NFL Nation: 2010 HOF Class

Video: Rice, Smith Headline 2010 Class

February, 6, 2010
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NFL greats Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith were among the seven players selected to the Pro Football Hall Of Fame Class of 2010.

Randle 'revolutionized' the game

February, 6, 2010
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Saturday was an interesting one for NFC North fans. We got defensive lineman John Randle into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but were stymied on two other fronts: Receiver Cris Carter was among the first cuts from the Round of 15, while defensive end Richard Dent made it one step further before falling short.

[+] EnlargeJohn Randle
Getty ImagesJohn Randle finished his Hall of Fame career with 137.5 sacks.
I won’t spend too much time discussing the players who didn’t make it. Today is John Randle’s day. But three quick points before we move on to him:

  • Many of you are already asking why Randle made it over Dent. After all, they finished their careers with the same number of sacks (137.5). Discussion among the 44 voters is confidential, but the vibe I got Saturday was this: Randle’s total was deemed more impressive because he played much of his career at defensive tackle -- traditionally a harder position from which to pile up sack totals.
  • Carter actually regressed in the voting this year after making it all the way to the final cut in 2008. As we discussed Saturday, I can only attribute that result to Jerry Rice’s surefire presence in this class and the relatively small number of receivers who are enshrined on a yearly basis. Entering Saturday’s vote, there were 20 receivers in the Hall of Fame, a total less than running backs (25), quarterbacks (23), offensive linemen (34) and defensive linemen (27).
  • I know that Dick LeBeau played extensively for Detroit. But for coverage purposes, ESPN.com is considering him AFC North property. Check out this post from colleague James Walker.

Now, on to Randle. Mark Craig of the Star Tribune got ahold of him before Randle’s cell phone died.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling because of where I came from and what it took to just make it in the NFL," Randle said. "Words can’t describe what it means. I'm in the Hall of Fame!"

Without exaggeration, I would say Randle ranks among the all-time success stories in recent Hall of Fame memory. He played college football at a Division II school (Texas A&I) that is no longer in existence under its current name. He went undrafted and was signed as a rookie free agent in 1990 by Minnesota scout Frank Gilliam, a player who was lucky if he weighed in at the 287 pounds he was typically listed at.

I spoke Saturday night with one of Randle’s best friends, former Vikings linebacker Ed McDaniel.

“People always told Johnny that he wasn’t big enough and wasn’t good enough,” McDaniel said. “So I know that every day he went out there, he wanted to show the other 30 teams that they made a mistake. He wanted to beat your guy every play. He wasn’t a prototypical player, but he knew that when it was all over, he would be judged among the best players ever to play his position. That’s what he was fighting for all those years.”

There are all kinds of stories I could tell about Randle’s whacky personality, and I’ll get to a few in a moment. From a football perspective, however, I think Randle fundamentally changed the way defensive linemen are perceived.

In many ways, Randle was the first modern-day “three-technique” defensive tackle, the kind of interior disruptor you now see throughout the NFL. Before Randle, the NFL’s top pass rushers always were defensive ends or linebackers. But Randle used his rare quickness to get a step on centers and guards, putting together nine seasons of 10 or more sacks.

As they say, the quickest point to the quarterback is up the middle. During the heart of his career from 1991-2002, Randle collected more sacks than anyone in the NFL.

“He revolutionized the game,” McDaniel said.

Along the way, he proved to be one of the most colorful personalities in the game. Occasionally, Randle’s eye makeup and non-stop trash talking overshadowed how good of a player he was.

To be sure, he always made sure he had fun playing the game. But Randle also believed he could get in the heads of opponents with some well-timed barbs -- so much so that he studied media guides for personal information he could banter with.

“Everyone has seen the NFL Films stuff from Johnny,” McDaniel said. “That was the nice stuff. When he wasn’t miked up, that’s when the X-rated stuff would come. He would say stuff about guy’s mothers, about their wives, about their children. He wanted to hit a guy at his weakest point. It was filthy, but it worked.”

McDaniel told a story about playing in a game against Miami in the mid-1990s. Randle and fellow Vikings linebacker Jack Del Rio tackled a Dolphins running back. At the bottom of the pile, Del Rio was twisting one of the running back’s ankles. Randle had the other and was yelling, according to McDaniel, “Harder, Jack, harder! Twist it off! Twist it off!”

“I said, ‘Oh my God,’ McDaniel said. “This is a level of football I’ve never seen.”

I covered Randle during the latter stages of his career, and I rarely saw him stand in one place for more than a moment. He had a barb ready for everyone in the room, and considering how he dashed from place to place in the Vikings’ locker room, I was always surprised how observant he was.

At the time, I was 26 and apparently looked younger. (The gray hair is a recent turn of events.) As he ran toward his locker one day, Randle stopped, looked at me and said: “Hey, does your mom know you’re here?”

I looked around. Was he talking to me?

“I said, does your mom know you’re here?”

“I don’t know. Why?”

“Because,” Randle said, “you’re too young to be away from home by yourself.”

I’m betting his enshrinement speech will be a knee-slapper.

Rice did not take Canton for granted

February, 6, 2010
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Jerry Rice left nothing to chance during his NFL career with the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders and Seattle Seahawks.

The all-time receiving leader certainly wasn't banking on enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, even if others viewed his candidacy as a no-brainer.

[+] EnlargeJerry Rice
AP Photo/Wilfredo LeeAn emotional Jerry Rice reacts to his induction into the Hall of Fame.
"It means the world because a weight is on your shoulder for so long and you just never know," Rice said after his selection as part of the 2010 class. "I never took it for granted. I'm a very superstitious guy and I didn't think of myself as being a shoo-in."

Rice's face revealed elation even well after his name was announced.

"When my name got called, it was just like when I got drafted by the San Francisco 49ers," he said. "All the emotions hit and like I said, I'm glad to be part of this class. Now I get a chance to say thank you to everyone that played a very important part in my life: my family, my coaches -- high school, college, professionally -- the fans and media because I drew energy from my fans and also from the people who supported me."

Rice became emotional when reflecting on his late father, the late Bill Walsh and the values his parents instilled in him through hard work and old-school discipline. Rice recalled the way his father made him lay bricks as a kid and the hard stares his dad would give him when young Jerry needed to be kept in line. He also admitted that some 49ers teammates initially wondered if he was showboating when he insisted upon taking every reception to the end zone during practices.

"But then it became contagious and Roger Craig started doing it, Brent Jones, and it was all for just getting in position so you could make blocks downfield," Rice said. "If you came to a practice for the San Francisco 49ers, it was just like a game situation."

Rice voiced support for Craig, Charles Haley, Tim Brown and the other former teammates who fell short on Hall of Fame voting.

Brown, one of 15 finalists this year, called Rice and offered congratulations -- on Friday.

"But still, I didn't take it for granted," Rice said. "I think he deserves to be in here, also."

Dawson continues to wait for Hall

February, 6, 2010
2/06/10
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One of the top centers of all-time will continue to play the waiting game.

Dawson
Dawson
Thirteen-year Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Dermontti Dawson, who made seven consecutive Pro Bowls from 1992-98, was once again passed over for the Hall of Fame. This was the sixth consecutive time he failed to make it to Canton since becoming eligible in 2005.

Dawson made the cut from 15 to 10 finalists this year. But Dawson wasn't part of the five inductees that included Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, Russ Grimm, John Randle and Rickey Jackson. Senior nominees Dick LeBeau and Floyd Little also are part of the 2010 class.

This year was perhaps the closest Dawson came to making the Hall of Fame. He also was a finalist in 2008 and a semifinalist in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009.

There is an impressive backlog of players currently not in the Hall of Fame. In addition to Dawson, strong candidates such as Cris Carter, Cortez Kennedy, Richard Dent, Andre Reed, Charles Haley, Tim Brown and Roger Craig were all rejected this year alone.

Several more impressive candidates such as Marshall Faulk, Deion Sanders, Jonathan Ogden and Jerome Bettis also will be eligible very soon. That will further congest the Hall of Fame voting process, which doesn't help Dawson's candidacy.
The AFC West had four chances to be represented in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Only Floyd Little made it.

Let’s look at the other three people who didn’t get voted in:

Oakland receiver Tim Brown

What happened: He didn’t make it to the final 10.

Why: There is a glut of receivers. With Jerry Rice (who spent four years in Oakland and who retired while with Denver) a shoo-in, Brown, Cris Cater and Andre Reed suffered.

Will he get in? Sure, but it may take some time. Carter has been waiting three years and he and Reed will likely get in before Brown.


San Diego coach Don Coryell

What happened: He didn’t make it to the final 10.

Why: This was a very stacked class. Ultimately, getting a coach in who never went to the Super Bowl was too difficult of a task.

Will he get in? Maybe someday, but it may be difficult.


Denver tight end Shannon Sharpe

What happened: He made it to the list of 10, but didn’t make the final cut.

Why: Like Brown, Sharpe suffered because of the logjam of receivers. Many voters considered him a receiver even though he was a tight end.

Will he get in? He has to, doesn’t he? I’ve been surprised that Sharpe didn’t make it in both years of his eligibility.

Smith: 'This moment is surreal'

February, 6, 2010
2/06/10
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[+] EnlargeEmmitt Smith
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesDallas running back Emmitt Smith played a leading role for the Cowboys during the 1990s.
Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith has taken the stage and he's sitting next to his close friend and former teammate Michael Irvin. Smith described the moment he was announced in the Hall of Fame Class of 2010 as "surreal." He got to share that moment with wide receiver Jerry Rice. The two men hugged as their names were announced.

Smith and Rice were emotional as they discussed the role their families played in their athletic accomplishments. Owner Jerry Jones had tears in his eyes as he listened to Smith talk about his career. Smith thanked Jones for "opening the door."

"Nobody could've written a script this perfect," said Smith, referring to the fact that he's going into the Hall with Rice.

Smith thanked a lot of people, including Irvin and fullback Moose Johnston. He closed by talking about his legacy.

"Consistency was the most important trait that I wanted to display," Smith said.

He also talked about his Florida roots and how important it was for him to have this announcement take place in his home state.

Grimm checks in via phone

February, 6, 2010
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Redskins guard Russ Grimm was very brief in his remarks during a phone call to the Hall of Fame announcement show on the NFL Network a few moments ago. He said he'd been watching the announcement on TV with two of his sons. Grimm mentioned a lot of the famed Hogs and attributed much of his success to teammates. He talked a little about what it was like being an offensive lineman.

"If you don't do your job, when you pick up that paper on Monday, then obviously it's going to be your fault," he said.

He said his sons congratulated him and then immediately decided to go fishing. I'm sure Grimm had prepared himself for getting passed over again. Longtime Redskins beat writer for the Washington Times, David Elfin, presented Grimm during the voting meeting. He obviously made a compelling argument. But of course, Grimm's remarkable career provided him with some solid evidence.

Little's long run has a happy end

February, 6, 2010
2/06/10
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[+] EnlargeFloyd Little
AP Photo/FileFloyd Little was the first star player for the Denver Broncos.
Before John Elway became the unofficial governor of Colorado, there was Floyd Little.

He was the face of the Denver Broncos long before Elway developed his rocket arm. Now Little joins his Denver successor in Canton, Ohio.

In what was likely his final chance to be immortalized, the former Broncos running back was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a senior committee nominee after a 30-year wait. Had he not been elected Saturday, there was no guarantee Little would ever be considered for enshrinement again. He joins Elway and tackle Gary Zimmerman as Denver players in the Hall of Fame.

While the team’s excitement was tempered by the failed candidacy of tight end Shannon Sharpe, the franchise was still ecstatic about Little’s induction.

Getting Little into the Hall of Fame was a mission for the franchise. Little thanked several members of the organization Saturday for their continual pursuit to get him enshrined.

“Floyd has made immeasurable contributions to this franchise and the NFL, and he deservedly will take his place among the greatest to play this game in the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” Denver owner Pat Bowlen said in a statement released by the team.

The bow-legged Little carried the franchise on his back. By far the best player on some bad teams, Little, who played from 1967-75, never made it to the playoffs.

He ranked seventh in the NFL in all-time rushing with 6,323 yards when he retired and trailed only O.J. Simpson in rushing yards in that period. Little was a star for a franchise that didn’t truly find its way until several years after he retired and was the first face of the Broncos.

Saturday, he was finally rewarded for it.

Steelers' statement on LeBeau

February, 6, 2010
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Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II released a statement Saturday evening on Dick LeBeau's induction into the Hall of Fame.

The 2010 class will be inducted on Saturday, Aug. 7, at Fawcett Stadium in Canton, Ohio.

"I would like to congratulate Dick on his election into the Pro Football Hall of Fame," Rooney II said in the statement. "Few men in the history of the NFL have contributed more to the league as a player and coach than Dick LeBeau during his 51 years in the league. All of us with the Steelers are thrilled with his selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2010."

LeBeau will be joined by Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, John Randle, Russ Grimm, Rickey Jackson and Floyd Little.

Smith, Grimm get their Hall pass

February, 6, 2010
2/06/10
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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.

[+] EnlargeEmmit Smith
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesEmmith 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.

[+] EnlargeRuss Grimm
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesRuss 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.

Pretty remarkable day for two NFC East players.

Coaching helped LeBeau to HOF

February, 6, 2010
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Dick LeBeau -- the player and longtime defensive back for the Detroit Lions -- was voted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday.

But make no mistake: It was LeBeau's lengthy and stellar coaching career which, directly or indirectly, helped get him over the hump.

[+] EnlargeDick LeBeau
David Boss/US PresswireDick LeBeau went to three Pro Bowls as a member of the Detroit Lions, but his contributions as a coach helped get him to Canton.
LeBeau, 72, was a senior committee nominee. He will join an impressive 2010 class that includes Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, Russ Grimm, John Randle, Rickey Jackson and fellow senior nominee Floyd Little.

For many years, the Hall of Fame panel debated the merits of LeBeau's playing career, which is fair. He recorded 62 interceptions and made three Pro Bowls during his 14-year career.

But LeBeau, a first-time finalist, didn't become a better player since he retired in 1972. It was LeBeau's continual contributions to pro football after retirement that made his induction into Canton undeniable.

LeBeau is the most accomplished defensive coordinator in NFL history. He invented the "zone blitz," which helped win Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2005 and 2008. LeBeau also made it to three additional Super Bowls as a coach with Pittsburgh in 1995 and the Cincinnati Bengals in 1981 and 1988.

When the Hall of Fame panel had to vote "yes" or "no" on LeBeau the player, LeBeau the coach and overall contributor had to weigh on the back of voters’ minds whether they admit it or not.

I remember covering last year's Super Bowl between the Steelers and Arizona Cardinals when conversations about LeBeau and the Hall of Fame really began to heat up.

The talk had nothing to do with LeBeau's playing career, which ended more than three decades ago. But it had everything to do with LeBeau once again coaching an elite defense into the Super Bowl and how much he added to the game throughout his career. Ending the week by winning his second championship as defensive coordinator only added to his resume.

As a player and coach, a strong case can be made that no one has dedicated more of his life to pro football than Dick LeBeau. This summer pro football will return the favor and give its highest honor by inducting LeBeau into the Hall of Fame.

Kennedy gracious after making final 10

February, 6, 2010
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Cortez Kennedy made the final 10 for the first time in voting for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Kennedy
Kennedy
He should feel good about that, and he did. I spoke with him Saturday night and he expressed no complaints with the process, showing respect for what appears to be one of the strongest classes of finalists in recent memory.

Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith were obvious choices. That left only three spots for the remaining 13 modern candidates.

Kennedy and another ex-Seahawk, John Randle, were the only defensive tackles among the 15 finalists. Kennedy commanded enough respect in the room to earn a place among the final 10. If some voters were split on Randle and Kennedy, Randle's enshrinement could conceivably give Kennedy a clearer path next year.

Of course, it's tough to predict the dynamics that will come into play. I was privileged to participate in the process for the first time this year and look forward to participating in the future.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Five of the seven members of the 2010 Pro Football Hall of Fame class have ties to current NFC West teams:
  • 49ers receiver Jerry Rice was an obvious choice. There wasn't much discussion in the room because Rice's credentials spoke so loudly.
  • Cowboys mainstay Emmitt Smith, who finished his career with the Cardinals, was another obvious choice. Again, there wasn't much discussion here.
  • Former Saints linebacker Rickey Jackson, who finished his career with two strong seasons in San Francisco, broke through as a less obvious choice, beating out several other outside pass-rushers with strong credentials. Jackson started 14 games for the 49ers' 1994 Super Bowl team. He then collected 9.5 sacks in 1995 in his final season. Jackson missed only two games to injury during his 15-year career, and one of those missed games came only after a car wreck. Jackson never wore knee pads or thigh pads and he didn't even tape his ankles. I have no idea how he held up and produced at such a high level for so long.
  • Defensive tackle John Randle, who earned Pro Bowl honors with Seattle after a long career in Minnesota, earned enshrinement. Randle was arguably one of the most dominant inside pass rushers in NFL history and I suspect voters couldn't ignore his staggering sack numbers in the end.
  • Cardinals assistant coach Russ Grimm earned enshrinement for his work as the Redskins' best offensive lineman on the teams that won three Super Bowls under Joe Gibbs. Grimm has come close to earning enshrinement in the past. He becomes the first member of the fabled "Hogs" to earn enshrinement.

Seniors-committee nominees Floyd Little and Dick LeBeau also earned enshrinement.

Logjams at certain positions might have split votes for some candidates, particularly among wide receivers and outside pass-rushers.
MIAMI -- Let’s go ahead and consider this an omen for the Super Bowl. Times really have changed for the New Orleans Saints.

[+] EnlargeRickey Jackson
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesRickey Jackson compiled 128 sacks over his 15 seasons in the NFL.
Rickey Jackson has been selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

That announcement came moments ago and it’s another sign that a franchise that has spent most of its existence as loveable losers no longer fits that image. The day before the Saints play in their first Super Bowl, they’ve got their first Hall of Famer.

Coincidence?

Maybe, maybe not. We don’t know exactly what was on the minds of voters. But the fact is Jackson never had even made it to finalist stage before this year. The fact that "Who Dat Nation" suddenly became more than a regional thing might have had some sort of subconscious impact on the voters and it certainly increased Jackson’s visibility.

But the fact is Jackson has deserved this honor for a long time. He was part of the famed “Dome Patrol’’ of the late 1980s and early ‘90s. Before this magical season, the Saints of Jackson’s era were the only truly proud time in franchise history. That era’s finally getting the recognition it deserves.

Maybe this won’t be the only truly memorable event of the weekend for the Saints and their fans.

Reed misses Hall cut, but makes up ground

February, 6, 2010
2/06/10
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Andre Reed deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

He just has to wait his turn.

For the fourth time, the legendary Buffalo Bills receiver was a semifinalist who didn't make the cut. Receiver Jerry Rice, running backs Emmitt Smith and Floyd Little, guard Russ Grimm, defensive tackle John Randle, linebacker Rickey Jackson and cornerback and esteemed coach Dick LeBeau were selected Saturday for the class of 2010.

Nobody expected Reed to be honored with Rice and Smith on the ballot for the first time. That left two fewer spots available for the others.

But there were some interesting developments in this year's selection process that bode well for Reed's candidacy in 2011.

There had been a belief among Hall of Fame voters Cris Carter would have to inducted before Reed could make it. But for the first time, Reed finished ahead of Carter in the process.

When the list of 15 semifinalists was pared down to 10, Carter and Tim Brown (in his first year of eligibility) didn't advance. Reed did after failing to make the final 10 last year.

And as Reed's career numbers continue to slide down the all-time list each season -- a tight end passed him this year, and Randy Moss, Torry Holt and Hines Ward probable will knock him out of the top 10 next year -- there was concern Reed's credentials would dim.

Maybe that won't be the case.

Reed caught 951 passes for 13,198 yards and 87 touchdowns. He went to four straight Super Bowls. Had the Bills won one of them, the chances for his induction would be moot. He'd probably already be in.

"It's not just about how many you caught, but when you caught them," Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin said on the NFL Network's induction show. "To go to four Super Bowls, that means all of your catches meant something. So hopefully he will be here one day."

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