After electing one specialist in its first 51 years, the Pro Football Hall of Fame took a sharp U-turn and inducted two in the past five. So, with its board of selectors more amenable to the position I figured it’s time to propose another candidate. And I will.
The former Cardinals’ star was one of the most decorated placekickers in the 1960s and 1970s — a two-time all-decade choice who was named to the 1960s’ and 70s’ teams. So what? So there are only two other kickers who can say that — Gary Anderson and Morten Andersen — and Morten is one of the two kickers in Canton.
Bakken already has a place in Canton, with a shoe that he used in a 1967 game vs. Pittsburgh encased there. It was that contest where he set an NFL record by hitting seven field goals, a mark that wasn’t broken until over 40 years later when Rob Bironas nailed eight.
When he retired, Bakken was the third-highest scorer in NFL history and is still the Cardinals’ all-time leading scorer. He led the league in field goals twice, led it in accuracy twice and led it in scoring once. He finished in the top six kickers in field-goal percentage nine times. He was in the top three of field goals made five times. And he was a four-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro.
Plus, he had something more than ability. Something like … availability. He’s the Cards’ all-time leader in games played (234), though Larry Fitzgerald can tie him if he appears in all 16 games this season.
“No range,” NFL historian John Turney of Pro Football Journal, said of Bakken “but he was more accurate than all of the straight-on kickers of his era. Clutch kicks, too.”
Granted, his numbers pale in comparison to today’s kickers, with 22 of the league’s NFL teams hitting on 80 percent or more of their field-goal tries a year ago. Bakken hit 63.1 percent of his kicks during his career, not all that far removed from Hall-of-Famer Jan Stenerud’s 66.8. And, yes, as Turney pointed out, Bakken didn’t have the range. He was 1 of 21 in his career in field goals of 50 or more yards.
But it was a different era when 50-yard field goals were as common as mittens in Honolulu.
All I know is that Bakken was considered one of the game’s two best kickers for two decades, and that should count for something. No, it shouldn’t put him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame tomorrow, but it should provoke a discussion and give him the audience he hasn’t had.