Last Friday, I started the countdown toward this Saturday’s announcement of the 2011 NFL Hall of Fame class by paring down the 15 modern era candidates in the drive to get to five nominees. It’s fine to say in a vacuum that this guy or that guy should be in, but we only have five picks this year. Tough choices have to be made. I started with kicking out Ed Sabol (because I am heartless), Andre Reed, and Jerome Bettis.
Today, I continue to get out the scalpel. I’ll cut down five more of the remaining twelve modern era finalists today, leaving the final seven–my five choices and the two that just miss–for tomorrow.
First three out today are all on the defensive side of the ball, and best known as pass rushers: Charles Haley, Richard Dent, and Chris Doleman. Haley is best known for his five rings, two with the 49ers and three with the Cowboys. The issue with Haley is longevity and lack of dominance during some of those Super Bowl seasons. Another issue he has, which I don’t really care about, is that he was surly with the media and was not generally well liked. Through age 26, Haley was an elite pass rusher with the 49ers, and has the 4th most sacks by that age. However, he was largely getting by on reputation as a ring maker with Dallas after that point. He had a combined 10 sacks in his first two seasons in Dallas, had back problems, and finished behind less heralded Tony Tolbert and aging pass rush specialist Jim Jeffcoat in both seasons. Haley bounced back and was named an all pro in Dallas in 1994, and made a pro bowl the following Super Bowl season. Then he was done. Opportunist or difference maker? I’m not saying he wasn’t good, but he didn’t exactly play with chopped liver in either place. Similar players for me like Joey Porter would have won rings if put in the same situation. He’s a no for me.
Richard Dent is one of those guys that feels like he should be in the Hall of Fame to the 11 year old Me, because he was so good during that 1985 season. After 1986, though, he was a steady player, but that Super Bowl season was the only one where he was named a first team all-pro. I like Dent, but I feel there are plenty of other candidates with more clear cut Hall of Fame cases among this year’s finalists.
Chris Doleman, for me, has a much stronger case than Haley or Dent. I think he gets squeezed by the numbers this year, but I do think he will go in within the next three years. He was a pro bowler 8 times and an all pro twice. His 1989 season was incredible-21 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, and he wasn’t just a pass rusher, adding 94 tackles. He had over 90 tackles in 4 seasons with Minnesota to go with the sacks. After leaving Minnesota at age 32, he moved to Atlanta and San Francisco as more of a pass rush specialist, and finished his career with 150.5 sacks.
Next up on the cut list is Curtis Martin, making me no friends among my Jets compadres. Do I think Martin is a Hall of Famer? Absolutely. I think he gets in within three years. I just don’t think he is so much of a slam dunk that he goes in ahead of guys this year with similar profiles compared to the current Hall of Famers, and who have been waiting longer. I’m not a guy who thinks you take an inferior candidate over a first year eligible because “he deserves to be in”, but I do think it’s a tiebreaker.
Finally for today, I’ve got to decide between Tim Brown and Cris Carter. I think both these guys go into Canton, it’s just a matter of when. I’m going to cut Tim Brown today by the most razor thin of margins. Brown was a very good player for a long time, and he didn’t always get the benefit of good quarterback play like some other receivers that are in the Hall. He’ll get his opportunity soon. Just not in 2011.
[photo via Getty]