Debating Hall of Fame candidates with a true football historian (cont.)
On we go to the 38 players who were up in previous years and never made it. QBs are strong. Esiason, Plunkett, Simms, Stabler and Ken Anderson, who has always been a personal favorite, if only for the way he carried himself on the field. There was a kind of majesty about him.
"It's the grey area," Wolf said. "Good players, all of them good enough to win, but Hall of Famers? I don't think so. You could add Dan Fouts to that list. I know he's in already, but we played him enough times, when I was with the Raiders. But I never had the feeling that, OK, we're paying the Chargers now -- the one guy we have to worry about is the one throwing the ball."
Back comes Terrell Davis to light the fires of controversy once again. "Too short a career," said the negative voices. "Seven years, total, and only four of them were effective."
I was on the opposing side of that argument on this one. Yes, but those four years were sensational, and in two of them the Broncos rode his shirttails to Super Bowl triumphs.
"Four good years -- I don't think that's enough," Wolf said. Fine, but I think I have the clinching argument here. It's a two-word argument, a player both Wolf and I respect above almost anyone else. Orban "Spec" Sanders. Make that a three-word argument.
"Oh, man," Wolf said. "Ran back kicks and punts, passed, ran, punted, and then in his last year played defensive back."
A phenom for the rival All-America Football Conference, which had as many superstars as the NFL did, don't let anyone tell you different (not that anyone who is sane would hold such a conversation 60 years later). Single-wing tailback for the New York Yankees, and many a Sunday did I sit in the Stadium, yelling my lungs out for Spec and little Buddy Young, and Marion Motley, when the Browns came to town. Ran for 1,432 yards the same year Steve Van Buren set the NFL rushing record of 1,008.
His knees were shot in 1949, and he was out of the game, but in 1950 the Yankees were absorbed into the NFL and Spec came back as a defensive halfback -- they didn't call them cornerbacks then. His 13 interceptions were a league record, topped only by "Night Train" Lane's 14 two years later. Tell me, Ron, was Spec a Hall of Famer?
"Damn right he was," Wolf said. "Nobody ever did the things he did."
Well, ahem, three years in the AAFC, one in the NFL. Is Terrell Davis a Hall of Famer?
"You've given me something to think about," he said.
We move on, through a strong field of tight ends, Ben Coates, Mark Bavaro, the demon blocker, Todd Christensen, a personal favorite. "A hell of a list," he said. "If I had to take one of them, I'd take Bavaro, if only because of what he did for that offense. He made the Giants into a Super Bowl team."
How about the wideouts? Andre Reed. Made it to the round of 15.
"A lot of catches," Wolf said, "but did he dominate?"
Cris Carter, made it to the final 10 last time, lost out to Art Monk.
"Monk wouldn't be a choice of mine," Wolf said. "Did people say, when they played the Redskins, 'We've got to stop Art Monk?'
"Same thing with Carter. Who was the guy who worried you on that team? The speed guy on the other side, Randy Moss."
A pause for reflection. Cris Carter on the goal line, Carter against coverage on the sideline. Better think it through.
"Yeah, when they got in close, it was Carter you had to worry about," Wolf said. "When they needed the key first down, who did they go to? Moss? No, it was Carter. Plus he was an S.O.B. to cover. Now look what happened. Initially I dinged Carter, but when all is said and done, he really is deserving."
So how many has he put in the Hall already? Seven? Eight? And we still have the linemen who lost out last time, plus the defensive players.
Tony Boselli? "No. Better when he was younger."
Dermontti Dawson. "The best center's already in, and his name is Stephenson."
Bob Kuechenberg, whom I've been plugging for as long as I can remember? Jim Lachey? Steve Wisniewski? "No, no and no." Randall McDaniel? "More Pro Bowls than almost anybody," Wolf said, and I think he was beginning to wear out at this point. "I guess he belongs."
I told him I'd always been in ex-Falcon Mike Kenn's corner. As technically correct a tackle as the modern era has produced. "Oh yes," Wolf said. "And he did it for a long, long time, on some bad teams."
The name of Kenn reminded me of Winston Hill of the Super Bowl Jets. A smooth, stylish left tackle, a great raconteur, a fine wit.
"Of all the names I could have had that would have inspired fear," he used to say. "Rocky. Bruiser. My parents had to name me Winston ... Winnie to everyone. I mean could you see a defensive lineman terrified because he had to go up against a Winnie?"
"So graceful, so beautiful to watch," Matt Snell, the fullback, used to say. "Took them just where he wanted them to go. Never seemed like he was exerting himself that much. Tell me, did you ever seen Winnie sweat?"
"That's my man, bingo!" Wolf said. "You talk about a guy whose name you never hear now, that's him. I'd love to see the Seniors Committee propose him."
We all have our own favorites, players you could almost consider personal quirks. Hill is one of Ron Wolf's. So is defensive back Otto Schnellbacher, New York Yankees, New York Giants, a mainstay in Steve Owen's original Umbrella Defense, Otto Graham's persistent tormenter. Oh sure, I've got mine, too. Richie Jackson, the Broncos' great pass-rushing end, "Tombstone," they called him.
"Drove an old jalopy over the mountains after we'd traded with Oakland for him, and arrived in camp in the evening, just as it was getting dark," Stan Jones, the Denver line coach once told me. "He said, 'I've gone as far as I'm going. This is where I make my stand.' "
Here's another longshot, ex-49er Tommy Davis, a rocket punter who tamed the wicked winds of Kezar. Will the Seniors Committee ever find them? Probably not.
"Sometimes one particular talent stays with you," Wolf says. "Take George Buehler, our right guard with the Raiders. No one ever handled Joe Greene better than Buehler did. George was a different kind of guy, though. Kind of spacy.
"He would say to Gene Upshaw, our left guard, 'Eugene' ... he always called him Eugene ... 'who are we paying today?' And Gene would say, 'The Pittsburgh Steelers, George.'
'And Eugene, who will I be playing against?'
'Joe Greene, George.'
'Thank you, Eugene.' "