NFC North: Dick Stanfel

Setting the table for a busy Saturday

February, 4, 2012
Saturday should be busy and rewarding for those of us in the NFC North.

At 5:30 p.m. ET, the Pro Football Hall of Fame will announce its class of 2012. Former Minnesota Vikings Cris Carter and Chris Doleman are among those on the ballot. So is Green Bay Packers outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene and former Detroit Lions guard Dick Stanfel, a nomination from the Seniors Committee.

I'll plan to weigh in on the blog shortly after the announcement, whether we have good news or bad news. We focused our attention Friday on Carter, but don't rule out the candidacies of Doleman, Greene and Stanfel.

Then, we'll turn our attention to the new "NFL Honors" award show that will, in the span of a few hours, reveal all of the league's individual awards. It kicks off at 9 p.m. ET, so it'll be a late night.

I'm thinking the NFC North has a reasonable chance to dominate the evening, considering Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the likely MVP and Vikings defensive end Jared Allen could win the Defensive Player of the Year Award.

Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford should be in the running for the Comeback Player of the Year Award. I made a case earlier this season for Packers coach Mike McCarthy as the NFL's coach of the year, but most everyone expects San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh to win it.

Now go out and enjoy your Saturday. We'll reconvene early this evening.
In 1994, Cris Carter set an NFL record with 122 receptions over the course of a 16-game season. Shortly thereafter, the Pro Football Hall of Fame received and put up for display his full uniform, commemorating an achievement that figured to stand for some time.

The very next year, Herman Moore caught 123 passes for the Detroit Lions. Since then, the NFL has seen a 143-catch season (Marvin Harrison for the Indianapolis Colts in 2002) and another 123-catch campaign (Wes Welker for the New England Patriots in 2009). Welker also caught 122 passes this season. In fact, since Carter's 122-catch season, NFL wide receivers have produced 13 seasons that would have broken the record of 112 catches that Carter eclipsed in that 1994 season.

Carter was without question one of the best wide receivers of his era, but if I had to make an educated guess about why he has not yet been enshrined in the Hall of Fame, I would blame his timing. He produced his best seasons at the start of an NFL passing frenzy that has inflated statistics and left Hall voters reluctant to reward them.

There are 21 wide receivers in the Hall, fewer than any position except tight end, place-kicker or punter. And as the first chart shows, only four receivers whose careers began in the past 35 years have been elected. One of them, Art Monk, was enshrined 13 years after his retirement. A second, James Lofton, waited 10 years.

Hall voters might not agree, but the numbers suggest they haven't prioritized receivers as much as some other positions. And those who value the position have no doubt been torn in recent years by the presence of three quality candidates: Carter, Andre Reed and Tim Brown.

The second chart shows the receiving statistics of that trio over a relatively similar career span. Carter was a finalist in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Brown, who was also an elite kick returner, was a finalist in 2010. But Reed has been a finalist every year since 2007, and Carter's absence in 2011 suggests that Reed might have been pushed to the front of the line whenever a receiver (or two) is elected.

When he retired in 2002, Carter ranked second in NFL history in receptions and touchdown catches. He was No. 3 in total yards and total touchdowns. The NFL's offensive explosion has pushed him down in every category, and you hope he doesn't get permanently caught in the subsequent backlash. Catching 244 passes in two seasons, as Carter did in 1994 and 1995, was much more notable at the time than it is now.

While he will always be overshadowed by Jerry Rice, whose career more or less overlapped his, Carter also deserves some big-picture credit for sharpening the science of sideline footwork and warding off opponents with his arm. He was also as durable a receiver as this game as known, missing only four games in 14 seasons between 1988-2002.

I couldn't begin to tell you what might happen Saturday when voters convene to elect the class of 2012. Once again, Carter has joined Brown and Reed on the list of 15 semifinalists. Only five recently retired players, along with up to two nominees from the seniors committee, can make it.

I'll leave you with what the late Detroit Lions beat writer Tom Kowalski a said in a post-vote discussion last year. (He also tweeted it, so it's not as if I'm giving away a privileged conversation.) Kowalski, a member of the voting committee, looked at the projected ballots for 2012, 2013 and 2014 and predicted that the "snubs" of 2011 would be rectified over the next three years. If that's the case, it's just a matter of "when" for Cris Carter.

Note: Carter is one of several former players with NFC North ties among the 15 semifinalists. That list also includes former Vikings defensive end Chris Doleman, current Green Bay Packers outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene and former Lions guard Dick Stanfel.

BBAO: Hunter Hillenmeyer's plight

January, 30, 2012
We're Black and Blue All Over:

In the spring, we discussed the case of retired Minnesota Vikings defensive end Kenechi Udeze, who was unable to continue playing after recovering from leukemia. Udeze was denied coverage under the NFL's disability insurance because he didn't qualify under one of three criteria: "line-of-duty ailments, 'football degenerative' ailments and 'total and permanent' incapacity."

So it was with great interest that I read Brad Biggs' report in the Chicago Tribune detailing the league's denial of a $900,000 injury protection benefit from former Chicago Bears linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer, who retired because of repeated concussions. The Hillenmeyer and Udeze issues are not identical, but both reflect the cold reality of NFL player retirements. And according to Hillenmeyer, there is an added layer in his case: The NFL is protecting itself against a mass legal conclusion that playing football leads to long-term health issues.

Hillenmeyer: "The fact that a case as black and white as mine can't even get resolved is indicative of a much, much deeper truth. Owners know what the game is doing to players, but once they fully acknowledge it, the gig is up."

Scary stuff, and worth a read.

Continuing around the NFC North:

Four NFC North finalists for HOF

January, 7, 2012
Four men with NFC North ties were among the 15 finalists announced Saturday for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's class of 2012. Final voting will take place Feb. 4. Here is a quick look:

Cris Carter
NFC North tie-in:
Played for Minnesota Vikings 1990-2001.
Comment: One of three receivers on the ballot, along with Tim Brown and Andre Reed.

Chris Doleman
NFC North tie-in:
Played for Minnesota Vikings 1985-93, 1999.
Comment: Has 150.5 career sacks, fourth-highest in NFL history.

Kevin Greene
NFC North tie-in:
Current Green Bay Packers outside linebackers coach
Comment: Has the most career sacks (160) of any player not in the Hall of Fame.

Dick Stanfel
NFC North tie-in:
Played for Detroit Lions 1952-55.
Comment: Nominated by Seniors Committee

Related: Our offseason discussion on the Hall of Fame prospects of Greene and Doleman.