The way the NFL Hall of Fame Seniors Committee works is that a player must be retired for 25 years to become eligible. If they are nominated, the Seniors Nominees must receive an 80% vote in order to be enshrined in Canton. Personally I love the Committee because it gives older players who have been passed over the opportunity to get the recognition they deserve. And right now there are a lot of legends that just haven’t been given the respect they deserve. I hope the Committee will work to fix that over the next few years. Here are the most obvious Senior Committee eligible players that need to be in the Hall of Fame.
L.C. Greenwood DE Pittsburgh Steelers
Accolades: Six Pro Bowls, two time First Team All-Pro, four Super Bowls, 13 years
He was a member of the infamous 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers, that won four Super Bowls, and played on the ‘Steel Curtain’ that dominated the NFL for the better part of a decade. His fellow defensive lineman, ‘Mean’ Joe Greene, is more famous but it was L.C. Greenwood who led the Steelers in sacks when he retired. Unofficially he had 82.
Joe Klecko DE/NT New York Jets, Indianapolis Colts
Accolades: Four Pro Bowls, two time First Team All-Pro, one time Second Team All-Pro, 12 Years
Joe Klecko is a forgotten gem in the rich history of the NFL. From the defensive tackle, nose tackle, and defensive end positions he was a force of nature. He remains one of the best defenders in Jets history and spent 11 of his 12 NFL seasons with the team.
Donnie Shell S Pittsburgh Steelers
Accolades: Five Pro Bowls, three time First Team All-Pro, four Super Bowls, 14 years
The defensive back that everyone remembers from the ‘Steel Curtain’ is Mel Blount, but what about safety Donnie Shell? He was just as much a bludgeoning force of nature as his fellow defensive back. He spent his entire career with the Steelers and recorded 51 interceptions through those 14 years.
Roman Gabriel QB Los Angeles Rams, Philadelphia Eagles
Accolades: Four Pro Bowls, one time First Team All-Pro, one MVP, 1973 Comeback Player of the Year, 16 years
The reason Roman Gabriel is on the list is obvious, he won the 1969 league MVP. The Rams and Eagles quarterback led the league in passing yards once and passing touchdowns twice. When his career ended in 1977 only a handful of quarterbacks ranked ahead of his 29,444 career passing yards.
Chuck Howley LB Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys
Accolades: Six Pro Bowls, five time First Team All-Pro, one Super Bowl, 15 years
Chuck Howley isn’t mentioned much today, but he is the greatest linebacker in Dallas Cowboys history. He went to six Pro Bowls, and was a five time First Team All-Pro. In 1971 he was a part of the Cowboys’ first Super Bowl team. Howley accumulated 25 interceptions during his career, which showcases his versatility and coverage abilities. The Cowboys’ prolific defense finished in the NFL’s top ten in scoring defense and yards allowed in ten of Howley’s 13 seasons with the team.
Jim Marshall DE Cleveland Browns, Minnesota Vikings
Accolades: Two Pro Bowls, one Super Bowl, 20 years
He was a member of the legendary Minnesota Vikings “Purple People Eaters” defense that also featured Hall of Fame linemen Alan Page and Carl Eller. Jim Marshall played in the NFL for 20 years, an extremely rare feat even today. While sacks weren’t officially recorded back then, Marshall played in 282 games and unofficially accumulated 127 quarterback takedowns.
Ken Riley CB Cincinnati Bengals
Accolades: One time First Team All-Pro, two time Second Team All-Pro, 15 years
Ken Riley spent his entire career with the Cincinnati Bengals and recorded 65 interceptions, but somehow he never made the Pro Bowl. This man had seven seasons with five interceptions or more! For reference, that’s the same number of five or more interception years that Ed Reed had and Reed has 64 career interceptions. Riley’s numbers stand up even today.
Lester Hayes CB Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders
Accolades: Five Pro Bowls, one time First Team All-Pro, one time Second Team All-Pro, two Super Bowls, 1980 Defensive Player of the Year, 10 years
Do you remember Lester Hayes and his Hall of Fame partner, Mike Haynes? They are one of the best cornerback combos in NFL history! Hayes himself won a Defensive Player of the Year award for his 13 interceptions in the 1980 season.
Cliff Harris S Dallas Cowboys
Accolades: Six Pro Bowls, three time First Team All-Pro, two Super Bowls, 10 years
Cliff Harris made the Pro Bowl in each of his six final NFL seasons. He was a key defensive piece of some great Cowboys teams in the 1970s and also contributed in the return game, racking up over 2,000 career kick and punt return yards.
Andy Russell LB Pittsburgh Steelers
Accolades: Seven Pro Bowls, one time Second Team All-Pro, two Super Bowls, 12 years
Andy Russell was one of the few holdovers from the pre-1970s Steelers who stayed on once Chuck Noll became the team’s head coach. He was with the team for their first back-to-back title run before retiring after the 1976 season. From 1970-1975 Russell made every Pro Bowl.
Johnny Robinson S Dallas Texans, Kansas City Chiefs
Accolades: Seven Pro Bowls, six time First Team All-Pro, one Super Bowl, three AFL Championships, 12 years
I can’t wrap my head around how Johnny Robinson isn’t a Hall of Famer. It just doesn’t make sense. He has the accolades, championships, and the stats! He recorded 57 career interceptions in his career, playing mostly in the 1960s! Twice he had ten interceptions in a season.
Randy Gradishar LB Denver Broncos
Accolades: Seven Pro Bowls, two time First Team All-Pro, three time Second Team All-Pro, 1978 Defensive Player of the Year, 10 years
Randy Gradishar also played on a legendary defense, the Denver Broncos “Orange Crush” defense. He was a tough, well rounded linebacker who recorded twenty interceptions in his career and was a tackling machine. Unofficially, he has over 2,000 career tackles, just like Ray Lewis.
Todd Christensen TE New York Giants, Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders
Accolades: Five Pro Bowls, two time First Team All-Pro, two time Second Team All-Pro, two Super Bowls, 10 years
Those were some great Raiders teams back in the early 1980s. Todd Christensen won two Super Bowls with his teammate, the previously mentioned Hayes. During his career, Christensen led the league in receptions twice, had three 1,000 yard seasons and one where he finished with 987 yards, and had four years with 80 or more receptions. While his peak didn’t last very long, those numbers from a tight end in that era are hard to ignore.
Ken Anderson QB Cincinnati Bengals
Accolades: Four Pro Bowls, one time First Team All-Pro, one time Second Team All-Pro, one MVP, 1975 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, 1981 Comeback Player of the Year, 1981 Offensive Player of the Year, 16 years
Just like with Gabriel, Ken Anderson’s MVP carries a lot of weight. Unfortunately, he won most of his major awards in the 1981 season, it would mean more if they were accumulated over a number of years. He took the Bengals to the Super Bowl that year, but they lost to Joe Montana’s San Francisco 49ers. He led the NFL in passing yards twice, competition percentage three times, and quarterback rating four times.
Ed “Too Tall” Jones DE Dallas Cowboys
Accolades: Three Pro Bowls, one time First Team All-Pro, two time Second Team All-Pro, one Super Bowl, 15 years
Too Tall Jones is one of the greatest nicknames in NFL history, but the newer generation seems to be unaware of the 6-9 defensive end’s contributions. He, like the aforementioned Harris, was on the Cowboys 1977 Super Bowl team Unofficially Jones had 106 career sacks, but only 57.5 are recorded because sacks weren’t officially tallied before 1982.
Harvey Martin DE Dallas Cowboys
Accolades: Four Pro Bowls, one time First Team All-Pro, three time Second Team All-Pro, one Super Bowl, 1977 Defensive Player of the Year, 11 years
Harvey Martin played opposite of Jones on the Cowboys defensive line. It’s easy to see how they won a Super Bowl with these two dominating the front trenches. Unofficially he led the Cowboys in sacks seven of his eleven seasons and finished his career with 115.
Three more Names to Consider
Cliff Branch WR Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders
Accolades: Four Pro Bowls, three time First Team All-Pro, three Super Bowls, 14 years
Noticing the pattern yet? Cliff Branch was also a member of the Raiders teams that won Super Bowls in the 70s and 80s. He led the league in receiving yards once, receiving touchdowns twice, and receiving yards per game twice.
Drew Pearson WR Dallas Cowboys
Accolades: Three Pro Bowls, three time First Team All-Pro, one Super Bowl, 11 years
Drew Pearson was another member of the Cowboys team that has produced so many players on this list. He led the NFL in receiving yards in 1977 and recorded over 1,100 receiving yards in the playoffs during his career.
Alex Karras DT Detroit Lions
Accolades: Four Pro Bowls, three time First Team All-Pro, four time Second Team All-Pro, 12 years
Alex Karras is an interesting character. He was suspended during his prime for the 1963 season because of gambling. Unofficially he has 97.5 career sacks, all coming with the Detroit Lions, who he spent his entire career with.
Those last three players were guys that I was borderline on, but didn’t want to leave out completely. I honestly feel that all of these guys, maybe not the last three, are deserving of the Hall of Fame. They were passed over during their time but the Senior Committee will offer them more chances in the years to come. Wrongs will be righted and legends will re-emerge.
If you noticed, the Raiders, Cowboys, and Steelers had the most players on this list. The Cowboys had five, the Raiders had three, and the Steelers had three. All of these teams have rich histories and the players on this list were from their various championship eras. It seems obvious, but teams that win tend to have the best players. That’s why those three teams have so many great players from concentrated time periods where many of them were teammates.