Who’s the best outside linebacker not in the Hall of Fame?

Robert Brazile photo courtesy of the Tennessee Titans


(Andy Russell photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Steelers)
(Robert Brazile photo courtesy of the Tennessee Titans)

Talk of Fame Network

Outside linebacker was not always known as a pass-rush position. It was once one among the most versatile positions on the football field because players there had to be able to stand in against the blocking of bigger offensive linemen in the run game and chase smaller, faster running backs on sweeps and downfield pass patterns.

But because they lacked that a single glamorous stat — specifically, sacks – many outside linebackers from that bygone era have been passed over for Hall-of-Fame acclaim.

That’s the subject of our Talk of Fame Network poll this week – who’s the best outside linebacker not in the Hall of Fame? There are several worthy candidates, including all-decade performers Robert Brazile, Joe Fortunato and George Webster. Here’s your slate of candidates:

Maxie Baughan. Dick Butkus, Ray Nitschke, Tommy Nobis, Larry Morris and Dave Robinson went to a combined 10 Pro Bowls in the 1960s. All were voted to the NFL’s all-decade team. Baughan went to nine Pro Bowls, all in the 1960s, yet was left off that all-decade team. Go figure. Baughan went to five Pro Bowls with the Philadelphia Eagles in the Eastern Conference and four more with the Los Angeles Rams of the Western Conference. He started as a rookie for the Eagles in 1960 and won his only NFL championship.

Maxie Baughan, Perry Lee Dunn

(Maxie Baughan 55 photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles)

Robert Brazile. The only one of the six linebackers on the 1970s’ NFL all-decade team not enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Brazile was the sixth overall pick of the 1975 draft by the Houston Oilers and went on to become the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He arrived at a time when Bum Phillips was converting the Oilers from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense and became the early prototype for the NFL’s weakside-linebacker position. Brazile played 10 seasons and went to seven Pro Bowls.

Joe Fortunato. The only one of four linebackers on the 1950s’ NFL all-decade team not enshrined in the Hall of Fame. In addition to being named one of the four best linebackers in the 1950s, Fortunate went to three Pro Bowls in the 1960s with the Chicago Bears. He went to the Pro Bowl five times and played on Chicago’s 1963 NFL champions. He recovered 22 fumbles and intercepted 16 passes for 38 career takeaways in his 12-year career.

Chuck Howley. The only player from a losing team named a Super Bowl MVP. Howley became the first defensive player and first non-quarterback named that MVP after intercepting two passes and forcing a fumble in a 16-13 loss by the Cowboys to the Baltimore Colts in 1971. Dallas returned to the Super Bowl the following season, and Howley contributed two more takeaways, a fumble and an interception, in a 24-3 victory over Miami. In a 15-year career he intercepted 25 passes for 399 yards with two touchdowns. Howley went to six Pro Bowls.


(Chuck Howley photo courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys)

Andy Russell. A member of one of the great defenses of all-time — Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain. Unfortunately for Russell, he played the bulk of his career before the Steelers became a great defense and before they started winning Super Bowls. Russell arrived in 1963 as a 16th-round draft pick but became a walk-in starter and earned a spot on the NFL all-rookie team. He then spent two years in the military before returning in 1966. He was named a captain in 1967 and held that honor until his retirement after the 1976 season. He went to seven Pro Bowls in his final eight seasons and won Super Bowls in 1974 and 1975 with the emergence of the Steel Curtain.

George Webster. Selected to the all-time all-AFL team. Webster once chased down Hall-of-Fame wide receiver and Olympic gold medalist Bob Hayes from behind. He was the fifth overall pick of the 1967 draft, made 15 tackles in his pro debut against the defending AFL champion Kansas City Chiefs and went on to become the AFL Rookie of the Year. Webster was voted to the AFL All-Star game in each of his first three seasons before suffering a knee injury in his fourth season in 1970. He was never the same player thereafter, playing six more seasons with three different teams and missing games because of injuries in all but one of those seasons.


(George Webster photo courtesy of the Tennessee Titans)

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  1. bachslunch
    April 20, 2016

    Howley, Baughan, Brazile, and Fortunato are arguably the best OLBs not in and very deserving. The position is still not well represented in the HoF from the 50s-70s, and there’s room for several more inductees. Larry Grantham and Bill Forester also deserve mention and strike me a being at about Fortunato’s level — as do Mike Stratton and Isiah Robertson, the latter two about comparable to Russell in HoF worth. George Webster’s career definitely started off at HoF level, but as mentioned above injuries badly impacted his level of play; a real “what might have been” player, he’s unfortunately well down the list for me.

    • Rick Gosselin
      April 20, 2016

      Defense in generally has been shortchanged in Canton. 56.7% of all those enshrined played offense, only 28.1% played defense. In the modern era, it’s 50.8% on offense and 33.5% on defense.

  2. Jeff
    April 20, 2016

    Very difficult for me to choose between Baughan, Brazile and Howley. I think all three of them belong in the HOF (I think Webster falls short…Russell and Fortunato I see as farther down the list but neither would offend me as a seniors candidate). Hard to understand how Baughan and his nine pro bowls have been overlooked for so long (never a finalist) and Howley has never been a finalist despite the fact that he was a better and more decorated player than some of the people who rode their own Super Bowl MVP into the Hall of Fame.

    • Rick Gosselin
      April 20, 2016

      There have been so many talented and deserving defensive candidates who have fallen inexplicably through the cracks. The Hall has become so stat-driven and back in the 1950s and 1960s even into the 1970s stats there were so few stats for defensive players.

  3. bachslunch
    April 20, 2016

    Rick: one of the interesting problems with defensive stats is which ones, if any, are really meaningful. Some, like sacks and interceptions, reward certain kinds of niche skills at the expense of others. And as you excellently pointed out in an article several years ago, tackles are a meaningless stat since there’s no uniform standard for awarding them. Hole pluggers and run stuffers with few sacks (like Dan Hampton) and great coverage guys with a minimum of interceptions (like Roger Wehrli) too often fly under the HoF radar, though luckily that didn’t happen for these two players. The best stats I can get behind are postseason honors like all pro team selections, pro bowl selections, all decade selections — preferably combined with good film study — because in theory they take a fuller picture into account and tell us what observers at the time thought of the player. Would be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

  4. Steve
    April 21, 2016

    I’d probably have to vote for Baughn, but of the ones I saw play I’d say Brazile. As you say, lots of deserving defenders on the outside looking in at Canton.

    As a Raider fan, I also need to give Rod Martin an honorable mention. No, I don’t think he’s a Hall of Famer, but very much a key component of some of the baddest Raider defenses ever, and Hell in big games. Ask Jaworski! Phil Villapiano too…

  5. Rasputin
    April 21, 2016

    Clearly Chuck Howley. You left out that Howley was named first team AP All Pro 5 times, the most of anyone on this list, which should carry more weight than mere Pro Bowl selections. Maxie Baughan made 2 first team AP All Pro teams. No one else had more than 3, and most had fewer. Also, Howley’s 6 Pro Bowls and 5 first team All Pro selections were spread out over 7 different seasons. A member of the 20/20 club, Howley had more sacks and several more interceptions than Baughan in a career of similar length. Add in the fact that Howley was MVP in one Super Bowl and played a game that earned him strong consideration in the one they won the following year, while Baughan’s only championship success was his team’s NFL championship his rookie year, and the weight of evidence strongly favors Howley. But this voting appears to be over. It’d be a shame if lots of people voted for Baughan simply because a quick glance at this article showed he had a couple more Pro Bowls, and they didn’t know this other stuff.

  6. Rasputin
    April 21, 2016

    I guess the voting’s not over yet, but I noticed that Redskins.com has an article linking to this page calling for people to vote for Maxie Baughan, which may have boosted his numbers.

  7. bachslunch
    April 21, 2016

    Rasputin, no surprise that this site has been flooded with ‘Skins fans voting — or perhaps a couple fans with several accounts. There were scads of votes cast for Larry Brown and Pat Fischer in earlier polls, even though they’re clearly not the best optioms at their position.

  8. DFR52
    April 23, 2016

    I would like to thank Rasputin for posting that information on Chuck Howley. I had read the story earlier in the week and returned today to respond to it. Howley put together a career that was clearly worthy of induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and has been ignored by the voters for decades. All the players mentioned in the article were excellent Outside Linebackers but Howley is the superior candidate. I also think its a shame that Howley was not a member or the 1960’s All Decade Team when he was a 5 time Pro Bowler and 4 time All Pro during that time period. As Rasputin stated previously, for a 7 year period Howley was considered the best or one of the best at his position and that by itself should push him to the top of this list and into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And that is not even considering his Super Bowl MVP or the 9 yards he needed for probably a second Super Bowl MVP.

  9. Darrell Simon
    July 18, 2016

    Brazile has seven pro bowls, and five All Pro years. Compared to Ricky Jackson, who has five pro bowls and four all pro years. Jackson is in the hall of fame. Jackson had all pro linebackers Pat Swilling, Vaughn Johnson and Sam Mills to help him at the lb corps. Brazile did it alone.

    He was LT before LT. Look at the film. the film does not lie.

  10. Keith Schrage
    January 11, 2017

    Why is Matt Blair not on this list?
    All Rookie
    16 Interceptions
    23 Blocked punts/kicks
    4 X All NFC
    6 X’s All Pro
    6 Straight Pro Bowls
    12 Seasons with Vikings
    He changed the position of OLB. Tall,, Fast, pass rusher, cover man, special teams, played with speed and finesse. He was the fore runner to Lawrence taylor

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