a Raider turnover during a game in Oakland. (Photo courtesy of the Denver Broncos)

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.

There was.

“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.

 

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18 Comments

  1. bachslunch
    May 17, 2016
    Reply

    Am fine with Louis Wright for the HoF. His honors are certainly good enough at 4/5/70s. Would probably rank him about 4th on the Senior CB depth chart behind Lemar Parrish, Bobby Boyd, and Dave Grayson.

  2. James
    May 18, 2016
    Reply

    Louis Wright is well deserving for the HOF. Glad you have brought up the HOF bias against the Bronco’s. It will be hard for Louis to make it now as it will be up to the Senior committee and only 2 get in each year. What is a travesty is the Bronco’s have made it to 8 SB’s and not 1 defensive HOF Player. That is a TRAVESTY. Gradishar , Atwater , Mecklenburg , Wright should all be in. What will cause the biggest uproar is when Champ Bailey’s time comes and they don’t let him in. WHY DO THE HOF SPORTSWRITER COMMITTEE HATE THE BRONCOS SO MUCH???????????????????

  3. Rob
    May 18, 2016
    Reply

    LeMarr Parrish or Louis Wright? Clark?

    • May 24, 2016
      Reply

      Rob, first of all, let me apologize. Should have responded long ago. Very sorry. Secondly, after much thought would take Wright. I saw him twice every year when I covered the Chargers. Didn’t see much of Parrish in my career. So talked to others who did and they believe he was more of a gambler than Wright, who was more disciplined. Took more chances and, consequently, got beaten more. Parrish was a terrific player, I know that. But given the choice … Wright.

  4. bachslunch
    May 18, 2016
    Reply

    James, I’ll be extremely surprised if Champ Bailey isn’t voted in within a couple years of being eligible. And given that Steve Atwater became a finalist last year and has several eligible years left, I feel confident he’ll be elected in a few more years. Karl Mecklenburg has about three years left and with any luck he’ll break through to finalist status, though he might undeservedly fall through the cracks like Randy Gradishar did. Gradishar unfortunately didn’t reach the finals soon enough — he’s the kind of player who needed a few years to marinate on the balot before getting in (kind of like Harry Carson, Art Monk, Ron Yary, and Tom Mack, who were lucky enough to break through earlier and hang around long enough). As for conspiracy theories, well there’s no shortage of fan bases who think they’re victims — I see it as a problem of too many good candidates and too few openings instead. By the way, should have mentioned Abe Woodson above, who I’d rank at about Boyd’s or Grayson’s level.

    • May 18, 2016
      Reply

      I’m not confident about anyone but Bailey. Gradishar is the guy I don’t get. How is he still on the outside looking in? Atwater will have a tough time because it’s about to get crowded at safety (Reed and Polamalu will be coming up and Lynch already ahead of him in line) and safety a position the Hall for some reason doesn’t warm up to. Do I think he belongs? Absolutely. But not confident he makes it.

  5. Jeff
    May 18, 2016
    Reply

    Yes, I think the damn will (and should) burst for Broncos in the HOF soon. Bailey will get in, it looks like TD is gaining steam (I can go either way with him – short career, but man was he good) and I hope Atwater is too. I always thought Atwater would have an easy time getting elected but that sure didn’t pan out. I have no problem with Louis Wright, but if I were a Bronco fan I’d be more upset about Gradishar and that’s who I’d push for (I can’t argue with Mecklenburg either). I can also say that Louis Wright is not the guy I’d pick if I had to choose a senior-eligible CB. That would be Lemar Parrish, by far.

  6. James
    May 18, 2016
    Reply

    Gradishar should be in. Maybe the Senior committee will see that. If Atwater can’t get in , I don’t see how Champ Baily is going to get in when eligible. As far as Conspiracy Theories – The proof is in the pudding , Bronco’s 8 SB’s , 4 HOF players , NO DEFENSIVE PLAYERS – Getting Gradishar , Atwater in would help. There shouldn’t even be the slightest question on these 2 on any COMMITTEE. T. Davis should get in on his playoff performances alone. One of the Greatest clutch players of all time. even with the shortened career.

    • May 18, 2016
      Reply

      Atwater has a shot, but a two-fold problem: 1) Lynch plays the same position and he made final 10 this year; Atwater did not and 2) Ed Reed and Polamalu are coming along soon, making it a crowd at safety — a position that typically can’t break through with the Hall (only seven pure safeties in Canton). As for Gradishar … don’t ask me why he’s not in. Has everything you want. Don’t understand it.

  7. bachslunch
    May 18, 2016
    Reply

    Lots of things. For starters, Champ Bailey’s honors profile is in no-brainier HoF territory at 6/12/00s. He might wait a couple of years, but there’s no way he won’t get elected. And assuming John Lynch gets elected next year (very likely given that he was a top 10 finalist last year), the Broncos will have a defensive player in the HoF — and if you think he’s not a Bronco, tell that to the team, who will be inducting him into their Ring of Honor this year. More to come.

  8. bachslunch
    May 18, 2016
    Reply

    I actually think Steve Atwater will be elected as a regular candidate sooner or later. He reached the finals this year and will be eligible through 2024. Even with Reed, Dawkins, and Polamalu coming up, he should have enough time to make it in — especially if they induct safeties using seniority as basis. If they do, Atwater should be next after Lynch, followed by Dawkins, Reed, and Polamalu. Reed might jump the line, but I doubt the rest do. More to come.

  9. bachslunch
    May 18, 2016
    Reply

    Also: it doesn’t necessarily follow that there’s an anti-Broncos conspiracy afoot because there aren’t any defensive players in the HoF from this 8-time Super Bowl team. There are actually very few Broncos that strike me as viable Senior candidates: Randy Gradishar and Louis Wright are really the only significant oversights (there’s also Lionel Taylor possibly, maybe Tombstone Jackson if you stretch it, but they’re varying degrees of marginal). There are more not in who have regular candidacy, and John Lynch, Terrell Davis, and Steve Atwater should all get in sooner or later. Karl Mecklenburg is the only serious regularly-eligible candidate in danger of dropping into the Senior pool, and fortunately he still has three years left; he’ll need it, too, sorry to say. There simply isn’t necessarily a correlation between level of team success and number of HoFers, and that’s because HoF enshrinement is an individual honor, not a team honor. For two examples, note that the 60s-70s Cardinals who won nothing have four deserving HoFers (Larry Wilson, Roger Wehrli, Dan Dierdorf, and Jackie Smith), while the Miami No-Name Defense that won two Super Bowls had no HoFers until Nick Buoniconti was elected as a Senior nominee. Stuff like this happens.

  10. James
    May 19, 2016
    Reply

    Hey Clark , I truly appreciate the discussion. I am with you – Gradishar on the outside looking in causes much , much , much indigestion for Bronco fans. Atwater did not fit neatly into a prototype safety as he was used differently than most safeties that ever played the game. Which should help him get in the HOF , But instead I think it hurts him w/ the HOF Committee. All I know for sure was he was our most important defender throughout his Bronco career. The Bronco’s could not have won SB 32 w/o him period. Which was probably the 2nd most important AFC SB win behind the Jets win in SB 3.

    • May 19, 2016
      Reply

      I understand about Atwater. That he made it as a finalist this year was encouraging. It’s been a long wait. Now he must move into top 10 to have realistic shot at getting in. But he has a shot. As I said, the competition is going to grow with each year, and I almost forgot about Brian Dawkins, who is up in 2017. Gradishar I’m not so sure about. It’s up the senior committee to rescue him, and it takes forever to get out from under a pile of deserving candidates that, somehow, have been either neglected or forgotten.

      • July 20, 2016
        Reply

        Truly incildrbee!I think, too, he windsurfed LONG before we even had a name for what that was. He surfed across a pond, using his flying kite to pull him across.The thought of that makes me laugh. he was like 13 years old or something.

      • Anthony
        September 11, 2017
        Reply

        Atwater not being a finalist this year really hurts his long-term outlook.

        I do think he will get in via his regular eligibility soon, but that’s mostly because I expect the defensive back logjam to start clearing out very soon, sort of like the O-Line logjam has, allowing Boselli and Jacoby to get their cases heard lately.

        If Lynch goes in next year, which I expect he will alongside Moss/Ray Lewis/Jacoby and someone else, then hopefully Law, Dawkins, Ronde Barber, Reed, Bailey, Polamalu and Woodson can all find themselves in by 2021, leaving Atwater a few years as the best defensive back eligible before his regular eligibility runs out. I don’t think it’ll be until 2023 or 2024, but I do think he gets in just before the end of his regular eligibility window.

        • September 11, 2017
          Reply

          You’re right about his going backward this year. I think it cripples his candidacy because there are, as you point out, more safeties coming up. Dawkins already is in the queue, and I think he’s more likely this year than Lynch. Then there’s Lynch. Reed is on the way. And so is Polamalu. Hope I’m wrong about Atwater, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s never a finalist again … unless the senior committee rescues him in the not-so-distant future.

  11. Sam Goldenberg
    May 20, 2016
    Reply

    Louis Wright was a very underrated player. He played against some very prolific offenses, and shutdown many WRs that are Hall of Famers. His low interception total should really be viewed as a positive because QBs didn’t want to test him. I think he definitely deserves consideration.

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