Sean Pendergast

Five Thoughts on the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 2017

The Hall of Fame Class of 2017 is decorated, and some believe it is missing one big name.
The Hall of Fame Class of 2017 is decorated, and some believe it is missing one big name. Screen grab/
The annual unveiling of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's induction class on Saturday night has become the second most anticipated event of Super Bowl weekend, behind only the game itself (and just ahead of the payoff on the prop bets for length of the national anthem and "Will there be a wardrobe malfunction in the halftime show?")

Some years there are a glut of huge names on the ballot, leaving behind a few sure-fire, eventual Hall of Famers (Next year looks like it could be one of those years; more on that in a minute). Other years it's a struggle to find more than a couple of names that are beyond Hall of Fame reproach.

This year's list of finalists felt more like the latter than the former. Running back Ladainian Tomlinson, in his first year of eligibility, felt like a no-brainer, as did wide receiver Terrell Owens, who was put in "time out" by the voters last year in his first year of eligibility, despite finishing in second place all time in receiving yards and third in touchdown receptions.

In the end, only one of those two "easy" choices was admitted into the Hall, as Tomlinson was voted in on his first try, and Owens was left waiting at least one more year. Tomlinson was joined in this summer's class by kicker Morten Andersen, defensive end Jason Taylor, quarterback Kurt Warner and running back Terrell Davis, along with veteran's committee finalist and former safety Kenny Easley, as well as Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

Here are a few thoughts on this year's class...

5. Terrell Davis and Ladainian Tomlinson are many more running backs, active or retired, are Hall of Famers?
My foremost criteria for Hall of Fame entry in any of the three major sports is "Were you one of the most dominant players at your position for a reasonable period of time?" I say "reasonable" because it's different for each sport, with football being the shortest of the three because of the injury risk and likelihood. On top of that, if injury cut short any chance to add to that period of dominance, I'm willing to be flexible about the overall body of work. That brings me to Davis, who I was glad to see get into the Hall, even though he played only four healthy seasons (1995-1998) before three injury-marred seasons (1999-2001) closed out his career. In his four healthy seasons, he was named All-Pro three times, and was voted MVP in 1998 (2,008 yards rushing) and MVP of Super Bowl XXXII. That's dominance.

4. So how many running backs out there, active or retired, can we say are Hall of Famers?
With all of the teams doing their running of the football by committee and the passing game taking greater precedence, it's interesting to speculate on the future of running backs in the Hall of Fame.  I'd say:

* 100 percent - Adrian Peterson
* 60 percent - Frank Gore (Did you know he's 619 rushing yards away from fifth place all time?)
* 50 percent - Edgerrin James
* 20 percent - Steven Jackson

I'd throw Marshawn Lynch on there, too, except guys like Shaun Alexander, Tiki Barber, and Eddie George (all ahead of Lynch on the all-time rushing list) never get a sniff, so I can't imagine Lynch, who ignored the media, would get any benefit of the doubt.

3. Paul Tagliabue didn't make the cut...are his 1994 concussion comments still hurting him?
If you look at Paul Tagliabue's record as a steward of the game from a business growth standpoint, it's hard to deny he has Hall of Fame qualifications. On his watch, the league went from 28 to 32 teams and 20 new stadiums were built, not to mention the continued explosion in TV rights fees and revenue. The biggest business feather in Tagliabue's cap was labor peace for the duration of his tenure. The mitigating factors would be the timing of his good fortune to be commissioner, as cable, satellite and the Internet went into boom periods. The negatives, which presumably are the reasons he was kept out, were the relocation of teams from good, loyal football markets (Houston and Cleveland) necessitating some of the expansion on his watch, and his ignorant comments about concussions in the early '90s, not to mention his hiring a completely unqualified rheumatologist as his concussion expert. To his credit, Tagliabue apologized last week for his 1994 comments:

In an interview with the Talk of Fame Network that airs nationwide Wednesday night, Tagliabue admitted he erred in 1994 in saying concussions were "one of those pack-journalism issues." He also claimed then that the number of concussions "is relatively small; the problem is the journalist issue."

Up for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, Tagliabue spoke out Wednesday about a major blemish on a record highlighted by labor peace throughout his 17-year tenure.

"Obviously," he said, "I do regret those remarks. Looking back, it was not sensible language to use to express my thoughts at the time. My language was intemperate, and it led to serious misunderstanding. I overreacted on issues which we were already working on. But that doesn't excuse the overreaction and intemperate language.

"Bottom line, it sounded like I was shooting the messenger, which was the concussion issue. My intention at the time was to make a point which could have been made fairly simply: That there was a need for better data. There was a need for more reliable information about concussions and uniformity in terms of how they were being defined in terms of severity."
The ship might be sailing on Tagliabue's chances of admittance into the Hall.

2. In what order would you place the speeches?
I had this conversation over dinner last weekend with my friend Jim Ross, a Hall of Famer in his own right (WWE Hall of Fame announcer). In JR's world of professional wrestling, the order of matches on a big pay-per-view card is crucial, since you want to make sure to come out of the chute with a hot match and close the show with a crescendo of a couple of hot matches. JR sees the Hall of Fame speech order the same way, and I agree. The most compelling speech will probably come from Jerry Jones, but you can't put an owner in the "main event" spot. So, if I were booking this, here's how it would go:

1. Jones - humor, energy, star power to open the show
2. Easley - veteran's committee (Jones and Easley first leaves regular ballot HOFers for rest of the night)
3. Andersen - popcorn match
4. Davis - solid mid card Hall of Famer
5. Taylor - first ballot guy, Intercontinental title match-level guy
6. Tomlinson - this year's "no brainer," first ballot guy
7. Warner - amazing career story, current broadcaster, former season and Super Bowl MVP

1. The Terrell Owens Situation
First, let's be very clear about Owens's on-field résumé — he is a, no doubt, Hall of Famer. The stats:

* Second in receptions, third in touchdown catches, eighth in receiving yards all-time
* Six-time Pro Bowl, five time All-Pro 1st team over a an eight-season period from 2000 through 2007
* In the two seasons he didn't make the Pro Bowl, he averaged 109 yards per game over seven games (2005), and led the league in TD catches (13 in 2006)
* Nine 1,000 yard seasons
* Had the league's longest reception in 2005 at age 32 (91 yards) and in 2009 at age 36 (98 yards)

Now, let's look at how he burned his bridge in some of his stops:

* San Francisco: Implied that teammate Jeff Garcia was gay in a Playboy interview
* Philadelphia: Feuded with Donovan McNabb and wanted to redo his contract after one season, on top of numerous other passive-aggressive swipes at the organization, teammates, was a mess. Eventually, he was suspended and waived
* Dallas Cowboys: Overdosed on hydrocodone in a possible suicide attempt in 2006

So when you're a distraction bordering on a cancer, but with Hall of Fame stats, how long do you get put into HOF purgatory? At least two seasons is the answer (so far). For what it's worth, here was Owens's reaction to the snub....

The competition for Owens (and others) doesn't get any easier next voting cycle...

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast