The Pro Football Hall of Fame this week released its preliminary list of 108 candidates for the modern-era Class of 2018, but it should have attached a warning. Because included are at least six notable names that, if not considered immediately, might be forgotten altogether.
I’m talking about players whose modern-era eligibility is about to expire … and Roger Craig, Everson Walls, Bill Fralic, Phil Simms, Keith Millard and Joe Jacoby, come on down. If each doesn’t survive his last year (20th) of eligibility as a modern-era candidate he moves on to the senior pile where he can languish for years.
Or maybe forever. And that’s more than unfortunate. It’s downright unfair.
All are Hall-of-Fame worthy and, if nothing else, deserve to have their cases discussed. But apart from Jacoby and Craig, not one has been a finalist — meaning a final 15 candidate whose resume is brought before the Hall’s board of selectors for discussion. Worse, not one has been a semifinalist, either, or one of 25 candidates voted on annually.
As a finalist the past two years, Jacoby is the closest to the finish line. But where he was a Top-10 finisher in 2016, his first trip inside the room, he moved to the first five discards a year later — a sure sign his candidacy is headed in the wrong direction and losing momentum. If last year’s vote is an indication, he’s in trouble for 2018.
And Craig? He hasn’t been in the room since 2010 … and that was the only time. Simms, Millard, Walls and Fralic haven’t been close, failing to reach the final 25 since they became candidates, and, in the words of Talk of Fame Network co-host Rick Gosselin, that’s more than disappointing.
“It’s criminal,” he said.
Couldn’t agree more.
In our haste to heed the Latest-Is-The-Greatest mantra, the board of selectors this year inducted two first-year candidates and four first-year finalists, including Dallas owner Jerry Jones and former Seattle safety Kenny Easley. Worse, it has allowed Kevin Greene — who ranks third in career sacks, behind only Bruce Smith and Reggie White — to wait 12 years before calling him to Canton and Ray Guy — the punter on the league’s 75th anniversary team — to wait 23 before the senior committee came to his rescue.
But they were the lucky ones. They got in. Too many others won’t because too many others will be forgotten. In their hurry to measure the next first-year candidate for a Gold Jacket, voters have forgotten that others who are deserving have been waiting in line years for a chance … just one opportunity … to have their cases heard.
And they have failed.
So voters should not … cannot … fail them. Let’s have the best of the lame-duck modern-era candidates heard before it’s too late, and then let the process do the rest. Here are your choices of the most worthy … and remember: If their cases aren’t aired next February, they may not get aired, period.
OT BILL FRALIC
A walk-in starter after Atlanta made him the second pick of the 1985 draft, he went to four consecutive Pro Bowls and was one of four guards named to the 1980s’ all-decade team. The other three — Bruce Matthews, Mike Munchak and Russ Grimm — have been enshrined. But Fralic? Despite a reputation as one of the game’s most ferocious run blockers who opened holes for three different 1,000-yard rushers, he hasn’t made it to the first cut. Ever.
The knock: No rings. In fact, the Falcons were 43-83-1 in his career, and voters don’t forget.
RB ROGER CRAIG
The first NFL player to gain 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season, Craig checks all the boxes for Canton. He was a Pro Bowler — at two different positions. He was an All-Pro. He was a three-time Super Bowl champ, all-decade choice and NFL Offensive Player of the Year. What he isn’t is in Canton. He’s the only back named to the Pro Bowl as a halfback AND fullback, and, when he retired, he led all running backs in career receptions. What’s more, he scored nine times in his firs 14 playoff games, and isn’t that how we measure greatness — big players playing big in big games?
The knock: Career rushing yards. He ranks 44th with 8,189, but c’mon, people. He spent part of his career as a fullback
CB EVERSON WALLS
Undrafted out of Grambling, Walls had a storied NFL 13-year NFL career, intercepting 57 passes — 13th best in history and sixth best among pure cornerbacks — and three times led the league in pickoffs. Only Ed Reed has done that, which means Walls is the only cornerback to add that to his resume. He also started on a Super Bowl champion (the 1990 New York Giants). So he has the ring, and he has the stats. What he doesn’t have is buzz. He has never been discussed nor been a Hall-of-Fame semifinalist.
The knock: He was the cornerback victimized by “The Catch,” the Joe Montana-to-Dwight Clark TD that launched the 49ers’ dynasty. Conveniently forgotten is that he intercepted Montana twice in that game.
QB PHIL SIMMS
He won two Super Bowls with the Giants and was a league MVP, and, yeah, I know he didn’t quarterback the 20-19 defeat of Buffalo in Super Bowl XXV. Jeff Hostetler did. Simms quarterbacked the Giants to an 11-3 start before breaking his leg and giving way to his backup. At the time he was leading the league in passing. He also set Super Bowl records for accuracy (.880) and passer efficiency when he hit 22 of 25 passes in a 39-20 defeat of Denver in Super Bowl XXI — a performance that “might be the best game a quarterback has ever played,” said coach Bill Parcells. Simms was named the game’s MVP.
The knock: Injuries and stats. Had he started and won Super Bowl XV he would be in. Plus, he never threw more than 22 TDs in a season, with critics charging he was more a caretaker of an offense on a team driven by Lawrence Taylor and the defense. That’s fine, except tell me why Troy Aikman is in: He had only one year with 20 or more TDs, and that was 1992 when he threw 23.
OT JOE JACOBY
A four-time All-Pro and three-time Super Bowl champion, Jacoby has the credentials to reach Canton. He was an all-decade choice and founding member of “the Hogs,” an offensive line considered one of the greatest ever. It led the Redskins to four Super Bowls and three championships in a decade, with Jacoby playing left tackle on two of those winners and right tackle on the 1991 titlist. There are only four players from the 1980s’ all-decade offense not in Canton, and Jacoby, Craig and Fralic are three of them. Tackle Jimbo Covert is the fourth.
The knock: Jacoby wasn’t the best player on that line; Russ Grimm was. That’s a criticism, and, according to former GM, Charley Casserly, it’s not accurate. But riddle me this: If that line was so dominant, why is there only one of its members in the Hall?
DE KEITH MILLARD
Millard was a four-time All-Pro, member of the 1980s’ all-decade team and Defensive Player of the Year when in 1989 he set a league record for most sacks by a defensive tackle with 18. But he was never the same after suffering a knee injury the next season, with only five sacks the last four years. Nevertheless, he was held in such high esteem by the Minnesota Vikings that the franchise named him one of its top 50 players of all time.
The knock: Durability. He played only 22 games his last four years and 93 for his career. But the Hall just opened its doors to stars with careers cut short by injuries, and don’t forget: All-decade tackle Tony Boselli, a top-10 finalist this year, played only 91 games before he was forced to retire. What’s more, he actually played another season … but in the USFL (1985) where he produced 12 sacks.