NFC North: John Randle

MINNEAPOLIS -- For years, former Minnesota Vikings center Mick Tingelhoff had waited for his Pro Football Hall of Fame chance, without so much as an opportunity to be discussed by voters as a finalist. That's despite the fact Tingelhoff had in his favor a ringing endorsement from one of the greatest coaches of all time.

Legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, whose teams played against Tingelhoff during the first six seasons of his career, routinely praised Tingelhoff, calling him one of the toughest centers he'd ever seen after the Vikings became one of the two teams to beat the 1966 Packers, winners of Super Bowl I. As Minneapolis Star Tribune columnist Sid Hartman wrote in his 2007 book, Tingelhoff had played that game with a broken ankle.

The accolades from Lombardi -- as well as Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant -- finally have reverberated. Now, Tingelhoff is headed to Canton.

[+] EnlargeVikings' Mick Tingelhoff
AP PhotoMick Tingelhoff was selected for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his 32nd year of eligibility.
The 74-year-old was selected to the Hall of Fame on Saturday evening in his 32nd year of eligibility, as the lone nominee from the senior committee. Tingelhoff joins an eight-member class that officially will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame on Aug. 8.

Tingelhoff is the 16th former Vikings player to reach the Hall of Fame, and the 11th who spent at least a majority of his career in Minnesota. Grant, former coach Norm Van Brocklin and former general manager Jim Finks are also in the Hall of Fame.

Tingelhoff, who was the anchor of the Vikings' offensive line on four Super Bowl teams, is the fourth former Viking to reach Canton in the past six years, following defensive tackle John Randle in 2010, defensive end Chris Doleman in 2012 and wide receiver Cris Carter in 2013. He becomes the sixth player from Grant's teams -- which played in four Super Bowls from 1969 to 1976 -- to be selected.

The undrafted free agent started 240 consecutive games in 17 seasons, playing through myriad injuries that never caused him to miss so much as a practice. At the time of his retirement, Tingelhoff's consecutive starts streak was the second longest in NFL history, behind teammate Jim Marshall. In fact, the three longest streaks in NFL history were all set by players in Vikings uniforms -- Brett Favre, Marshall and Tingelhoff.

"Mick was a catalyst for our team and one of the most respected players on those teams," Grant said. "I have no doubt that had he not played center, he would have been a Hall of Fame linebacker. He played center with the mentality and tenacity of a linebacker. Mick’s intangibles were the thing that made him so great. He was a captain the whole time I coached him and guys looked at him as an example of how to do things.”

Tingelhoff was named a first-team All-Pro every year from 1964 to 1970, and was selected to the Pro Bowl each season from 1965-70. Tingelhoff was part of Vikings teams that won 10 division titles in 11 years from 1968-78, played for five NFL/NFC Championships and went to three of their four Super Bowls from 1973-76.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

I didn't post anything immediately after Tuesday's annual release of the Green Bay Packers' financial report. I know how much you guys love those accounting/stadium/legal posts. But I do want to point out what I believe was the official release of the new capacity at Lambeau Field.

Vic Ketchman of Packers.com notes that the Packers' most recent renovation project -- adding about 7,000 end zone seats -- brings the official capacity to 80,750. That makes Lambeau the third-largest stadium in the NFL behind FedEx Field (home of the Washington Redskins) and MetLife Stadium (New York Giants/Jets).

For those interested, I have a few thoughts on the Packers' financials that will post later Tuesday. Otherwise, don't forget: Today is the day that ESPN.com is scheduled to flip commenting procedures on posts. You'll need to log in via Facebook to leave a comment. Good luck!

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Packers president Mark Murphy has learned how to relay the same basic message on the eventual retirement of Brett Favre's jersey in many different ways. He reiterated to reporters Tuesday, via the Associated Press, that Favre's jersey will be retired but not this year and he doesn't know when.
  • The Packers' starting running back, to be named later, is the 10th-most important player on their roster, according to Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com.
  • Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler on entering the season in the final year of his contract, via ESPN 1000: "I haven't thought about it in a while, actually. I'll probably address it once in training camp, once before the season and that's kind of it. I'm not going to talk about it. That stuff takes care of itself. As long as we're winning football games and I'm playing well, hopefully they keep me around. If that doesn't happen, we'll see how it plays out. I'm not going to be distracted by it. I can't worry about it. I've been in this league long enough. I've seen guys come and guys go. It will work out the way it's supposed to work out."
  • The Bears are expecting big things from tight end Martellus Bennett, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune.
  • Bears tailback Matt Forte is expecting to be used more in the passing game this season, writes Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com.
  • Justin Rogers of Mlive.com: "The Detroit Lions will have several new starters on defense this season, including the outside linebacker spot previously held by Justin Durant. In what figures to be one of the fiercest training camp competitions, veteran Ashlee Palmer will attempt to fend off the challenge of second-year players Tahir Whitehead and Travis Lewis."
  • The Lions' late draft picks are hoping to stand out in training camp, writes Josh Katzenstein of the Detroit News.
  • Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune talks to former Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle John Randle about his love of golf.
  • Vikings cornerback Chris Cook is entering a pivotal season, according to Ben Goessling of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
We spent plenty of time in recent days discussing the tough road for wide receivers making the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In the process, we ignored where the selection committee has turned its attention: pass-rushers.

Not one receiver made the last cut to five modern-day finalists in Saturday's balloting in Indianapolis. But former Minnesota Vikings defensive end Chris Doleman became the third consecutive NFC North pass-rusher to earn enshrinement, following Richard Dent in 2011 and John Randle in 2010. Former Minnesota Vikings receiver Cris Carter again failed to make the cut, a victim of the perceived value between pass-rushers and wide receivers.

[+] EnlargeVikings defensive end Chris Doleman
AP Photo/NFL PhotosNot only was Chris Doleman a sack specialist, but the former Vikings star is also among the NFL career leaders in fumble recoveries.
At least one pass-rusher has won election in each of the past five years. Bruce Smith and Derrick Thomas were part of the 2009 class, and Fred Dean was in the class of 2008.

Doleman's 150.5 career sacks rank fourth in NFL history, behind Smith (200), Reggie White (198) and Kevin Greene (160). Smith and White are both in Canton, and as of Saturday, five of the top eight players with the highest career sack totals have or will be enshrined. Greene, Michael Strahan (eligible in 2013) and the recently retired Jason Taylor (139.5) are the only players who have been left out.

(More on Greene, who didn't even make the cut from 15 finalists to 10, in the coming days.)

I don't want to take anything away from Doleman, who was a pass-rushing force for an extended period in the NFL. His two best seasons -- 21 sacks in 1989 and 15 sacks in 1998 -- came nine years apart. Doleman was part of four teams that finished the season with the NFL's top-ranked defense, recovered the seventh-most fumbles (24) in league history and was an eight-time Pro Bowler.

But with the exception of Greene, it's clear that sack totals are among the most reliable tickets to the Hall of Fame. Minutes after Doleman's election was announced, longtime Twin Cities sports analyst Patrick Reusse (also a colleague of mine at ESPN 1500) tweeted: "Apparently, it's all about sacks, since in his absolute prime, Doleman was 2nd best D-lineman on his team, behind Keith Millard."

To me, the definition of a Hall of Fame player is that he was one of the best of his era. Doleman was named to the NFL's 1990's All-Decade team, along with three other defensive ends. Was he one of the best players of that generation? He was if you accept that pass-rushing is as important as the voting committee considers it.

But enough of that. I'm not going to diminish Doleman's big day by questioning his credentials. There is little doubt he was a great player for a long time in this league.

Yes, the beauty of the annual Hall of Fame announcement is that it produces as much debate afterward as it did beforehand. Doleman is a Hall of Fame player because the voting committee places premium value on his particular skill set. (Again, Greene appears to be the lone exception to that rule.)

Carter isn't in the Hall of Fame because the voting committee doesn't value his position and corresponding statistics nearly as much. There are still only 21 receivers in Canton, the lowest total of any position other than tight end and kicking specialist. That's the deal -- no more and no less.

NFL Any Era: John Randle speaks

January, 23, 2012
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As you know by now, ESPN.com is unveiling its 20-member "Any Era" team this week. Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was among the first four players named, as we noted earlier Monday.

A number of Hall of Famers made the trip to ESPN headquarters in Bristol to help assemble the team, and ESPN's Front Row blog spoke with former Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman John Randle, as well as receiver James Lofton, about the project and their choices of their "Any Era" coach.

Randle chose Vince Lombardi, while Lofton cited Bud Grant to complete the NFC North circle.

In the video below, Randle said "if I could have, I would have played the same way [Suh] plays." He said Suh has sent a message to the rest of the NFL: "Don't come to my gap, don't come toward me, because this is what is going to happen to you."

Former Chicago Bears defensive end Richard Dent will be inducted Saturday into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And over at ESPNChicago.com, Melissa Isaacson offers a great read on how Dent rose from a skinny eighth-round draft choice to one of the best pass rushers in NFL history.

[+] EnlargeRichard Dent
Getty ImagesRichard Dent went from an eighth-round pick to Hall of Famer, a feat not often repeated.
The Bears had a second-round grade on Dent, but he was available at the No. 203 overall position in 1983 mostly because he weighed about 215 pounds. He put on another 40 pounds after the Bears helped him identify some dental issues, and he was off to the races.

Isaacson’s story got me wondering: How rare is it for an eighth-round draft choice to make it to the Hall of Fame?

Thanks to the Pro Football Hall of Fame website, we can pass along the answer. Dent will be the lowest-drafted player enshrined whose career began after the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.

(Over that time period, there have been three undrafted players elected: Jim Langer, Warren Moon and John Randle.)

Obviously, highly drafted players are more likely to get extended opportunities to play. But more than anything, I think this information shows that teams get the draft right more often than we might be willing to give them credit for. Below is the breakdown of where the NFL’s post-merger Hall of Famers were drafted:
  • First round: 43 players
  • Second round: 11
  • Third round: 5
  • Fourth round: 3
  • Fifth round: 1
  • Sixth round: 0
  • Seventh round: 1
  • Eighth round: 1
  • Ninth-20th: 0
  • Undrafted: 3

A complete list of every Hall of Fame player’s draft status can be found here. It should be noted that one of Dent's 2011 classmates, linebacker Chris Hanburger, was drafted in the 18th round in 1965 -- five years before the merger.

With the draft now limited to seven rounds, I think we can safely say Dent will be the last eighth-round pick to be enshrined to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
SportsNation asked you/me/us to pick the most deserving Pro Football Hall of Fame candidate from a group of five former players who finished their careers with more than 100 sacks.

The results were clear: At week's end, two-thirds of nearly 14,000 votes went to Kevin Greene. A few comments suggested the disparity could be a reflection of our current readership levels -- Greene is currently the Green Bay Packers' outside linebackers coach -- but never, ever, ever, never would I believe Packers fans would stuff the ballot on that connection alone.

Greene's resume speaks for itself. His 160 career sacks are the third-highest total since the NFL began tracking them in 1982. Both players above him, and six players below him on the NFL's top 100 sack leaders, are enshrined.

A few of you made impassioned arguments for longtime Minnesota Vikings defensive end Chris Doleman, whose 150.5 career sacks places him No. 4 on the NFL's all-time list. I'll pass two of them along for consideration on the floor:

Opabina wrote that Doleman was more deserving than a player who will be inducted this summer, former Chicago Bears defensive end Richard Dent:
Greene should get in, but I voted for Doleman because he is much more deserving than Richard Dent, who got in this year. Doleman and Dent played the same number of seasons (15, all but two overlapping) and in the same division, so the caliber of their opponents was essentially the same, but Doleman has 13 more career sacks and 243 more career tackles than Dent. Dent was Super Bowl MVP, but any number of players on the Bears defense were equally deserving of the award, and Doleman held the NFC single-season sack record for 12 years before Strahan broke it. People also forget that Doleman played LB his first two seasons and had just 3 1/2 sacks during those years, so he would probably have ~160-165 career sacks if he spent his entire career at DE (and maybe 190+ if he played as long as Smith). He has been criticized for supposedly ignoring the run, but if that's true, then how come he averaged more tackles per season than Bruce Smith and just 9 fewer per season than Reggie White, who played on the left side, where defending the run is more important? And anyone who downgrades Doleman's performance because he played with John Randle has to acknowledge that Dent played with Dan Hampton.
Supavike1, in fact, thought Doleman's career was more balanced than Greene's:
[H]ere is the bigger picture, which supports Doleman before Greene when you consider more than sacks.

Greene:

160 sacks, 669 total tackles, 23 forced fumbles, 5 INT, 1 TD

Doleman:

150.5 sacks, 914 total tackles, 44 forced fumbles, 8 INT, 2 TDs

I think 240 more tackles and double the number of FFs makes up for 9.5 fewer sacks.

Y'all have a great holiday weekend. I'll be taking some family time next week and will be back with you July 11.
Jared Allen and Julius PeppersUS PresswireWill Canton make room for predominant pass-rushers Jared Allen and Julius Peppers?
Another in a series on NFC North players whose career trajectories put them on a path to consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

NFL teams value pass-rushing more than any skill outside of quarterbacking, and here in the NFC North we have two of the best of this generation. Chicago Bears defensive end Julius Peppers (89 career sacks) and Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen (83) have outright dominated many games during their careers. But is either on track for future enshrinement in Canton, Ohio?

My short answer: It could go either way.

Sacks didn't become an official statistic until 1982. In reviewing how Hall of Fame voters have judged pass-rushers since then, a few tenets seem clear:
  1. Sack totals alone, no matter how high, don't guarantee enshrinement. Otherwise, linebacker Kevin Greene (currently a Green Bay Packers assistant coach) and defensive end Chris Doleman would have been elected a long time ago. Greene has 160 career sacks, the third-most in NFL history. Doleman's 150.5 rank No. 5. They are two of 25 players with 100 or more career sacks, and eight of those 25 are in the Hall of Fame.
  2. The first chart is a list of the eight Hall of Fame defensive linemen and linebackers whose careers took place during the sack era. I included Oakland Raiders defensive lineman Howie Long and New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor, whose careers began in 1981, and eliminated Bears linebacker Mike Singletary because pass-rushing wasn't much of a factor in his enshrinement. All but Long had at least 100 sacks. So although 100-plus sacks doesn't guarantee enshrinement, it's almost always a prerequisite. There is every reason to believe that Peppers, who is 31, and Allen, 29, can and will pass that milestone.
  3. Voters clearly perform a subjective judgment to determine which players with high sack totals deserve enshrinement. Generally speaking, players who seem classified as "pure" pass-rushers, including Greene and Doleman, face a higher bar than those who were more generally regarded as "havoc-wreakers." Examples: Long, Andre Tippett, Taylor, Rickey Jackson and John Randle.

Given their career arcs, both Peppers and Allen might have to justify a "havoc-wreaker" enshrinement. They've got good chances to break the 100-sack barrier, but how much further will they go? Peppers could reach Randle-Taylor-Richard Dent territory by averaging 10 sacks a year for the next five seasons. I would say that 50 sacks between the ages of 31 and 36 represents the high end of what Peppers might achieve.

Allen is 2 years younger, and a similar 50-sack run over the next five years could put him in the same territory by 34. That's a reasonable projection, but I wonder whether voters will discard Allen into the "pure pass-rusher" category that currently houses Greene, Doleman, Leslie O'Neal (137.5 career sacks), Simeon Rice (122) and Clyde Simmons (121.5).

One gauge to consider is ESPN.com's positional power rankings, although I recognize that it simply represents the thoughts of eight slappy bloggers. (But remember, Hall of Fame election is determined by 44 other slappy writers and broadcasters.) Allen was rated as the No. 4 pass-rusher but didn't receive a single vote for best defensive player.

For what it's worth, Peppers ranked No. 8 on the overall defensive player list. And I found it interesting last week that when asked to name the NFL's best player at the moment, Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher quickly responded: "Peppers."

In an admittedly subjective question, I ask: If Peppers and Allen finish their careers with similar sack totals, who is more likely to be elected to the Hall of Fame? I'm going to guess Peppers, barring a dramatic career arc adjustment for either player.

Comparing current players to Hall of Famers is only part of the discussion, however. As we noted in our post on Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, candidates also must be compared to their contemporaries. In theory, only those who dominated their respective eras should be enshrined.

Our next two charts address that topic.

Since he entered the league in 2002, Peppers ranks third in sacks. Allen, meanwhile, has more sacks than any other NFL player since he was drafted in 2004.

So let's say Peppers and Allen finish their careers in the 130-140 sack range. Both will have been among the most productive pass-rushers of their time, but they'll also be "competing" against a number of contemporaries with similar credentials. We of course hope that all deserving players eventually get in, but the definition of "deserving" can be relative.

To that end, it should be noted that defensive end Michael Strahan (141.5 sacks) would seem relatively assured of enshrinement. End/linebacker Jason Taylor (132.5) and Dwight Freeney (94) also will be considered.

Both Peppers and Allen have potential career spans long enough to settle this debate definitively on their own. But as it stands now, with Peppers entering his 10th season and Allen his eighth, we can say they've done enough to enter the Hall of Fame conversation. Both have more work to do, and it needs to be at the same standard they've set thus far.

Earlier: Rodgers has put himself in on the path toward Canton.

BBAO: Mikel Leshoure turning heads

June, 8, 2011
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We're Black and Blue All Over:

Chicago Bears

Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune targets Henry Melton, Zack Bowman and Nick Roach as players with the potential to have a breakout season in 2011.

Neil Hayes says Plaxico Burress is just the type of receiver the Bears need.

Detroit Lions

It's early, but Mikel Leshoure has already caught the eye of some of his new teammates in Detroit.

Nick Fairley says he doesn't feel like he's falling behind despite missing all of the player-organized workouts this spring.

Green Bay Packers

ESPN's Tedy Bruschi says it's time for the Packers to start looking ahead to next season and stop celebrating the Super Bowl win. "Being the Super Bowl champions, you'd think they'd want to repeat," Bruschi said. "We're into June. It's June now. You've had your little celebration the week after the Super Bowl. It's time to move on. I think that they're still worried about celebrating and basking in the glory of being a Super Bowl champion is a little bit worrisome if I were a Green Bay Packers fan."

Rob Demovsky sees the competition between Charlie Peprah and Morgan Burnett as one of the more interesting training-camp battles.

Minnesota Vikings

Rookie quarterback Christian Ponder has his sights set on working out with the Vikings' offensive linemen soon.

NFL Network has former Vikings defensive lineman John Randle No. 3 on its list of the top undrafted players.
Another in a periodic series examining the roles of NFC North newcomers.

Unless you follow the Pac-10, your first introduction to Oregon State defensive tackle Stephen Paea might have come at the February scouting combine. Still recovering from minor knee surgery, Paea set a combine record by completing 49 reps of a 225-pound bench press.

Combine that accomplishment with a 6-foot-1, 303-pound frame and a natural perception emerges: A space-eating nose tackle who projects as a two-down player in the NFL.

[+] EnlargeStephen Paea
Craig Mitchelldyer/US PresswireStephen Paea had 13 sacks in three seasons at Oregon State.
As it turns out, however, the Chicago Bears have a different plan for the man they traded up in the second round to draft last month. The Bears are hoping Paea can be stout against the run, but the middle of the second round is high to pick a player solely on his run defense. Ideally, they hope he can play the "three-technique" position vacated by the release of Tommie Harris, a position that requires quickness and pass-rushing skills that exceed those of a typical nose tackle.

Tim Ruskell, the Bears' vice president of player personnel, said Paea can and will play both spots for the Bears.

"[He has] the strength and ability to be able to hold off the double-team with his upper body," Ruskell said. "So if we have to move him over to the nose ... he would have the capability to do that. It's just a unique guy for us. When you combine that with his effort level and his passion for the game, it was kind of a no-brainer for us. Whereas all of those other guys [in the draft] had something missing here or there."

Don't let that sell job sway you, however. Space-eating nose tackles are much easier to find than pass-rushing defensive tackles, and the success of this decision largely will rest on whether Paea can get into the backfield and be a disruptive force.

Setting the bench press record surely generated Paea some attention, but he made clear his ambitions extend beyond its implications.

"It's a blessing to do that," he told Chicago-area reporters. "I feel like the bench press was something in my back pocket. When I watched the replay after, some of the experts, [the NFL's Network's Mike] Mayock and all of those media guys saying that I'll be a true nose tackle [that was great]. But in my mind, strength is my plan B, as far as the quickness and stuff, that is what I feel like I can bring to the game."

Paea said he models his style after two classic "three-technique" defensive tackles, John Randle and Warren Sapp.

"I can't compare myself to [Randle]," he said. "I feel like that is exactly what I want to play like, and Warren Sapp, the quickness. [I'm] not much of a bull-rush type of person."

Today, you might laugh at the thought of putting John Randle, Warren Sapp and Stephen Paea in the same sentence. But we do so more to describe a mentality than assess his skill level. I would be worried if a second-round draft pick was hoping to become, say, the next Ted Washington or Tony Siragusa. All I'm saying is the Bears are hoping for -- and need -- more than run defense from the No. 53 overall pick of the draft.

Earlier: The Lions needed an explosive receiver like Titus Young.

Richard Dent finally gets his due

February, 5, 2011
2/05/11
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DALLAS -- Saturday was old hat for Richard Dent. For six of the past seven years, he sat idle while the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee passed on his candidacy. He passed through the expected phases of disappointment: From anger to frustration to confusion to tranquility.

[+] EnlargeRichard Dent
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesOver 13 years, Richard Dent recorded 137.5 sacks and forced 37 fumbles.
It seemed hard to believe that any man of Dent's generational impact would be excluded indefinitely from the game's highest individual honor. So Dent jetted off to Las Vegas for a weekend of golf. What the heck? If it happened this year, great. If not, well, Vegas is nice this time of year.

Dent's patience was rewarded Saturday when he finally received his invitation. Coincidentally, it came 25 years after he was named the MVP of Super Bowl XX.

"I'm just so thankful," Dent said. "My daughter Mary called me and everything was happening just at that time, and I kind of went into tears. ... It's very appreciated and I'm very happy. It's been a long time coming."

Indeed, Dent was one of the most dangerous pass rushers of his era, beginning with the Chicago Bears in 1983 and finishing with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1997. He was part of two Super Bowl champions, retiring with the NFL's third-highest sack total (137.5) and the second-most forced fumbles by a defensive lineman (37) at the time.

Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young, who worked as part of the NFL Network crew that announced Saturday's elections, suggested Dent transformed the game as one of the first ultra-athletic defensive ends who were just as comfortable rushing the passer as they were reaching up for an interception or poking the ball loose from the quarterback.

"I got a sense of that from watching [former New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor]," Dent said. "He was the only other guy that was quick enough that he could decide whether to hit the guy or take the ball from him. If you're in it for yourself, you just care about sacks. But I kind of thought like him, that taking the ball away was the best thing because it got you off the field and getting turnovers."

In his most memorable game, Dent forced two fumbles and was credited with 1.5 sacks in the Bears' 46-10 Super Bowl XX victory over the New England Patriots. He is one of three defensive linemen in history to win MVP honors in the Super Bowl.

"You can get sacks," he said, "but if you want to take your game to the next level, it's all about turnovers."

Hall voters first tapped several other pass rushers from Dent's era, including Fred Dean, Bruce Smith and John Randle. The voting committee works in mysterious ways, but there was little doubt it would eventually happen for Dent. This was his year.

Note: Dent is the 27th Bears players to be elected to the Hall of Fame, the highest number among NFL franchises.
DALLAS -- The Pro Football Hall of Fame voting committee will gather here Saturday morning to determine the class of 2011. Three players with significant NFC North ties are finalists: Receiver Cris Carter, defensive end Richard Dent and defensive end Chris Doleman.

Handicapping their chances for enshrinement requires the acknowledgment that two other finalists, cornerback Deion Sanders and running back Marshall Faulk, are widely considered to be locks for election. That leaves 13 men competing for three spots, and a tremendous campaign is under way to push NFL Films founder Ed Sabol into one of those positions.

Regardless of the politics involved, let's stay in our lane (for now) and consider our neck of the woods. The announcement is scheduled for Saturday at 7 p.m. ET.

Carter
Carter
Cris Carter
Key qualification:
When he retired after the 2002 season, he ranked second on the NFL's all-time list of receptions (1,101) and touchdowns (130).
Working against him: Receivers historically have a tougher time than at other positions. There are currently 21 receivers in the Hall of Fame, fewer than running backs (27), quarterbacks (23), offensive linemen (35) and defensive linemen (28). I refuse to believe that Carter's at-times caustic personality has impacted anyone's view of his on-field performance. But you never know for sure. Carter also will be competing with fellow receiver Tim Brown on this ballot.

Dent
Dent
Richard Dent
Key qualification: When he retired after the 1995 season, his 137.5 sacks ranked third all-time in the NFL, thanks in part to a run of five consecutive seasons with 10 or more sacks.
Working against him: There is nothing from a statistical standpoint to argue for Dent's continued exclusion. But for whatever reason, he has been passed over by other 100-sack players like Fred Dean, Bruce Smith and John Randle in recent years. This year, he is competing against two others in Doleman and Charles Haley. Sometimes players get lost in the maze. In the end, you hope that voters decide Dent has waited long enough.

Doleman
Doleman
Chris Doleman
Key qualification: You might not realize it, but Doleman's 150 career sacks rank fourth all-time in the NFL. Only Smith, Reggie White and Kevin Greene had more.
Working against him: He's competing with two other high-sack players in Dent and Haley who have more ballot tenure. Also, Greene's exclusion demonstrates that voters don't always reward sack totals in a vacuum.

John Randle Hall of Fame speech

August, 7, 2010
8/07/10
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Wow. Well, it's too late, they can't take it back now. I'm here; I'm in.

First of all, I want to thank John Teerlinck for presenting me, motivating me, focusing me on the game that I love. I also want to say, John, thank you for saying I could excel and play in the National Football League, even though I wasn't drafted, didn't play for a major school. Also thank you for showing me what sometimes I didn't see in myself.

Also I want to thank my hometown, Mumford, Texas, population 150. I also want to thank Herron, Texas, where I went to high school. Also I'd like to thank Keith Waters, who many of you may not know. Keith coached me at Trinity Valley Community College. He also convinced me to continue with my dream of playing football when I was uncertain about college and my future. He also encouraged me to go to Texas A&I with a rich winning tradition. Thank you also for all my college teammates at Texas A&I. Thank you, guys.

[+] EnlargeJohn Randle
Jason Miller/US Presswire"I am so humbled by this incredible honor which I never thought was possible," said John Randle, left. "I'm a smalltown kid whose dream came true."
Next I'd like to thank the Minnesota Vikings, a team that believed in me, gave me a chance to play defensive line when most teams thought I was undersized and I wasn't going to make the team.

Also a lot of credit goes to my teammates at the Vikings and also the Seattle Seahawks, and especially my teammates when I first got in the league, such guys at Henry Thomas, Chris Doleman, and Randall McDaniel. Thank you, guys, for taking me under your wing and showing me the way.

I'd also like to thank Jerry Burns, Denny Green for seeing something in me and also believing that I could make the team.

I also want to thank Dennis Ryan, the head equipment guy from the Minnesota Vikings for finding a shoulder pad that would fit this small body (laughter). I'd also like to thank the fans for those days when I thought I had given my all and had nothing left to give. You may not believe this, but those days when I believed that I couldn't go on, I didn't have the strength to continue, you gave me the strength to play hard, practice hard, and to go out there and play a hundred percent on every play.

I also would like to thank my two big brothers Dennis and Ervin Randle. Thank you for letting me follow you around Mumford, Texas, when we were growing up. I'd also like to thank my mom, who is no longer here. She raised three boys by herself with very little money. Thank you, mom. I love you.

I'd also like to thank my loving family, my wife Candace, she is my strength and best friend, and my kids who are my pride and joy. I also want to thank my whole family in Texas and a new one in Minnesota for being on this journey with me and also for helping me believe in myself and continue after football.

I also am so humbled by this incredible honor which I never thought was possible. Thank you to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, everyone who played a part in electing me for making this small-town kid's dream come true.

Thank you.
As you probably know by now, two players with NFC North lineages will be inducted Saturday night into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Former Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle John Randle and former Detroit Lions cornerback Dick LeBeau are among seven members of the 2010 class.

ESPN.com took a look at this week at both men. My post on Randle got lost in the latest edition of Favre-a-palooza, so here is an excerpt:
Every now and then, the old instinct will surface. One of the most hyper NFL players in history has found golf in retirement, and the looney who once painted his face before games -- and developed post-sack dances so elaborate that NFL officials hid their chuckles while fining him -- almost always behaves himself. Except, well….

“I usually act the way you’re supposed to,” John Randle said. “But in a real subtle way, I do find ways to talk trash. Say I’m playing somebody and they have a lower score than me. I’ll wait for them to get just a little upset with their shot.

“Then, all of a sudden I’ll say, ‘Did you hear that?’

“'I did. I just heard the door opening up for me.’

“And they’ll get all nervous. That works.”

Meanwhile, AFC North colleague James Walker spoke with LeBeau. An excerpt:
LeBeau realized around his sophomore year at Ohio State that he wanted to coach football. He was hoping to last a few years playing professionally before making that transition. But LeBeau wound up playing 14 seasons in the league as a member of some great cornerback tandems with the Detroit Lions, teaming with Lem Barney and Dick "Night Train" Lane during his career.

Once LeBeau got into coaching, he made an even greater contribution to the NFL. His invention of the zone blitz changed the way many teams play defense and has been a huge part of LeBeau's Hall of Fame career.

Chilling out with John Randle

August, 3, 2010
8/03/10
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John RandleBrian Bahr/AllsportJohn Randle, the man who redefined the defensive tackle, will enter the Hall of Fame this weekend.
Every now and then, the old instinct will surface. One of the most hyper NFL players in history has found golf in retirement, and the looney who once painted his face before games -- and developed post-sack dances so elaborate that NFL officials hid their chuckles while fining him -- almost always behaves himself. Except, well….

“I usually act the way you’re supposed to,” John Randle said. “But in a real subtle way, I do find ways to talk trash. Say I’m playing somebody and they have a lower score than me. I’ll wait for them to get just a little upset with their shot.

“Then, all of a sudden I’ll say, ‘Did you hear that?’

“'I did. I just heard the door opening up for me.’

“And they’ll get all nervous. That works.”

Randle will enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend because he changed the way defensive tackles play the game. Rather than limit himself as an old-school run-stopper, Randle used quickness and wiles to collect more sacks than anyone in the league between 1991-2002.

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Elsa/ALLSPORTJohn Randle gained notoriety for his celebrations and his trash talk.
Those sentences only begin to describe the character that was -- and, presumably, still is -- John Randle. His manic personality when he was a player, on and off the field, makes it nearly impossible to envision him on the golf course now. The stories are now part of NFL canon. He read media guides to find personal information with which to taunt opponents. He provided NFL Films with some of its most lively B-roll. And yes, he even practiced his pass rush moves on unsuspecting old ladies minding their own business in the market.

“Yes, that happened quite a bit,” Randle said. “I’d go to a grocery store to pick up some cheese or something. There would be people randomly walking down aisles. Once, I happened to come up to a lady with a cart and just decided to do a swim move past the cart. I kept walking, but I could see out of the corner of my eye that she was pretty startled. She wasn’t sure if she needed to call somebody for help or what she should do.”

Indeed, she was speechless -- much like the football opponents who weren’t prepared for Randle’s constant verbal barrages about their mothers or their pet beagles or their anthropology degree in college. Sometimes, an offensive lineman would try to return fire.

Bad move.

“I loved it when that happened because usually that got the quarterback involved and ruined the play,” Randle said. “Someone would try to talk trash to you. Then the quarterback would say, ‘Be quiet,’ so he could call signals or whatever. Then the next thing you know, everybody’s telling each other to shut up and they had to call a time out. I’d just walk away and watch the mess I caused. I loved doing that.”

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Jonathan Daniel /Allsport Once one of the NFL's most-feared pass rushers, John Randle has turned to golf in retirement.
I covered Randle for his final two seasons in Minnesota and can attest that he was one of those people who literally could never stand still. We used to think he would blow through the Vikings’ locker room just to avoid interview requests. In reality, he was just nervously bustling through the building until it was time for practice. I’d see him toss something in his locker, slam through a pair of double doors, turn around, slam back through them and grab the same something and then continue on his way.

He was really, really hyper. So it blows my mind to think of Randle playing golf three or four times a week, as he says he does during the Minnesota summer. He is a 10-handicap.

“It’s a game that I have to say I love,” Randle said. “It’s a game of patience, a game of slowing down your swing and relaxing and enjoying the day.”

Huh? John Randle relaxing and enjoying the day? Come on.

“You can’t go out there thinking you are going to be the quickest or the strongest,” he added, “because your game will be in the tank. I love getting out there and taking my time and looking at the hole.”

OK, now I think he’s pulling our leg.

“It’s a graceful game. It’s a peaceful game. When I first started going out there, I was going nuts. I would shoot a 110 and be thinking, ‘I can’t figure this out.’ But athletes can adjust so easily. You would think that wouldn’t be the case for a guy that is high strung, has that burst of energy all the time. But I learned to control my energy.”

So there you have it. John Randle will enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame not long after joining the Hall of Chillax. Well done.

NFC North Hall of Fame debate

July, 5, 2010
7/05/10
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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

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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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