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NFL Hall of Fame

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Meet the Hall of Fame Class of 2001




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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
ESPN.com

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.

John Stallworth
John Stallworth deserves consideration now that former teammate Lynn Swann is in.
"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 cracks.

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 midway.

  • 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 choice.

  • 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 against him.

  • 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




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