Looking Ahead to Pro Football's Hall of Fame for 2017, Who Gets In?
No sport showcases its history quite like the NFL. So it would stand to reason that the 2016 Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony, a dance card that included one of the most highly anticipated main events in Hall of Fame history (Brett Favre's induction speech), not only went off without a hitch, but was a gigantic home run.
Each of the eight inductions was special in its own way, and the speeches were all perfectly appropriate for who was delivering them, from Marvin Harrison's understated cleverness to Eddie DeBartolo's message to the league to take care of its aging players; the whole presentation was typical brilliance.
The ironic 800-pound gorilla in the room was that the one portion of the weekend that included actual football, Sunday night's Hall of Fame game, was actually canceled by the league because the paint used on the field congealed and created the football equivalent of concrete patches on various portions of the field, a laughable fiasco for everyone except ticket holders, TV partners, and the back third of the Packer and Colt rosters who were trying to make an impression.
Nevertheless, Packer fans presumably went home happy, as their hero and franchise icon, Favre, crushed it with his speech, a 36-minute masterpiece that carefully blended messages on leadership, fatherhood, life, death and the improbability of a wishbone QB from Kiln, Mississippi, eventually holding nearly every NFL passing record.
For what it's worth, many of those "volume" records Favre attained were eventually surpassed by Peyton Manning, including the two likely seen as the most important — yards and touchdown passes. Appropriately, Manning is probably the next Hall of Famer whose induction is at the Favre-ian "stone cold lock" level to where the league can go ahead and send out "save the date" invitations for 2021 if officials so desire. (As a side note, the unbreakability of some of these passing records, once Tom Brady or Drew Brees is done breaking them, is another post for another time. With all we know about concussions, it's fair to ask if we see any of the next wave of active QBs on these lists — Rodgers, Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Rivers — sticking around long enough to break these marks. Something to ponder.)
So looking ahead to next year, if we were betting people (and I, for one, am), what will 2017's class look like? Well, here's my best guess:
1. TERRELL OWENS, WR
San Francisco 49ers (1996-2003), Philadelphia Eagles (2004-05), Dallas Cowboys (2006-08), Buffalo Bills (2009), Cincinnati Bengals (2010)
Honestly, Owens is probably a better, more deserving player than Marvin Harrison, but the Hall of Fame committee used 2016's induction, clearly, as a two-pronged way to a) clear out one of the logjam names at the WR spot in Harrison and b) simultaneously put Owens in "Hall of Fame time out" for his polarizing antics throughout his career. Owens was as crappy a teammate as he was spectacular a wide-out, finishing sixth all-time in catches (1,078), third in yards (15,934) and second in touchdown catches (153). But there's a reason he played on four teams over his final seven seasons — he was kind of a jerk. Still, he should be a jerk with a yellow blazer this time next year.
ODDS FOR INDUCTION: 95 percent
2. ALAN FANECA, G
Pittsburgh Steelers (1998-2007), New York Jets (2008-09), Arizona Cardinals (2010)
It's kind of crazy that Faneca isn't already in, when you consider that he had a period of dominance that included six first team All-Pro selections during his ten years in Pittsburgh. Also, the Hall seems to reward "availability" quite a bit, and no offensive lineman was more "available" than Faneca during his 13 years, as he played in 206 of a possible 208 games. It's hard to be spectacular as an interior offensive lineman, just because of the "grunt work" nature of the job. Dependability is an interior lineman's spectacle, and Faneca was ultra-dependable.
ODDS FOR INDUCTION: 75 percent
3. LADAINIAN TOMLINSON, RB
San Diego Chargers (2001-09), New York Jets (2010-11)
Of the first timers on this year's ballot, Tomlinson has the strongest case. His masterpiece was his MVP season in 2006, when he became the only player in NFL history to score more than 30 touchdowns (31 total, including 28 rushing). He has a 100 CATCH season on his résumé (2003), and finished with more than 1,200 yards rushing seven times. Tomlinson is fifth on the all-time rushing list with 13,684 yards.
ODDS FOR INDUCTION: 70 percent
4. KURT WARNER, QB
St. Louis Rams (1998-2003), New York Giants (2004), Arizona Cardinals (2005-09)
There is no blueprint or precedent for someone with Warner's résumé getting into the Hall of Fame, other than the fact that every other eligible multiple MVP winner has been inducted (Unitas, Young, Montana and now Favre). However, none of those players were yanked from a grocery bagging job to lead a team to the Super Bowl, nor did they have a gigantic seven-year crater in between Super Bowl appearances that included a record as a starter of 13-29. But part of Warner's appeal, to me, is the uniqueness of his story. Forget that he is 36th on the all-time passing yards list, and focus on the story, a deserving story for Canton.
ODDS FOR INDUCTION: 50 percent
The Hall sets a minimum of four inductees, and those four would seem to be the most deserving (and most likely). If I were picking one wild card candidate (not including senior committee and contributor nominees, which are yet to be named), I'd go with....
TERRELL DAVIS, RB
Denver Broncos (1995-2001)
The ultimate litmus test for "short period of dominance" versus longevity, Davis was the master of destroying defenses running in Alex Gibbs's zone running scheme, peaking with a 2,008-yard season in 1998. Go look at his similarity scores for his career pre-knee injury, and it's dotted with Hall of Famers. He has a Super Bowl MVP and a regular season MVP, and was a first team All-Pro three times in his four healthy seasons. Also, if you feel Elway has an argument for "greatest QB ever" (and I happen to think he does), there's a big part of Elway's entry into that stratum of the argument that is attributable to Davis's arrival for the final four seasons of Elway's career.
Putting in two running backs in one class is not the norm, and Tomlinson almost assuredly gets in before Davis, but if the committee is going to use its spots to reward deserving candidates, I like Davis over a kicker (Morten Andersen) and any of the coaching candidates (Jimmy Johnson, Don Coryell, etc.).
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