Induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is the greatest individual honor an NFL player can receive after retirement. While Canton houses many of the game’s all-time legends, the failure to properly recognize many members of the growing senior candidate pool is disappointing. There’s still time to correct the Hall’s many egregious omissions.
I began this project intending to highlight one player for each team in a single article. That became impossible. There are too many great players not in the Hall to only touch on one man per team, and doing it in a single article would only diffuse attention away from each legend.
This is the second article in an eight-part series. I’ve already covered the AFC North’s teams. Check back regularly for the following editions.
Before meeting the AFC South’s overlooked superstars, let’s recap how players become eligible for the Hall of Fame and discuss how I formatted the article.
To qualify for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a player must be retired and eligible (five seasons of inactivity). Recently retired players like Julius Peppers or active players like Richard Sherman do not qualify. In this case, players who retired following the 2016 season become eligible this coming voting cycle. Those potential first-ballot Hall of Fame Class of 2022 members, which notably include Andre Johnson, Steve Smith Sr., and DeMarcus Ware, do not appear in this article.
Each player is accompanied by his position and the years during which he played in the NFL. It doesn’t matter if the player only spent part of his career with the franchise he’s listed alongside. So long as the player performed at a noteworthy level with a franchise, even if it was only for two or three years, he’s eligible for that spot.
Let’s not get over complicated with teams moving around. Colts players are Colts players whether they are from the Baltimore or Indianapolis days. This article primarily focuses on highlighting the players anyway, not the teams, and bringing awareness to forgotten legends.
Honorable mentions- None
Technically, Foster only becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame this coming voting cycle. I’m breaking my own rules for this one because two-time Pro Bowl center Chris Myers is the alternative. Myers was a great player, but not to the level of the remaining selections in this article.
The Texans only began competing in 2002, meaning they have the smallest pool of players to draw from by far. While Andre Johnson appears on the ballot for the first time next voting cycle, Duane Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, Deshaun Watson, and J.J. Watt are still active. They’re arguably four of the six best players in franchise history.
Foster entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2009. He took over as Houston’s starting back in 2010 and immediately led the league in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. Foster tallied 5,702 yards from scrimmage and 47 total touchdowns in his first three seasons as a full-time starter. Unfortunately, injuries limited him to four Pro Bowl campaigns and eight pro seasons.
Foster retired as Houston’s all-time leader in carries, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns. He also holds the top four seasons in rushing yards per game in franchise history. Foster was a First-Team All-Pro in 2010 and a Second-Team All-Pro in 2011.
Honorable mentions- Alan Ameche, Dick Barwegen, Jimmy Orr, Bob Sanders, Jeff Saturday, Reggie Wayne
Modern Colts fans are probably screaming that Wayne deserves this spot. While the three-time All-Pro is tenth all-time in receptions and receiving yards, he never surpassed teammate Marvin Harrison or many of the other guaranteed Hall of Fame pass-catchers from the 2000s and 2010s. Wayne’s 1,070 receptions and 14,345 yards could warrant induction, but Boyd should go first.
Boyd joined the Colts as a tenth-round pick in 1960. He spent his entire nine-year career with the franchise, amassing 57 interceptions. Boyd won an NFL Championship, went to two Pro Bowls, and was a First-Team All-Pro three times. He had at least six interceptions in seven different seasons and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-1960s Team.
The other two cornerbacks on the 1960s All-Decade team (Herb Adderley and Lem Barney) earned their gold jackets decades ago. Despite playing in three fewer seasons than Adderley and two fewer than Barney, Boyd has more interceptions than both Hall of Famers. He also has five seasons with at least seven interceptions, whereas Adderley and Barney only have five such seasons combined.
It’s easier to count the players on the 1960s All-Decade team that aren’t in the Hall of Fame than those that are. Boyd is one of the best corners in NFL history and should take his place among the game’s all-time greats.
The Colts are a historic franchise with plenty of Hall of Fame hopefuls. Ameche was a four-time All-Pro and member of the 1950s All-Decade squad. Barwegen was also on the 1950s All-Decade team and had several All-Pro selections to his name. Orr amassed three All-Pro selections and 7,914 receiving yards, mostly in the 50s and 60s. Every Colts fan also knows the impact Saturday had on the franchise, making three All-Pro teams at center and getting snubbed out of an All-Decade bid for the 2000s.
Sanders is a curious case. He’ll almost surely fall short of Canton’s doorstep because of injuries, but his two healthy seasons were some of the best on record. Sanders was a First-Team All-Pro in 2005 and 2007, the only years he appeared in over seven games. He was the 2007 Defensive Player of the Year and intercepted two passes in the playoffs when the Colts won Super Bowl XLI.
Honorable mention- Fred Taylor
Boselli made five consecutive Pro Bowls and three consecutive First-Team All-Pro appearances in the middle of his seven-year career. A shoulder injury ultimately prevented the former second overall pick from fulfilling his true potential and stringing together a full career.
However, Boselli made the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-1990s Team despite only playing for five seasons during the decade. He was that good, and living legends acknowledge him as one of their own.
Hall of Fame tackle Anthony Muñoz told Jacksonville radio station 1010 XL/92.5 FM that he fully supports Boselli’s candidacy,
“You know, first of all, people always hate on me when I promote Tony Boselli. ‘Oh he’s another Trojan!’ I say hey if he went to Appalachian State and I watched the guy play, he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame … And people keep pointing to the career, it wasn’t long. No, but he was the best when he played.”
Hall of Fame guard John Hannah went even further, declaring, “That [Boselli] is the best tackle I have ever seen.” The football world widely regards Hannah and Muñoz as the best players at their positions in NFL history.
With Terrell Davis getting into Canton a few years ago on three seasons of elite play and Kenny Easley also getting in after just five Pro Bowl seasons, the path to football immortality seems as clear as ever for Boselli.
Honorable mentions- Eddie George, Billy “White Shoes” Johnson, Steve McNair, Bob Talamini, George Webster
Like many players who spent most of their days in the AFL, Hennigan faces an uphill battle. There’s a debate that still rages surrounding the level of competition in the AFL compared to the NFL, which might’ve contributed to several players building stacked résumés before the merger.
During his brief seven-year career, Hennigan amassed two of the most impressive seasons in football history. In 14-game seasons, he produced a single-season record 1,746 yards in 1961 and 1,546 yards in 1964. His 1961 record-setting total is still sixth all-time, and it took until 1995 for Jerry Rice to break it. Lance Alworth’s 1,602 yards in 1965 (21st most) are the next most by a player before 1995.
According to Crescent City Sports, Hennigan held the league record for most games with 100 receiving yards in a season (ten in 1961) for over 30 years. Michael Irvin broke it with 11 such games in 1995. At the time of his death in 2017, Hennigan was one of only four receivers in league history with four or more 200-yard receiving games, and his three 200-yard games in 1961 were the single-season record.
If holding records for decades isn’t enough to justify Hennigan’s place among the all-time greats, he has support from respected sources. Long-time sportswriter Rick Gosselin wrote on Hennigan’s impact and his place in history,
“You can say Bob Hayes changed the way the game is played with his speed. You can say Charley Taylor changed the way the game is played with his power. And you can say Jerry Rice changed the way the game is played with his precision and grace,” wrote Gosselin. “But no wide receiver changed the way the game is played like Charlie Hennigan.”
Hennigan was a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-AFL All-Pro.
Talamini’s Hall of Fame case also suffers from his time in the AFL. The Kentucky product went to six Pro Bowls as a guard and was a three-time All-AFL First-Team All-Pro. Webster matched those All-AFL selections as a linebacker.
George, Johnson, and McNair offer modern options for fans. Johnson was an electrifying return specialist that made the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-1970s Team as a kick returner and the All-1980s Team as a punt returner. George is the franchise’s all-time leading rusher with over 10,000 yards. He went to four Pro Bowls and was a First-Team All-Pro in 2000.
McNair didn’t have a long-lasting peak, and most fans don’t associate him with being an all-time great. However, he was the league’s co-MVP in 2003. If George gets an honorable mention, then so does McNair.
If you enjoy hearing from the legends of pro sports, then be sure to tune into “The Grueling Truth” sports shows, “Where the legends speak”
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