NFC North Hall of Fame debate

July, 5, 2010
7/05/10
12:00
PM ET
A weeklong look at current or former players or coaches with Hall of Fame potential in the division.

Chicago Bears: Brian Urlacher, middle linebacker

Claim to fame: Since joining the Bears in 2000, Urlacher has made six Pro Bowl teams and been named an All-Pro four times. He was the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2000 and Defensive Player of the Year in 2005.

[+] EnlargeBrian Urlacher
Tom Fluegge/US PresswireExtraordinarily athletic for a linebacker, Brian Urlacher has recorded 17 interceptions and 37.5 sacks in his career.
Case for enshrinement: Urlacher was the best player on a defense that dominated the league during the middle years of this decade, one that overcame the Bears’ offensive woes and led them to the Super Bowl in 2006. As a middle linebacker in the Tampa 2 scheme, Urlacher carried as much responsibility as any defensive player in the game -- calling defensive signals, chasing down ball carriers and covering the deep middle of the field during pass plays.

In that role, Urlacher has been an athletic playmaker unmatched in his prime, notching 17 interceptions and 37.5 sacks, while getting downfield faster than any linebacker in the game.

Case against enshrinement: Injuries have slowed Urlacher in the past three seasons and he might not have compiled enough Canton-caliber seasons before that point. Detractors also could suggest he benefited disproportionately from the play of defensive tackles Tommie Harris and Tank Johnson, who kept blockers away from Urlacher more often than not. Hall Of Fame voters haven’t been kind to even the best of Bears defenders. Mike Singletary and Dan Hampton are the only Chicago defensive stars from the 1985 Super Bowl team in Canton. Their teammate Richard Dent is now a six-time finalist for Hall of Fame induction but still is waiting for his official invite.

Parting shot: As we noted last fall, Urlacher might not stand as the best linebacker of his era. Ray Lewis, Junior Seau and Derrick Brooks might have something to say about that.

Detroit Lions: Billy Sims, running back

Claim to fame: He was a dominant runner during the early 1980s. Sims became the Lions’ all-time leading rusher even though a knee injury ended his career after 4 1/2 years. (Barry Sanders later overtook him.) Sims was a three-time Pro Bowl player, still ranks as the Lions’ No. 2 rusher, and has the second-most rushing touchdowns in team history.

Case for enshrinement: It’s obviously a long shot, but it’s important to remember how brightly Sims’ star shined during his brief career. He rushed for 153 yards in his first NFL game, led the league with 16 touchdowns as a rookie and finished his career with 5,106 yards in 60 career games.

His career ended midway through the 1984 season, at a time when he was averaging a career-high 5.3 yards per rush. There is precedent for acknowledging Hall-worthy careers cut short by injuries. Did you know that Chicago Bears Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers, forced to retire at age 28, gained fewer career rushing yards (4,956) than Sims in more games (68)?

Case against enshrinement: Sayers was a special case who was also a dangerous return man. In reality, it’s difficult for voters to consider a running back who ranks No. 106 on the NFL’s all-time rushing list. But Sims was one of the NFL’s top players during the time he spent in the game.

Parting shot: Sims’ impact on the team also should be considered. The Lions were 2-14 the year before he was drafted. In 1980, they improved to 9-7. By 1983, they were division champions.

Green Bay Packers: Jerry Kramer, guard

[+] EnlargeKramer
David Boss/US PresswireThe Packers won three NFL Championships and two Super Bowls during Jerry Kramer's career.
Claim to fame: During an 11-season career from 1958-68, Kramer was a five-time All-Pro. He was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1960s and was the only guard selected for the NFL’s 50th Anniversary team. Every other player on that team has been enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Case for enshrinement: As with most successful offensive linemen, most of Kramer’s contributions came in a team context.

During his tenure, the Packers rushed for 21,637 yards -- the second-highest total among all NFL teams over that period. Kramer’s blocking was one of the reasons fullback Jim Taylor posted five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. Over that stretch, Taylor rushed for more yards than anyone but Cleveland’s Jim Brown. Overall, the Packers made the playoffs eight times in Kramer’s career and won three NFL Championships and two Super Bowls.

Case against enshrinement: Guard isn't usually a highly valued position. In the history of the game, only 11 players who were primarily guards have made the Hall of Fame.

Voters could also be split on the source of the Packers’ running success, from Vince Lombardi’s coaching to the individual talents of Taylor and running back Paul Hornung.

Parting shot: Kramer made one of the most famous blocks in history, clearing the way for Bart Starr’s quarterback sneak to win the 1967 “Ice Bowl” game.

Minnesota Vikings: Jim Marshall, defensive end

Claim to fame: Marshall set a then-NFL record by playing in 282 consecutive games, of which he started 270. He played in two Pro Bowls, four Super Bowls and recovered an NFL-record 29 fumbles.

Case for enshrinement: If “answering the bell” is one of the main prerequisites for NFL players, then Jim Marshall is one of the greatest of all time. Although some of the stories have been embellished a bit over time, suffice it to say that Marshall battled through enormous pain and legitimate injuries to play for so long and at such a high level.

A punter (Jeff Feagles) and a quarterback (Brett Favre) have since surpassed his record, but it’s doubtful a defensive lineman ever will approach it. It would take 17 seasons of starting 16 games to do it. (Or 15 years if the NFL moves to an 18-game season.)

The longevity mark sometimes overshadows Marshall’s skills as a pass-rusher. Although sacks weren’t an official statistic then, the Vikings credit him with 127 -- only three fewer than teammate and Hall of Fame tackle Alan Page and 13 more than newly elected tackle John Randle.

Case against enshrinement: Like it or not, one of those 29 fumble recoveries always will haunt Marshall’s candidacy. In 1964, he picked up a fumble against San Francisco and ran 66 yards in the wrong direction for what was ruled a safety.

Parting shot: Another factor that might not be fair but is worth considering: Two members of the Purple People Eaters, Page and Eller, are already in the Hall of Fame. Would voters agree that 75 percent of one defensive line should be enshrined?

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