(Photos courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings)
Talk of Fame Network
There was a three-year window in the 1990s when Terrell Davis was the best back in the NFL.
Davis began his NFL career with four consecutive 1,000 yards seasons and got better with each year, rushing for 1,117 yards as a rookie in 1995, 1,538 yards in 1996, 1,750 in 1997 and finally winning his first NFL rushing title with 2,008 yards in 1998. He helped the Broncos win consecutive Super Bowls in 1997-98 — but a knee injury in the opening month of the 1999 season derailed his career.
Davis returned in 2000 and wound up playing parts of two more seasons, rushing for fewer than 1,000 more yards, before retiring. The brevity of his career overshadowed the brilliance of it. He became eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007, but it took him nine turns as a semifinalist before finally reaching the room as a finalist for the Class of 2015.
There was a strong public push for Davis to be recognized by Canton. He deserved to be discussed as a Hall-of-Fame finalist before his brilliance was lost in the pages of history. There was no such push for Chuck Foreman because, sadly, his brilliance has been lost in the pages of history.
Like Davis, Foreman had a three-year window in the 1970s when he was the game’s best back. He was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year for the Minnesota Vikings in 1973 when he rushed for 801 yards and caught 37 passes. That was back in the days of 14-game seasons when 1,000 yards by a back were rare. There were only five of them that year.
Foreman then led the NFL in touchdowns with 15 in 1974, led the league in receiving with 73 catches and also finished second in TDs with 22 in 1975, then led the NFL in touchdowns again with 14 in 1976. He went to the Pro Bowl each of his first five seasons and during one stretch rushed for 1,000 yards for three consecutive years (1975-77).
Foreman’s hands and legs helped Minnesota reach three Super Bowls in his first four seasons. Had the Vikings won just one of those Super Bowls, Foreman likely would already have been a finalist and in the discussion of the game’s all-time great backs.
But unlike Davis and his Denver Broncos, Foreman and his Vikings lost all of those Super Bowls by double-digits to Miami in 1973, Pittsburgh in 1974 and Oakland in 1976. Foreman suffered a knee injury in 1979 that not only cost him two games but also his starting job. He played one final season with New England in 1980 before retiring at the age of 30.
Foreman has been eligible for the Hall of Fame for 30 years but has never been in the room to be discussed as a finalist. His fate is now in the hands of the senior committee, which resurrected the candidacy of one of his teammates in 2015. Center Mick Tingelhoff waited 32 years to finally get into the room as a finalist and was elected to the Class of 2015.
Two other teammates also gained enshrinement after lengthy waits — defensive end Carl Eller and safety Paul Krause. Eller was elected in his 20th year of eligibility and Krause after 14 years. Had the Vikings won just one Super Bowl in the Bud Grant era, all those waits might have been cut in half.
“Being No. 1 is great,” Foreman said. “But being No. 2 isn’t all that bad. Does anyone understand how difficult it is just to get there?”
The Vikings won 69 percent of their games and six division titles in Foreman’s seven seasons in Minnesota. He caught nine touchdown passes in 1975 and rushed for 200 yards in a game against Philadelphia in 1976. He also was on the verge of very rare triple crown in 1975.
Foreman entered the season finale at Buffalo with a chance to lead the NFC in rushing, receiving and scoring. He rushed for 85 yards and four touchdowns into the third quarter but was struck in the eye with a snowball thrown from the stands. Foreman suffered blurry vision, which knocked him out of the game for the final 20 minutes. He wound up falling one touchdown short of the NFL scoring record and six yards short of an NFC rushing crown but did hold on to that NFL receiving title.
Foreman was as complete a back as there was in the NFL. But no one seemed to notice then — nor are they noticing now.
“It’s baffling to me,” Foreman said. “Was it the Super Bowls? I always felt the Hall of Fame was an individual award, not a team award. It’s your production on the field, not so much the team production. I see these other guys in (Canton), and I guess they’re all deserving. But if they’re deserving, then I’m deserving.”
I can’t argue with him. But no one else seems interested in hearing the argument.