The Centennial HOF Class

With this being the NFL’s Centennial season, the Pro Football Hall of Fame opened up it’s selection criteria for this year. It allowed for 15 individuals to be voted in to make up the Centennial Class. This consisted of ten players, three contributors and two coaches. When combined with the modern era finalists, it would bring the total class to 20.

The coaches were announced over the weekend as Pittsburgh Steelers former coach Bill Cowher and Dallas Cowboys former coach Jimmy Johnson were notified on live television. It was great theater and I was happy for them. This left the 10 players and 3 contributors to be selected. These selections were revealed yesterday and what a select class it is:

Senior Players

Jim Covert, lineman (Bears 1983-90): Dan Marino’s lead blocker at the University of Pittsburgh, Covert earned two All-Pro selections during his eight-year career with the Bears. A left tackle, Covert was an intricate part of the Bears’ 1985 championship team. His blocking helped Walter Payton set the then all-time career rushing record in 1984.

Winston Hill, lineman (Jets, 1963-76; Rams, 1977): An eight-time Pro Bowler, Hill started at left tackle for the Jets during New York’s shocking victory over the Colts in Super Bowl III. Hill helped provide sterling protection for Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath while also creating running lanes for running backs Matt Snell and Emerson Boozer.

Harold Carmichael, receiver (Eagles, 1971-83; Cowboys, 1984): The Eagles’ all-time leading receiver, Carmichael led the NFL in receptions and receiving yards in 1973. A four-time Pro Bowler, Carmichael helped lead the Eagles to their first Super Bowl appearance in 1980.

Bobby Dillon, safety (Packers, 1952-59): The Packers sterling safety during the 1950s, Dillon, a Pro Bowler each year from 1954-58, remains Green Bay’s all-time leader with 52 interceptions in 94 games.

Cliff Harris, safety (Cowboys, 1970-79): Harris earned six consecutive Pro Bowl selections during his final six NFL seasons that included three straight All-Pro nods from 1976-78. Harris helped lead the Cowboys to five Super Bowl appearances during the ’70s that included victories in Super Bowls VI and XII.

Donnie Shell, safety (Steelers, 1974-87): Nicknamed “The Torpedo,” Shell, an undrafted rookie in 1974, won four Super Bowls with the Steelers while recording 51 career interceptions. He was a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro.

Duke Slater lineman (1922-31): The NFL’s first African American lineman, Slater starred for the Milwaukee Badgers, Rock Island Independents and Chicago Cardinals during the 1920s and early 1930s.

Mac Speedie, end (Browns, 1946-1952): The best end of his era, Speedie led his respective league in receptions four times and receiving yards twice. Speedie was a four-time AAFC champion and 1950 NFL champion.

Ed Sprinkle, defensive linemen, linebacker, end (Bears, 1944-55): A dominant two-way player, Sprinkle helped lead the Bears to the 1946 NFL title. Sprinkle earned four Pro Bowl selections in a five-year span from 1950-54.

Alex Karras, defensive tackle (Lions, 1958-1970): One of the NFL’s most intimidating players during the 1960s, Karras, a left defensive tackle, earned three All-Pro selections and four Pro Bowl nods from 1960-1965.

Contributors

George Young: Young was named the NFL’s Executive of the Year five times during his 18-year run as the Giants’ general manager from 1979-97. During that time, the Giants won two Super Bowl titles. Young stocked the team with Hall of Fame talent that included Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson. This was  along with Pro Bowlers Joe Morris, Mark Bavaro, George Martin, Jim Burt, Harry Carson, Sean Landeta, Otis “OJ” Anderson and Michael Strahan, among others. Young also hired Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells, who led the Giants to their first two Super Bowl wins.

Steve Sabol: The co-founder of NFL Films along with his father Ed (who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2011), Steve Sabol played an essential role in the growth and popularity of the NFL during the 20th century.

Paul Tagliabue: Tagliabue served as the NFL commissioner from 1989-2006. Not only did the league grow immensely under his watch, but there were also no work stoppages during Tagliabue’s time as commissioner. Tagliabue was also commissioner when the NFL ushered in free agency during the early 1990s.

The Case of Drew Pearson

Everyone of these individuals were an integral part of the NFL and deserve this honor. However, for every player, coach, or contributor who made it, there are many more who did not. The reasons for this are never fully explained. For some of them, this has been a long and frustrating wait for an honor that somehow escaped them. One such player is Drew Pearson.

Full Disclosure

First off, in the matter of full disclosure, I have been a Cowboys fan since the early 70’s. I grew up watching Roger Staubach, Duane Thomas, Calvin Hill, Mike Ditka, Walt Garrison, Bob Lilly, and so many more. Back in ancient times, my older brother and I would throw the football around. In those scenarios, I was Roger Staubach and he was Drew Pearson.

A History Lesson

In 1973,  the Cowboys brought in an undrafted rookie from Tulsa named Drew Pearson. No one gave him much of a chance to make the team, let alone start. But Drew believed in himself. Through hard work, he not only made the team but eventually became the starter. In time, he would become Staubach’s favorite receiver. So much so that during his 10 year career, he became synonymous with Roger Staubach and the Cowboys. They called him Mr.Clutch because he always seemed to come up with the big play when needed most.

Mr. Clutch

During this centennial celebration, the NFL has been counting down the best players, best games, and biggest plays. Inevitably, the “Hail Mary” play will come up. In a 1975 playoff game vs the Vikings,  Staubach launched a last second TD pass to Pearson that would seal the victory. The “Hail Mary” as Staubach christened it, would become one of the most famous plays in NFL history.

The Mad Bomber

When Staubach went down with an injury on Thanksgiving, a rookie QB named Clint Longley would come in and lead the team to victory. “The Mad Bomber” did so by throwing a long TD pass to Drew Pearson. It became one of the NFL’s most famous of Thanksgiving games. As always. when the big play was needed, it went to Drew Pearson. By the time he was done, he was elected to the 1970 all decade team as a starter along with the Pittsburgh Steelers Lynn Swann.

The One Left Standing

This is where the contention comes in. As the years have come and gone, gradually those starters have been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Eventually, almost all of the starters for the 70’s All Decade Team would be inducted. All except for two players: Cliff Harris and Drew Pearson. Fortunately, Harris was finally selected in this Centennial class. Pearson was not.

What that means is that Pearson is the lone holdout for the entire 70’s all decade 1st team. Every other player has made it.  In fact, every offensive starter for the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s All Decade Teams have been selected for the Hall. All except for Pearson.

There’s always next year

You might think, so what? He can go in next year. As many players who are still waiting for their turn to wear that gold jacket will tell you, it might not happen. In fact, since his eligibility began in 1988, he has been a finalist ONE time. Just One. The odds of him being selected when they go back to their normal procedures seem slimmer than ever.

Disappointment and Frustration

As anyone who has perused the internet during yesterday’s Hall of Fame announcements may have noticed. Drew was not happy with his exclusion. This is perfectly understandable. At this point, the NFL is telling him that he and he alone is the only one among 30 years of All Decade Offensive Starters not worthy of the Hall of Fame. That is not right and exactly what the Centennial Class was supposed to be addressing.

The Wait Continues

Understand me when I say I do not begrudge any of the selections made. They are all great players, coaches and contributors and have earned their place. But for players like Drew and the many others  like him who are on the outside looking in, it is frustrating.  Perhaps one day… one day, they might get that call. However, right now…like the many years before, it seems like a long wait. Now maybe more than ever.

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