Saturday, February 6, 2010
Smith, Grimm get their Hall pass
By Dan Graziano ESPN.com
In one of the least surprising moments in recent history, former Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. Smith became the final member of the Cowboys' famed "Triplets" to enter the Hall, mainly because he stuck around for so long. Smith will be joined in Canton, Ohio, by a member of the Redskins' famed Hogs, guard Russ Grimm.
Emmith Smith is the NFL's all-time leading rusher.
The Skins' offensive line played a huge role in the team's four trips to Super Bowls in the 1980s and 90s, but it didn't have a representative in the Hall of Fame. Grimm embodied the spirit of the Hogs. He was big, brash and funny. Offensive line coach Joe Bugel presided over this remarkable group of players. Grimm was named to the all-decade team of the 80s. There was absolutely no reason for voters to keep him out of the Hall any longer.
The voters probably saved a lot of time Saturday with Smith and wide receiver Jerry Rice, two of the greatest players in league history. Maybe that allowed for more time to consider deserving players such as Grimm, Rickey Jackson and John Randle -- none were viewed as locks for the 2010 class.
Smith is the NFL's all-time leading rusher and Rice owns most of the meaningful receiving records. It's fitting the two will be inducted in the same class because they were part of the one of the league's greatest rivalries. The 49ers and Cowboys were the best teams in the league during the 90s and they met in the NFC title game on a nearly annual basis early in that decade.
You'll often read about how running backs fall off a cliff at age 30, but it didn't happen to Smith. He gained nearly 5,800 yards after turning 30. And despite his huge success, Smith always seemed to play with a chip on his shoulder that probably dates back to him slipping to No. 17 in the 1990 draft.
Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson wanted to move up and take Baylor linebacker James Francis in 1990, but the Bengals selected him at No. 12. The Cowboys moved from No. 21 to No. 17 and looked at a list of players that included Rodney Hampton and Steve Broussard. Fortunately for Cowboys fans, Jerry Jones and Johnson eventually decided on Smith. He was available at No. 17 because he didn't run a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash and he was only 5-9, 210 pounds.
But all of that weight appeared to be in Smith's legs, and he used them to punish defenders. If football was played on a straight line, maybe Smith's numbers wouldn't have been so remarkable. But he seemed to turn every carry into an adventure. Linebackers rarely got a clean shot because Smith could dart away at the last moment. And when he knew a tackle was inevitable, Smith made his body limp so that he could live to see another carry. One scout told me recently that other tailbacks looked like they had been "electrocuted" when they were hit by defenders.
Russ Grimm was on a Washington team that went to the Super Bowl four times.
Maybe that explains Smith's longevity. He never had a true complementary back so that he could catch his breath. And I don't think he would've had it any other way. I'll never forget watching Smith rush for 168 yards against the Giants in the 1993 regular-season finale when he separated his shoulder early in the game. No one would've questioned Smith's toughness had he left that game. Instead, he hung in there and led the Cowboys to a division title and a playoff bye.
The best thing about the "Triplets" is that they all realize how much they needed each other. I don't think the Cowboys would have won three Super Bowls with only Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin. And you can say the same thing about the other combinations.
Cowboys defensive end Charles Haley did not make the cut to 10 modern-day players. That's pretty surprising when you consider the man has five Super Bowl rings and was one of the most feared pass-rushers in the game. But I think Haley will have more chances in the future.
Redskins and Cowboys fans are rejoicing this afternoon. Grimm helped pave the way for John Riggins to have a Hall of Fame career. He kept Joe Theismann and Doug Williams on their feet and helped keep things loose in the locker room. I'm sure Joe Gibbs is happier than anyone about today's announcement.
Offensive tackle Joe Jacoby is probably the other member of the Hogs that received the most individual attention. He is probably also Hall of Fame worthy, but on this day, I think all the Hogs feel they are represented.