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


(Lee Roy Jordan photo courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys)
(Tommy Nobis photo courtesy of the Atlanta Falcons)

Talk of Fame Network

The Hall of Fame is a football destination that Randy Gradishar, Lee Roy Jordan and Tommy Nobis have all achieved in their careers.

The College Football Hall of Fame.

But all three still await the ultimate football honor – the Pro Football Hall of Fame. All three are worthy candidates and they are not alone. That’s the subject of our Talk of Fame Network poll – who is the greatest middle linebacker not enshrined in Canton. Here are your six candidates:

Bill Bergey. A second-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 1969, Bergey was voted to the AFL All-Star game as a rookie. He spent his first five seasons with Cincinnati but when he signed a futures contract with the World Football League in 1974, Bengals owner Paul Brown traded him to the Philadelphia Eagles for two firsts and a second-round draft pick. Bergey played seven more seasons with the Eagles and went to four Pro Bowls. He was a three-time MVP of the Eagles and his final game was the 1981 Super Bowl.

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(Bill Bergey photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Eagles)

Mike Curtis. The author of one of the most famous tackles in NFL history, Curtis leveled a drunken fan who waddled onto the field and attempted to steal the football during a timeout in a 1971 game. A former first-round draft pick, Curtis played all three linebacker positions in his 11-year career and went to the Pro Bowl four times for his play on the inside with the Baltimore Colts. He was the team MVP of the Colts’ Super Bowl championship team in 1970 and also served as captain of the 1976 Seattle Seahawks in their inaugural season.

Courtesy of Indianapolis Colts

(Mike Curtis photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts)

Randy Gradishar. The 1978 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Gradishar played 10 seasons and went to seven Pro Bowls — the most of any middle linebacker eligible for the Hall of Fame but not yet enshrined.  He is a member of Ohio State’s all-century team and his college coach Woody Hayes called him, “the finest linebacker I ever coached.” Gradishar collected 200 or more tackles in six of his 10 NFL seasons and played in one Super Bowl.

Lee Roy Jordan. Jordan became the sixth overall pick of the 1963 NFL draft by the Dallas Cowboys. He also was a member of the 1963 College All-Star team that defeated the defending NFL champion Green Bay Packers.  Jordan then played 14 NFL seasons and helped the Cowboys win two Super Bowls. He intercepted 32 career passes and also recovered 16 fumbles for 48 career takeaways. Jordan went to five Pro Bowls. He’s also the only middle linebacker of these six who has been a Hall of Fame finalist — and then just once.

Karl Mecklenburg. A 12th round draft pick by the Denver Broncos in 1983, Mecklenburg went on to play in six Pro Bowls and start in three Super Bowls. Slotting him as a middle linebacker, though, is almost an injustice to him because at one time or another Mecklenburg lined up at each of the seven spots in Denver’s 3-4 defensive front. His 79 ½ career sacks rank second in franchise history.

Linebacker Karl Mecklenburg prepares to wrap up a Browns ball carrier during an October 30, 1994 win against Cleveland.

(Karl Mecklenburg photo courtesy of the Denver Broncos)

Tommy Nobis. A member of the 1960s NFL all-decade team. Nobis was the first overall selection of the 1966 NFL draft in addition to becoming the first pick of the expansion Atlanta Falcons. He also became just the second linebacker selected first overall in the 36-year history of the draft. He was voted the NFL’s Rookie of the Year on the strength of a 294-tackle season, which remains a franchise record today. He played 11 seasons and went to five Pro Bowls.

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  1. James
    April 13, 2016

    Correction – The Bronco’s have been to 8 SB’s not 7 , Another Correction Randy Gradishar was HOF Finalist in 2003 , 2008. Randy Gradishar was All Pro 7 of 10 seasons , Defensive Player of the year in 1978 , Walter Payton was quoted saying the hardest hit he ever received was from Randy Gradishar in 1978. Hopefully the Seniors Committee nominates him this year. He deserves to be the 1st Bronco Defensive Player in the HOF. I do not believe their is a more deserving Defensive player not in the HOF.

  2. bachslunch
    April 13, 2016

    Sam Mills also merits mention here.

  3. Jeff
    April 13, 2016

    I really like all of these guys. Great players. None of them would offend me as a HOF selection. If I had to rank them, Bergey/Curtis would be at the bottom….and I’d have to put Gradishar at the head of the line.

  4. bachslunch
    April 13, 2016

    Totally forgot to mention Zach Thomas — no question he belongs in the discussion.

  5. bachslunch
    April 13, 2016

    I’ve got Randy Gradishar at 4/7/none; he’s the best of these players not in. Would probably rank the Seniors after Gradishar as Bill Bergey (4/5/none), Tommy Nobis (2/5/60s), Lee Roy Jordan (2/5/none), and Mike Curtis (2/4/none). Karl Mecklenburg (4/6/none) also belongs and I say get him in now while he still has three more regularly eligible years left. Sam Mills (3/5/none) has about 5-6 more regularly eligible years to go, while Zach Thomas (5/7/00s) fortunately has a lot of time left. They’ll probably all need it, too.

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