I’d like to begin this article by saying thanks to Rick for asking me to contribute to his blog. It’s a privilege, and I hope that I can add to his already good work.
Last week, some friends and I had the pleasure of visiting the National Baseball Hall of Fame. What an experience, all of that history was awe inspiring. Of course, living in the Akron-Canton area, I have been to the Pro Football Hall of Fame many times; again a great trip for the fan. But all of this, plus the recent induction ceremonies in Cooperstown and Canton have got me thinking about what it takes to be a hall of fame athlete.
With the recent induction of Gene Hickerson, All-pro offensive lineman for the Browns from 1958-1973, I ask the question, “What took so long?” Here is a player who opened holes for three of football’s greatest running backs (Jim Brown, Leroy Kelly, and Bobby Mitchell seen to the Left with Hickerson), selected to 6 consecutive Pro Bowls from 1965-1970, and named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1960’s. Impressive? How about this: In his first 10 seasons in the NFL, Hickerson opened the holes for nine 1,000-yard rushers seven of those were the league’s leading rushers. This stat becomes even more impressive when you realize that, prior to that point, the NFL only had 7 1,000-yard rushers in it’s history. I can go on and on, but my point is: why has it taken 28 years since his first year of HoF eligibility to finally see this great enshrined in the Hall?
And why are there no punters? Sure Tom Landry and Sammy Baugh among others punted during their respective careers, but what about dedicated punters like Ray Guy? And will Chris Gardocki ever be considered? He was a relatively average punter over his 16 year career with one exception: in 1,177 punt attempts, he has NEVER been blocked.
The last decade has also added another consideration to think about. What about the “juiced” players? Baseball’s steroid controversy has called the careers of people like Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi, and chiefly Barry Bonds into question. Do these players deserve a place in the hallowed halls of the Baseball Hall of Fame? Football is not innocent of this problem either. Lyle Alzado died of cancer brought on by steroid use. What of the otherwise stellar careers of the “steroid era” players? Do they deserve consideration? Or do we pin the label “cheater” on them and throw their achievements by the wayside?
So what makes a Hall of Famer? Stats? Popularity? Championships? And what makes one player more deserving than another; why are Mike Munchak or Jim Langer enshrined before Hickerson? Or why does a player like Benny Friedman, the “NFL’s First great passer” (Pro Football Hall of Fame Website), wait 60+ years to be recognized? The “greatest player” from every position should have a place in the HoF. So why no punters? I don’t have the answers and I will not diminish the careers of the other enshrinees, but I wonder, with future classes waiting in the wings, how long before it becomes passe to be enshrined? Or on the other side will it become nearly impossible for obscure positions like linemen and punters to even be considered with the glamour and flash of the “skilled positions” taking a greater share of the spotlight?