Will Darren Woodson’s HOF moment ever come?


Darren Woodson photo courtesy of Dallas Cowboys

Former Dallas Cowboys safety Darren Woodson is one of the 102 modern-era nominees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019.

He also is one of nine players who went to Pro Bowls with the Cowboys on the ballot. Joining him are tight end Jay Novacek (5 Pro Bowls with the Cowboys), defensive tackle La’Roi Glover (4 Pro Bowls), fullback Daryl Johnston (2), halfback Herschel Walker (2), center Ray Donaldson (2), special teams ace Bill Bates, defensive tackle Russell Maryland (1) and safety Thomas Everett (1). Two-time Super Bowl champion coach Jimmy Johnson also is on the ballot.

Woodson probably stands the best chance of the Dallas nominees and for good reason. He’s the all-time leading tackler in franchise history with 1,350 in his 12 seasons. A college linebacker at Arizona State, the Cowboys moved Woodson to the secondary and he was in the NFL’s first wave of coverage safeties in the early 1990s, often lining up across from the opposition’s slot receiver. He intercepted 23 passes in his career. So he was a factor in both run and pass defense on championship teams.

But there is a major obstacle in Woodson’s path to Canton. Despite playing on three Super Bowl champions, Woodson was a glaring omission from the NFL’s all-decade team for the 1990s. Selected ahead of him were Steve Atwater, LeRoy Butler, Carnell Lake and Ronnie Lott.

Why is that important? Because of the 275 players currently enshrined in Canton, 76 percent of them were all-decade selections. Of the 65 players in the Hall who were not selected to an all-decade team, 43 of them played offense.

So if you didn’t play offense and you didn’t make all-decade, you are a longshot for Canton. Charles Haley was not an all-decade selection. He’s a member of the 100-sack club and became the first (and now one of only two players) with five Super Bowl rings. Tom Brady is the other. Yet it took Haley 11 years and six trips to the finals before he was finally voted in. Brady won’t have to wait as long.

Of the 22 defenders in Canton who did not make all-decade, 11 of them were voted into the Hall of Fame as senior candidates after their 25-year windows of eligibility ended.

There are logical reasons Woodson was left off the all-decade team. His team success came during the first half of the 1990 decade. He was done winning Super Bowls by the 1995 season. Butler won a Super Bowl and Atwater won two in the final five years of the decade. So their team accomplishments and Pro Bowls were fresher in the minds of voters than those of Woodson when they put pen to paper in 2000 to select the 1990s all-decade team.

Woodson also had to contend with the reputation of Lott, who is considered by some the greatest safety ever. Lott also was voted to the NFL’s all-decade team of the 1980s and, no question, he deserved it. He was the driving defensive force of a San Francisco team that won four Super Bowls.

But Lott wasn’t the same player in his 30s in the 1990s as he was in his 20s in the 1980s. He played only five seasons in the 1990s with three different teams – the 49ers (1990), Raiders (1991-92) and the Jets (1993-94). He was voted first-team all-pro in 1990 and 1991 and went to the Pro Bowl both of those seasons as well. But his days as an all-pro and Pro Bowler ended after that 1991 season. Woodson’s career started in 1992.

Lott intercepted 15 passes in the 1990s for teams that won just one playoff game. Woodson went to five Pro Bowls in the 1990s and was a three-time first-team all-pro selection.

But even if Woodson had been voted to the 1990s all-decade team ahead of Lott, himself a first-ballot Hall of Famer, there would be no guarantees of a bust in his future. Atwater and Butler were the first-team all-decade selections for 1990s and neither has been enshrined.

Atwater is in his 14th year of eligibility and has been a finalist just once. Butler is in his 12th year of eligibility and is still waiting his first turn as a finalist. Lake also is in his 12th year of eligibility and has never been in the room as a finalist, either.

Woodson enjoyed a Hall of Fame-caliber career. But without that all-decade acclaim, his individual and team accomplishment seem to have been forgotten. He’s in his 10th year of eligibility and has been voted one of the 25 semifinalists just once. Like Butler and Lake, he’s never been a finalist.

Woodson deserves better. His career deserves to be debated and discussed. But the clock continues to tick on his candidacy.

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10 Comments

  1. Jeff
    September 13, 2018
    Reply

    Quite a backlog developing at safety. Ed Reed is a lock this year (or should be)…and personally, I’d put Atwater and Butler in ahead of Woodson. The lack of consideration for Butler and especially Atwater is really head-scratching to me. But, I think Woodson is deserving. Add John Lynch, and that makes five great safeties in this year’s group. Once again, it speaks to the need for another slot for a modern player and/or an extra senior spot or two each year. The problem is only going to get worse.

    • September 14, 2018
      Reply

      Agreed. That has been building for quite some time because the position has gone under valued by HOF voters. Debate over Woodson and atwater could be interesting. Atwater was a KO guy whose job was to protect the middle. Woodson more of an overall playmaker. Reed best of the bunch. After that it’s an interesting debate that includes, or should, Butler. To go old school, 1950s Packer S bobby Dillon as good as anyone but he’s stuck in the senior pool.

    • brian wolf
      September 14, 2018
      Reply

      Due to 1st Ballot HOF Deion Sanders unwillingness to tackle, Woodson had more responsibilities in the secondary than Butler or Atwater and he also had to cover up for the lack of coverage ability of Roy Williams as the Cowboys defence plumetted once he retired.

      You also have to throw in Rodney Harrison whose headhunting changed the rules towards defenceless receivers and allowed for more handcuffing of secondaries which enable WR fantasy statistics.
      He was a clutch player who helped a young secondary win two World Championships and almost have a perfect season as well.

    • Rick Gosselin
      September 15, 2018
      Reply

      Backlog is worse than you think. 1980s all-decade safeties Joey Browner, Deron Cherry and Nolan Cromwell have never been finalists.

      • bachslunch
        September 16, 2018
        Reply

        True. The safeties in the Senior backlog also include guys like Ed Meador, Jimmy Patton, Bobby Dillon, Cliff Harris, and Donnie Shell. Only the last two were finalists, and then only once each.

        Getting Johnny Robinson in the room is a good start, for sure.

  2. Steven Wolfe
    September 14, 2018
    Reply

    I think the other thing that sets Woodson apart from Atwater and Butler was Woodson’s unique ability to cover the slot receiver and allow the Cowboys defense to remain in their base defensive personnel instead of having to substitute in a corner for a linebacker and go to nickel. This allowed the Dallas defense in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s to be statistically very good. The Dallas defense was 3rd in yards in 1996, 2nd in 1997, 4th in 2001, 1st in 2003 – long after the Super Bowl days had faded and many of those players were gone. Woodson was a key part and leader of these teams in addition to the second and third Super Bowl teams of the 1990’s.

    • Rick Gosselin
      September 15, 2018
      Reply

      Woodson was in the first wave of coverage safeties as the NFL was switching to 3-wide sets on offense.

  3. bachslunch
    September 14, 2018
    Reply

    Was looking at the list of preliminary modern era nominees, and for the most part they seemed not to forget anyone major. The only big exception is for kickers/punters where Jason Elam was nominated while none of Gary Anderson, Nick Lowery, or Jason Hanson were. Greg Lloyd, Pat Swilling, and Hardy Nickerson probably should have at least made the list at LB, Ben Coates probably merited a TE nod, Darren Sharper was left off the DBs list, and all of Jimmy Smith, Keenan McCardle, and Irving Fryar probably deserved a WR mention. And it’s unclear why Bill Bates was nominated as a safety when his claim to fame is special teams. None of them were getting in, anyway, so it probably didn’t matter much.

    But at least we didn’t see any horrific omissions such as the times guys like Cortez Kennedy or Randall McDaniel got left at the curb.

    And yeah, I’d definitely like to see Darren Woodson get in the HoF someday. Steve Atwater, LeRoy Butler, and John Lynch, too, at the safety position.

    • Rick Gosselin
      September 15, 2018
      Reply

      Coates was an all-decade selection. Inexcusable for an all-decade player not to be on the ballot all 25 years during his window of eligibility.

      • bachslunch
        September 16, 2018
        Reply

        Agreed. Looks like Anderson, Nickerson, and Sharper were also on all-decade teams. Of course Sharper is kind of a special case, but still.

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