My 2011 Hall of Fame Ballot And Why Deion Sanders Did Not Get My Vote

February 3, 2011 by

There is not a greater football honor than to be one of the selected few people to receive a phone call from Canton, Ohio and hear that you will have a bronze sculpture of your head put into the Hall of Fame to immortalize you forever in the annals of football history.

There is also the flip side of the same coin. There isn’t a more difficult decision to make as a football writer than to choose who belongs in the Hall of Fame. I used to be naive and think that it is easy; either a man belongs or not right? Wrong. It is easy to think that, but the truth is far more distorted.

Over the past few years as my knowledge of the history of the game improved, so did my respect for these writers who are buckled with the arduous decision every year. A lot of these writers do not like how the system is flawed. Only a certain number of guys get in each year, and the list of players that have Hall of Fame credentials that have yet to be called upon grows each year.

Anyone can make a top ten list of “The Best Players That Are Not In Canton,” but for every person you want to put in, you have to remember that you have to take someone out because the rules mandate that only a certain number can go in each year.

For every Jerry Kramer excluded, there is a Larry Csonka who belongs in the Hall of Fame, so I hesitate before I ever question a Hall of Fame class because I cannot make a top ten list of “The Worst Players in Canton,” because there aren’t ten players to choose.

The Hall of Fame rules are the following. There are 15 finalists each year from the modern-era, and two finalists that are senior nominees. To find out the exact process, I emailed one of my own favorite sportswriters named Ray Didinger.

Ray Didinger is a Hall of Fame sportswriter who has written about the Philadelphia Eagles and was once a voter himself until he resigned his position to work with Steve Sabol and NFL Films.

His reply was the way the system works is that the minimum number of candidates that can be put in one year is four and the maximum is seven. The two senior candidates are simply yes or no there. The other 15 are discussed, debated, and voted on until it is whittled down to 10. Then more debates, more coffee breaks, more detailed logical arguments and another round of voting lowers it down to five guys.

That is when the moment of truth arrives. Because all five of these men can go into Canton if the voters just say yes. As a writer who would love to be a voter one day, I would vote for the remaining five with ease because personally, I think almost all 15 candidates this year would be fine additions inside football’s finest museum.

The hard part is how do you judge which five belong the most? It isn’t something you google and hope for a quick answer. A lot of players are analyzed to the detail because the details are what’s different. Every player in the final fifteen has accolades, honors, and statistics. The question is who stands out the most? It’s like picking between two shades of the same color. Almost the same, but a little different.

I’ve thought about this ballot over the past year several times. I’ve probably spent a a whole day (24 hours) thinking about it. I’ve finally made my decision on who I would strongly support in the coming proceedings if I was a voter.

I took the liberty of poaching a list from the official Hall of Fame website that is listed below:

The Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee’s 17 finalists (15 modern-era and two senior nominees*) with their positions, teams, and years active follow:

Jerome Bettis– Running Back – 1993-95 Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams, 1996-2005 Pittsburgh Steelers

Tim Brown– Wide Receiver/Kick Returner – 1988-2003 Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders, 2004 Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Cris Carter – Wide Receiver – 1987-89 Philadelphia Eagles, 1990-2001 Minnesota Vikings, 2002 Miami Dolphins

Dermontti Dawson– Center – 1988-2000 Pittsburgh Steelers

Richard Dent – Defensive End – 1983-1993, 1995 Chicago Bears, 1994 San Francisco 49ers, 1996 Indianapolis Colts, 1997 Philadelphia Eagles

Chris Doleman– Defensive End/Linebacker – 1985-1993, 1999 Minnesota Vikings, 1994-95 Atlanta Falcons, 1996-98 San Francisco 49ers

Marshall Faulk – Running Back – 1994-98 Indianapolis Colts, 1999-2005 St. Louis Rams

Charles Haley– Defensive End/Linebacker – 1986-1991, 1999 San Francisco 49ers, 1992-96 Dallas Cowboys

*Chris Hanburger– Linebacker – 1965-1978 Washington Redskins

Cortez Kennedy– Defensive Tackle – 1990-2000 Seattle Seahawks

Curtis Martin – Running Back – 1995-97 New England Patriots, 1998-2005 New York Jets

Andre Reed – Wide Receiver – 1985-1999 Buffalo Bills, 2000 Washington Redskins

*Les Richter – Linebacker – 1954-1962 Los Angeles Rams

Willie Roaf– Tackle – 1993-2001 New Orleans Saints, 2002-05 Kansas City Chiefs

Ed Sabol– Founder/President/Chairman – 1964-1995 NFL Films

Deion Sanders – Cornerback/Kick Returner/Punt Returner – 1989-1993 Atlanta Falcons, 1994 San Francisco 49ers, 1995-99 Dallas Cowboys, 2000 Washington Redskins, 2004-05 Baltimore Ravens

Shannon Sharpe – Tight End – 1990-99, 2002-03 Denver Broncos, 2000-01 Baltimore Ravens

I think that out of all of these men, only one or two are guys that I would not endorse unless given a really persuasive argument.

That means that 15 of the 17 candidates, in my eyes, deserve to be Hall of Famers, so how can you choose who goes first? I can’t just gather the players up and have a Texas Hold-Em tournament. Although, it would make the job a lot easier.

Well, for starters, I am an avid supporter of the two senior candidates. I’m with Paul Zimmerman (aka Dr. Z, a former voter) on this matter. I vote for the two seniors regardless of who they are to just get them out of the room to make room for other men that deserve it. The two seniors could be a hippo and a monkey’s uncle, and I would vote for them.

So, put two big fat checks next to Les Richter and Chris Hanburger.

Les Richter was an eight-time Pro Bowler in nine years and Chris Hanburger has the most Pro Bowls of anyone who wore a Washington Redskins uniform. The only reason these two have taken so long to get in is because they are both linebackers, an overlooked position, and because they played on teams that never won championships. If these guys had been in the positions of Jack Lambert and Jack Ham of the 1970s Steel Curtain dynasty, they’d be in the Hall of Fame, but they get forgotten because of their lack of postseason success.

That leaves 15 candidates, and I have only five votes left. This is where it gets tricky.

I’ve studied Hall of Fame classes and listened to interviews of well respected analysts. One of the key points that I’m going to always remember about the Hall of Fame is a point made by Mike Francesa, a New York radio broadcaster, the Hall of Fame selectors do not like to overload any one position. They like to limit a class to one wide receiver, one defensive end, one inside linebacker etc.

The last time a class had two of the same position from the modern era was in 2005 when Steve Young and Dan Marino were inducted into Canton, and they were obvious inductees.

So, out of a list that has three receivers and three running backs, only one of each is expected to make into Canton this year. Do I necessarily agree with that logic? In a way yes, because you don’t want to see any position ignored just because it isn’t as flashy as a position like wide receiver.

With that tradition established, I’m going to limit myself to one of each because I want all my votes to help someone get in. Why use three votes on three running backs when I know that only one is going to be a slam dunk?

Determining who the slam dunk is hard though. All three running backs are first-year nominees. Take a look at the numbers.

Rushes Rushing Yards Rushing Touchdowns Yards Per Attempt
Curtis Martin 3,518 14,101 70 4
Marshall Faulk 2,836 12,279 100 4.3
Jerome Bettis 3,479 13,662 91 3.9
Catches Receiving Yards Receiving Touchdowns
484 3,329 10
767 6,875 36
200 1,449 3

However, Curtis Martin is a guy who isn’t on YouTube with flashy music and great moves. He’s a guy who just ran the football, and he spent most of his career with the Jets and never even went to the Super Bowl. His lack of postseason success hurts him greatly. I do not expect him to make it into Canton this year.

Jerome Bettis was nicknamed “The Bus,” because of his bruising runs. He was a power back who ran through anything and everything. He has the emotional tearjerker story where he is in his last year in Pittsburgh, and they finally earn one for the thumb, and he wins a Super Bowl ring in his home city of Detroit.

Jerome Bettis was a closer back. Bill Cowher set up this philosophy in Pittsburgh where the offense just needs to get a lead, and the Steelers defense would suffocate the other team. Bettis would pound for first downs and run out the clock, so a lot of his yards were in garbage time.

I think Bettis may get in this year, but I’m leaving my vote for Marshall Faulk.

Marshall Faulk may have the fewest rushing yards among the three, but he was just as deadly as receiver as he was a running back. He has 6,875 yards receiving along with 36 touchdowns. If you want to model a perfect running back, a guy who can be elusive, can make plays, has tremendous leadership, could recognize blitzes and block, can run passing routes so well that teams would assign a cornerback to cover him, and he’d still beat that corner.

Marshall Faulk was a fixture on one of the greatest teams that ever walked onto the football field. After a contract dispute with the Indianapolis Colts in 1999, he was traded to the Rams for second and fifth round picks where he became a legend. He already was a good running back with the Colts, but the Rams new system under Mike Martz that was the greatest offense over a three-year period ever just evolved Faulk.

When you have Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt as receivers, the defense is going to have to roll the coverage to them or else they’ll crush a defense in a one-on-one situation. That left the short passing game open, and Marshall Faulk was the primary receiver there. Faulk also could run the ball with the safeties dropped back and gain plenty of yards.

The Rams won the Super Bowl and an AFC title in the first three years with Marshall Faulk, and the offense was nicknamed, “The Greatest Show On Turf,” due to the astroturf surface of the Rams dome.

Three times he was the Offensive Player of the Year from 99-01, the 2000 NFL MVP, the 1994 Offensive Rookie of the Year, and fourth all-time in yards from scrimmage with 19,154. That’s around 11 miles in total distance.

The next vote will go to one of three of the most amazing receivers the game has ever seen. Just look at their numbers and compare

Catches Receiving Yards Receiving Touchdowns Length of Career
Tim Brown 1,094 14,934 100 17 years
Cris Carter 1,101 13,899 130 16 years
Andre Reed 951 13,198 87 16 years

These three careers are so close and so similar. Granted, Tim Brown beats them in the yards department, Cris Carter was the best possession/boundary receiver ever. You can’t read that stat line and do Cris Carter justice. You have to go onto YouTube or and find some film of him making tippy-toe catches or catching the ball in mid-air with just one hand.

Cris Carter could’ve gone to war, lost an arm, and still played professional football because he only needed one hand to catch the ball.

Andre Reed was an amazing run-after-catch receiver. He’d catch the ball over the midde and tacklers would bounce off of him at times. Plus, he played in Buffalo, New York where it is snowing for a great majority of the year, and he still produced amazing numbers while Cris Carter played in a dome in Minnesota, and Tim Brown played in shiny California.

These guys are so close in terms of production that I’m going to have to do what the voters do, and look at the details now. I’m not one to judge a guy based solely on postseason success. In fact, I roll my eyes in bewilderment when I hear someone chastise a player because he never was part of a championship team, but I’m going to have to look at postseason numbers to differentiate between these three receivers.

Catches Receiving Yards Receiving Touchdowns Number of Postseason Games
Tim Brown 45 581 3 12
Cris Carter 63 870 8 14
Andre Reed 85 1,229 9 19

It becomes clear that Tim Brown was not the same dynamic threat in the postseason, and Cris Carter never even went to the Super Bowl.

Andre Reed was a vital part of a team that went to four straight Super Bowls. Granted, they lost all four, but you’d think that four tries is worth at least one win?

Also, last year, Andre Reed was the guy who received the most votes. If I’m a voter, I want to get them out of the room, so my vote goes to Andre Reed.

That leaves three votes left to be determined.

I want to put a defensive player in there, but I’m not a proponent of Deion Sanders this year. I know that I’m probably going to get a lot of angry eyes, but I stand by the idea that a Hall of Fame cornerback’s job is to tackle as well as cover. I think of Deion Sanders, and I think what if?

What if he had actually tackled as well as he covered? I think we wouldn’t see Deion Sanders as one of the all-time great players, but the greatest player ever. He brought so much to game by redefining the term ‘shutdown corner,’ and he had that flair for the return game with his dancing in the endzone.

But to me, football is a team sport. It isn’t about you, it’s about the team. Deion Sanders made it more about him to me really. He was a guy who demanded a great deal of money, he is a guy who has hurt the game by being a prototype for young kids who think they don’t have to put their bodies on the line to help the team, and guess what? These kids aren’t Deion Sanders in coverage, so it messes up their heads.

Do I think Deion Sanders is a Hall of Famer? Absolutely. Do I think he belongs immediately? No, I don’t. I think he needs to be shown that he needs to play the whole game to be given his pass to Canton immediately. I think he’ll get in this year sadly because that’s just the total justification for players to imitate Sanders.

Sorry Deion, but if you want my support, how about you show me some film of you stopping a running back running off tackle right at you on the goal line? Find me that, and I’ll change my mind.

I may be a Cowboys writer, and he may technically be a Cowboys player, but I don’t embrace Deion Sanders the way some people do. I embrace this other Dallas Cowboy, who has had his spine fused because he wasn’t too chicken to fight for his teammates.

My vote goes for Charles Haley.

Charles Haley is the only player with five Super Bowl rings in NFL history. He played defensive line for 13 years, and was a fixture in two dynasties, the 80s 49ers, and the 90s Cowboys.

I wrote a case for him myself linked here:

He’s got my vote, and he’ll continue to get my vote until he gets in.

The next person who gets my vote is a guy who has just had bad luck these past two years. I really think he’ll get in now. His name is Shannon Sharpe.

Shannon Sharpe created a new type of tight end, he was one of the biggest trash talkers on the field, he was the all-time leader in receptions, touchdowns, and yards for a tight end until Tony Gonzalez broke his records. He has three Super Bowl rings, two with the Broncos, one with the Ravens, he was a team leader, and he could make big plays when needed.

The 2000 Ravens were a defensive football team that needed a score to get ahead, and very often, it was Shannon Sharpe getting that touchdown to seal the win.

If Shannon Sharpe gets to the final five, there is no way he isn’t inducted into Canton. Just no way. He wasn’t the greatest blocker, but he made up for it with touchdowns.

The last person is someone who I’m voting for because his impact upon the game of football is so immense that words cannot do it justice. He is the creator of NFL Films, Ed Sabol.

Ed Sabol’s company, NFL Films, has brought the NFL into the public with classical music that makes your hair stand on end and your pulse go up. Without NFL Films, I would not be a writer because NFL Films documentaries, highlight films,  interviews, and audio recordings brought the history to me. I’m only 21. Do you honestly expect a 21-year-old to know about the games from the 1970s?

NFL Films became my teacher. Ed Sabol and his son Steve are so important to NFL history because they recorded NFL history. Great acts are nothing without someone writing them down in history. Ed Sabol belongs in the Hall of Fame because without him, football may not be as popular a sport as it is now.

I’m not one to vote for contributors really. If I had to choose between Jerry Jones and Larry Allen, I’m choosing Larry Allen. I don’t think an owner in a suit or a commissioner should be inducted over a player especially when so many players have been passed over unfairly.

If I could change the Hall of Fame election process, the first thing I’d do is to make an independent slot for coaches and contributors separate from players. Find another way to put them in, don’t substitute players who have bled on the field for them.

However, Ed Sabol is my exception to the rule because I feel that he is not long for this world. He is 94 years old, and the Hall of Fame is not going to make the change that I desperately want now or anytime soon probably. Ed Sabol deserves to give a speech to the entire world of football, and the whole world needs to see this pioneer before he leaves us.

So, that’s my ballot.

Marshall Faulk

Charles Haley

Chris Hanburger

Andre Reed

Les Richter

Ed Sabol

Shannon Sharpe

I sincerely hope that these seven men will be inducted as the class of 2011 on February 5th, 2011.

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