Buoniconti's paralyzed son makes speech emotional
Meet the Hall of Fame Class of 2001
Lynn Swann say his celebration will not be complete until teammate John Stallworth is inducted.
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Thursday, August 9, 2001
Don't count out this group just yet
By Len Pasquarelli
CANTON, Ohio -- The long and torturous waiting game ended here Saturday for
seven new Hall of Fame members, many of whom acknowledged that they had lost
faith over the years, despaired that the selection committee might never
recognize them as among the game's great contributors.
"When the call finally came, I still thought someone was just fooling with
my emotions," said former Minnesota Vikings star Ron Yary, a man who
redefined the offensive left tackle position in the '70s, but who still had
to wait until nearly 20 years after his retirement to be inducted. "I know a
lot of the other guys in this year's class felt this day would never come."
But this make-up year, when the sages that comprise the board of electors for
the football shrine took care of a lot of unfinished business, still wasn't
enough to totally square things.
There remains a legion of former players and coaches deserving of Hall of
Fame consideration, a group that despite impressive credentials, has yet to
be acknowledged as rating a spot among the NFL's all-time greats. And for
some of those players and coaches, the wait figures to be a pretty long one.
Over the next three or four years, there are some first-ballot shoo-ins --
John Elway, Dan Marino, Barry Sanders, Steve Young, Reggie White and Marcus
Allen, among others -- whose eligibility will considerably lengthen the odds
for other would-be Hall of Fame members who seem to have fallen between the
Do you think, for instance, that former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Ken
Anderson, one of the most accurate passers of his era and a player whose
candidacy has already been thrice rejected by the electors, has even a
remote chance of induction given the signal-callers who have retired over
the last two seasons? If you are Anderson, you would be wise to find
something to do other than sitting by the phone the day before the Super
Bowl, when the balloting takes place.
There are others, to be sure, and we have compiled a short list of them. The
maximum number of inductees is seven, as was the case this year. So with
that in mind, here are seven contributors we feel are long overdue for Hall
of Fame induction (presented in alphabetical order):
John Hadl, quarterback, San Diego (1962-72), Los Angeles Rams (1973-74),
Green Bay (1974-75), Houston (1976-77): His opponents will accurately point
out that he ranks only 104th all-time in passer efficiency rating, at 67.4,
but four Hall of Fame quarterbacks are even lower that that. Hadl posted
monster numbers in the early existence of the old AFL, but few quarterbacks
threw the deep ball better than him and he read coverages like they were
little more than some "See Dick run" primers. He was a tough guy, not very
quick, but a passer who had pocket awareness and found a way to buy time
while receivers broke open.
Dan Hampton, defensive tackle, Chicago (1979-90): The "edge" players in the
great defenses Buddy Ryan constructed in Chicago garnered most of the credit
for making a revolutionary "46" scheme among the most feared in modern
history. But somebody had to be taking on all those double-team blocks in
the middle and allowing players like end Richard Dent to work primarily
against just the offensive tackle. A superb run-stuffer who used his hands
well to play off blocks, Hampton also flashed some pass rush ability
throughout his 12-year career. He helped to put the "monster" back in the
Chuck Knox, head coach, Buffalo (1978-82), Seattle (1983-91), Los Angeles
Rams (1992-94): Everywhere he went, a playoff berth soon followed. Was he
imaginative or an innovator? Geez, his old nickname, "Ground Chuck," screams
for a negative response to that one. Still, the Chuck Knox resume includes
39 more victories overall than that of Marv Levy, one of the seven men
inducted on Saturday afternoon. Knox is the sixth-winningest coach in league
history and all five of the guys in front of him have their likenesses in
bronze here. Some people feel George Allen also deserves a spot in the Hall
of Fame, because of the innovative wrinkles he incorporated into the game.
Sorry, folks, any coach who allowed Richard Nixon to diagram a play for the
Super Bowl has to be viewed with a jaundiced eye. To us, Knox is a superior
Tommy Nobis, middle linebacker, Atlanta (1966-76): He has been out of the
game so long now that the "seniors" committee will have to nominate him for
consideration. The first-ever player selected by the expansion Atlanta
franchise, and the object of a fierce bidding war between the NFL and the
AFL, he has worked virtually his entire life for the Falcons organization.
Forget the fact the Tommy Nobis Center has raised millions over the past
three decades to help provide work and educational opportunities for Atlanta
citizens with disabilities. The guy was flat-out a superb middle linebacker.
Compare his statistics to those of a more famous contemporary, Dick Butkus,
and they stack up amazingly well. Balky knees cut short his career, plus he
played on a terrible team most seasons, and the latter clearly has worked
Ken Riley, cornerback, Cincinnati (1969-83): A tough call, but he barely
gets the nod over two other cornerbacks, Lester Hayes of Oakland and Dick
LeBeau of Detroit, who are also deserving. Riley didn't run particularly
well but "The Snake" was an amazing student of the game, watched tape
voraciously, knew his opponents better than they knew themselves. It might
be hyperbole to suggest he was a poor man's Deion Sanders in his day, but
offensive coordinators typically set the game plan to throw away from him.
Riley still managed to snag 65 interceptions, the fourth most in NFL
history, and he returned five of them for touchdowns.
John Stallworth, wide receiver, Pittsburgh (1974-87): It took all these
years to get teammate and fellow Steelers wideout Lynn Swann into the Hall,
and Stallworth might never get any closer than he did on Saturday, when he
delivered his old pal's presentation speech. The other element which works
against him is that some electors feel there already are enough Steelers
from the dominant club of the '70s honored here. But Stallworth, part of one
of the greatest draft classes in history, played years longer than Swann and
holds all the franchise receiving records. Swann is recalled, of course, for
his ballet-like Super Bowl catches. But go back and check the play-by-plays
of the Steelers' four championship game triumphs, and you'll see that
Stallworth made just as many big plays, albeit it in more ordinary fashion.
One hope for Stallworth is that, with Swann now in the Hall of Fame, the two
won't fragment voting support anymore.
Jeff Van Note, center, Atlanta (1969-86): Two old-timers from the Falcons
among our seven deserving players? Hey, why not, especially in the case of
Van Note, a onetime free agent who had to play a season of semi-pro football
just to get a chance in the big-time. Until just a couple years ago, "The
Noter" still ranked in the all-time top 10 for regular-season appearances.
His 18 seasons with the same team rates third in NFL history for continuous
tenure with one franchise. He played in six Pro Bowl games and twice was
named to the All-Pro team. A smallish but smart blocker with an innate feel
for angles and leverage, Van Note, in our mind, is more deserving than a
center like Hall member Jim Langer. Some people would suggest he wasn't as
athletic as another former Miami snapper, Dwight Stephenson, but he played
more than twice as many years and longevity should be among the primary
criteria considered in the balloting.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer at ESPN.com
|John Stallworth deserves consideration now that former teammate Lynn Swann is in.|