NFC South: 2011 Hall of Fame vote

With the voting for the 2011 class of Pro Football Hall of Fame members coming up Saturday, we previously have talked about Willie Roaf and Deion Sanders as the NFC South candidates.

Even that’s not entirely true. Roaf spent time with Kansas City at the end of his career. But he spent the bulk of his career with New Orleans, so he’s typically viewed as a Saint. Sanders bounced around quite a bit and might have had a higher profile in stretches with Dallas and San Francisco, but he spent a good chunk of his career in Atlanta, so a lot of people will view him as a Falcon.

[+] EnlargeTim Brown
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaTim Brown finished up his 17-season career in Tampa Bay.
But there’s one other guy who played in the NFC South that we haven’t talked about here who has a real chance to get in. That’s wide receiver Tim Brown. Yes, he really did play in the NFC South and unlike Roaf and Sanders, he actually played in the division after it came into existence. Roaf left New Orleans for Kansas City in 2002, the year the NFC South started, and Sanders’ time in Atlanta was long before divisional realignment.

But Brown played for Tampa Bay in 2004, the last year of his career. He spent the rest of his career with the Raiders and came to Tampa Bay to finish up with former Oakland coach Jon Gruden.

Brown didn’t do much in that season with the Bucs. He appeared in 15 games, started four, made 24 catches for 200 yards and a touchdown. If he goes in, you won’t view him as Tampa Bay’s second Hall of Famer after Lee Roy Selmon. It’s kind of the same thing as Steve Young, who spent a couple years with the Bucs early in his career, not being considered a true Tampa Bay guy.

The next real Hall of Famer from the Bucs will be either Derrick Brooks or Warren Sapp. But Brown could at least give the Bucs a sliver of representation in the Hall of Fame.
He was an offensive lineman, which means statistical numbers can’t tell the whole story. So how do we know Willie Roaf should be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

[+] EnlargeNew Orleans Saints tackle Willie Roaf
US PRESSWIREWillie Roaf was named All-Pro seven times and was an 11-time Pro Bowl pick in 13 seasons.
It’s simple really. You compare him to the best offensive linemen ever. If he stacks up, he gets in. If he doesn’t have the résumé, he doesn’t get in.

I’ll make the case right now that Roaf’s résumé is sparkling and he should be elected Saturday when voters in Texas see his name as a finalist in the first year he’s eligible. I’ve been in that election room before and I know there will be some critics that will say Roaf, who spent most of his career with the New Orleans Saints and finished it with the Kansas City Chiefs, doesn’t have any Super Bowl rings and that he didn’t play on a lot of great teams.

So what? The thing that really matters is that Roaf was among the best ever at what he did. Off the top of your head, who’s the best offensive tackle ever? I’m guessing a lot of people will say Anthony Munoz, who was inducted into the shrine in Canton, Ohio in 1998. Some younger people might argue for Baltimore’s Jonathan Ogden, who won’t be eligible for election until 2013.

The reality is Roaf is right there with them in every way you can measure an offensive tackle. In his 13-year career, Roaf made the Pro Bowl 11 times. That’s the same number of Pro Bowl berths Munoz and Odgen had. No offensive tackle has made the Pro Bowl as many times as Roaf, Munoz and Ogden.

Another good measuring stick is to see if a guy has made an all-decade team because that means he was the best at his position for at least most of a decade. Well, Roaf did that -- twice. He was selected to the all-decade team for the 1990s and the 2000s.

Roaf was durable and dominant and that means he’s deserving of a spot in the Hall of Fame. Last year, Rickey Jackson became the first New Orleans player elected to the Hall of Fame on the day before the Saints won the first Super Bowl in franchise history.

There will be no repeat on Sunday since the Saints were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs. But there should be a repeat Saturday and the Saints should have their second Hall of Famer.

“William Roaf was one of the greatest players in our franchise’s history,’’ Saints owner Tom Benson said. “He’s one of the greatest players to ever play his position and someone that myself and our fans have a great appreciation for. Hopefully, William will have the opportunity to join Rickey Jackson in Canton this summer.”