US Sports Veteran
Publish Date: 03/25/2021
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster
The Pro Football Hall of Fame houses the greatest players in NFL history. However, dozens of Senior Committee candidates have résumés worthy of induction but haven’t heard the knock on their doors. There’s still time to correct the voting process and fill Canton with the bronze busts of forgotten legends.
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 per team, and doing it in a single article would only diffuse attention away from each legend.
Before meeting the NFC East’s most deserving Hall of Fame candidates, let’s recap how players become eligible for Canton and discuss how I formatted the article.
To qualify for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a player must be retired and inactive for at least five seasons. 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 in this article 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.
This is the fifth article in an eight-part series. Check back regularly for the following editions.
Honorable mentions- George Andrie, Cornell Green, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Lee Roy Jordan, Harvey Martin, Ralph Neely, Nate Newton, Everson Walls, Darren Woodson
Part of me didn’t want to publish this section because it’s too long. While the Raiders and Steelers have plenty of Hall of Fame-caliber players as well, Dallas by far has the highest number of worthy candidates awaiting induction. Maybe only a handful of these former stars truly deserve gold jackets, but they all at least have cases.
Howley was one of the first great Cowboys. The franchise as it’s known today began in 1960 as an 0-11-1 disaster. Howley arrived in 1961 after Chicago traded his rights to Dallas. That was also the year that Tom Landry’s team drafted defensive tackle Bob Lilly. Together, Howley and Lilly were the first legendary Cowboys.
In his 13 seasons with Dallas, Howley made six Pro Bowls and was a First-Team All-Pro five times. He was also the MVP of Super Bowl V, which Dallas lost to the Baltimore Colts. Howley is still the only player in NFL history from the losing team to win Super Bowl MVP. The West Virginia product later won a title with the Cowboys in 1971.
In an article for Sports Illustrated‘s Talk of Fame Network, long-time sportswriter Rick Gosselin recalled a quote from Landry, who led Dallas to two Super Bowl titles and 250 wins during his career.
“I don’t know that I’ve seen anybody better at linebacker than Howley,” the legendary coach claimed.
It’s hard to understand why Howley isn’t in the Hall of Fame when one of the top five coaches of all-time acknowledges him on that level.
“Landry saw something special in Howley. It’s puzzling how the Hall-of-Fame selection committee has missed it,” Gosselin concluded.
Howley is far from the only Cowboys defender with a Hall of Fame case. His long-time teammate Lee Roy Jordan deserves some attention. The former sixth overall pick made five Pro Bowls during his 14-year career and was a First-Team All-Pro in 1969.
Jordan was literally at the center of Landry’s destructive Doomsday Defense. The Alabama product spent most of his time as the middle linebacker on a team that went to three Super Bowls during his career. Unfortunately, Jordan ran into the walls of Dick Butkus and Ray Nitschke when competing for accolades.
Despite not earning many All-Pro selections, Jordan still has a strong Hall of Fame case. According to Dallas’ team site, he intercepted 32 passes and recovered 18 fumbles while amassing 1,236 tackles. For an undersized linebacker, Jordan was a game-changer and a staple of his era.
Andrie played defensive end for the Cowboys from 1962 through 1972. He made five Pro Bowls, was a Second-Team All-Pro in 1967, and was First-Team All-Pro in 1969. The NFL didn’t officially track sacks until 1982, but the Cowboys kept their own numbers. The team credits him with 97 career sacks, including 18.5 in 1966. Per Clark Judge from Talk of Fame Network, Andrie also led the team in sacks from 1964 through 1967.
“George was one of my greatest finds,” Hall of Fame former Dallas personnel director Gil Brandt once claimed. Unfortunately, Andrie is buried under a mountain of other Doomsday Cowboys seeking enshrinement.
Green joined Dallas as an undrafted free agent in 1962. The Utah St. product didn’t retire until after 1974. During his extended stay with the Cowboys, Green amassed 34 interceptions as a cornerback and safety. He made five Pro Bowls, was an All-Pro four times (including three First-Team All-Pro selections), and scored four defensive touchdowns.
While he has the All-Pro selections, Green’s career numbers likely keep him out of Canton. Even though he intercepted seven passes in two separate seasons, the former basketball star falls short of the usual threshold.
“Too Tall” Jones and Martin arrived in the early 1970s, and both have borderline Hall of Fame cases. Jones was the first overall pick in the 1974 NFL Draft, and the Tennessee St. product didn’t disappoint. Ron Borges of Talk of Fame Network wrote a compelling case for Jones, detailing his statistical accomplishments.
“Although sacks were not an official statistic early in his career, the Cowboys kept their own tally. Jones finished with 104 career sacks, including a career high 13 in 1985,” Borges wrote. “He retired as the Cowboys’ fifth leading tackler of all time with 1,032, blocked nine kicks (seven of them field-goal attempts) and batted down so many passes the NFL began to keep it as a new defensive statistic.”
At 6-9, 271 lbs., Jones towered over his competition. It’s easy to see how he accumulated so many passes defensed. The career Cowboy spent 15 seasons with Dallas, making three Pro Bowls and earning three All-Pro selections.
Martin joined the Cowboys as a third-round pick in 1973. The Texas A&M-Commerce product didn’t become a full-time starter until 1975, and his career took off from there. Once he became more than a rotational player, Martin made four consecutive Pro Bowls from 1976 through 1979. He was a First-Team All-Pro in 1977 and earned Second-Team All-Pro honors three other times.
Writing for The Dallas Morning News, Gosselin brought up some of Martin’s other achievements.
“The Cowboys won two Super Bowls in the 1970s, and Martin was the co-MVP of one of them. He set a franchise record with 23 sacks in 1977. That also would be the NFL record, except that the league does not recognize any sacks before 1982, when it sanctioned them as an official statistic. His 114 career sacks rank second in franchise history to the 117 of DeMarcus Ware.”
Gosselin doesn’t even mention that Martin was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1977 or that he made the 1970s All-Decade Team. Between Jones and Martin, the latter has a better Hall of Fame case.
Speaking of All-Decade Team members, Neely earned the honor for the 1960s despite playing most of his career in the 1970s. Five of the seven offensive linemen on the team are in Canton, and the other two tackles (Bob Brown and Forrest Gregg) got in over a decade ago.
During his 13 seasons with Dallas, Neely earned three First-Team All-Pro selections and four total All-Pro bids. He won two Super Bowls as well. According to Judge from Talk of Fame Network, Packers Hall of Fame defensive end Willie Davis called Neely the best tackle he ever faced.
Judge’s article also includes quotes from Brandt, the architect behind many of Dallas’ best teams.
“If I were talking to Hall-of-Fame voters I’d tell them to look at our record from 1965 when he [Neely] arrived, and see how the team responded until the end of his career.”
“Do I think he’s a Hall of Famer?” asked Brandt. “I do.”
Over 1,000 words into this section, and we still have three more candidates worth discussing. Let’s start with Newton. The stocky Florida A&M product was an undrafted gem for Dallas. Newton spent 13 of his 14 seasons with the Cowboys, opening holes for Tony Dorsett, Emmitt Smith, and Herschel Walker. He made six Pro Bowls and was a First-Team All-Pro twice as Dallas swept through three Super Bowl victories.
Newton would have a better case if not for teammate Larry Allen developing into one of the ten best guards of all-time.
Walls and Woodson never played for Dallas simultaneously, but both dominated in the early years of their careers. Walls made four Pro Bowls in his first five seasons and led the NFL in interceptions three times. After picking off 34 passes and making three All-Pro teams in those five years, Walls’ production slowed down. He retired with 57 interceptions after 13 seasons.
Woodson has a better case than Walls. The second-round pick from 1992 became a starter in 1993. He received three consecutive First-Team All-Pro bids and made five straight Pro Bowl appearances beginning in 1994. While he only intercepted 23 passes and missed out on the All-Decade Team, Woodson had his run as one of the game’s top defensive backs.
In an article for Talk of Fame Network, Gosselin dug up a noteworthy quote from Bill Parcells at Woodson’s retirement press conference.
“Woodson is the kind of guy that makes this profession something you like to engage in,” the legendary coach said. “He’s the epitome of a professional in every sense in how he played and approached the game.”
John Lynch recently receiving his gold jacket cleared the pathway for Woodson to get his own in the next two years.
Honorable mentions- Carl Banks, Tiki Barber, Sean Landeta, Del Shofner
New York selected Patton in the eighth-round of the 1995 NFL Draft. The Mississippi product stepped into the starting safety role immediately. After three decent seasons, Patton kicked off one of the best runs by a defensive back in league history in 1958. He led the NFL with 11 interceptions during that 12-game season and intercepted five or more passes in each of the next five years.
From 1958 through 1962, Patton made the Pro Bowl every year. He also earned First-Team All-Pro selections during those five seasons. Patton didn’t make an All-Decade Team, but his prime got split by the end of the 1950s. All safeties on the 1960s All-Decade Team played throughout the decade, which kept Patton on the outside looking in.
Patton’s 52 interceptions rank second in Giants history behind Emlen Tunnell’s 74. The two prolific safeties shared a field for several seasons early in Patton’s career. Surprisingly, Tunnell only has four First-Team All-Pro selections despite intercepting the second-most passes in NFL history. Patton also has more First-Team nominations than Hall of Famers Steve Atwater, Brian Dawkins, Ken Houston, and Paul Krause.
Judge recounted Patton’s statistical dominance,
“Over the course of 46 consecutive starts – from the second game of 1958 through the first 12 of 1961 – Jimmy Patton had 30 interceptions, and maybe that doesn’t impress you. But this should: Only six others prior to the league merger had 30 interceptions in four straight seasons, including Tunnell, Jack Christiansen and Dick “Night Train” Lane – all Hall of Famers.”
Patton died in an auto accident in 1972 at only 39 years old.
Shofner almost beat out Patton for a spot in this article. The former wide receiver and defensive back arrived in New York in 1961 after four seasons with the Rams. During his 11-year career, Shofner earned five First-Team All-Pro selections. He had four 1,000-yard seasons in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Four-digit totals were still somewhat rare at the time, and Shofner had five seasons where he ranked in the top-four for receiving yards.
For reference, Shofner played during the same time as Colts legend Raymond Berry. Berry only had one 1,000-yard year and just three First-Team All-Pro selections to Shofner’s five. Berry got his gold jacket in 1973. Shofner is still waiting.
Per Judge, the NFL didn’t have a four-time 1,000-yard receiver after Shofner until Charlie Joiner and Steve Largent reached the mark in 1981. Some AFL receivers, including Lance Alworth, accomplished the feat.
Shofner passed away last year at 85.
Banks was a member of the dominant Giants defenses that won two Super Bowls late in the 1900s. He shared the field with Hall of Famers Harry Carson and Lawrence Taylor. As a member of that linebacking corps, Banks earned a First-Team All-Pro nod in 1987 and a spot on the 1980s All-Decade Team alongside five Canton-bound linebackers.
Landeta also participated in New York’s first two Super Bowl wins. The punter earned all three of his First-Team All-Pro nods during his nine seasons with the Giants. He played in the NFL for 21 years and claimed spots on the 1980s and 1990s All-Decade Teams.
Barber was a yardage machine once he reached his prime. In the final seven seasons of his ten-year career, Barber amassed 9,514 rushing yards and 13,441 yards from scrimmage. He made Pro Bowls in 2004, 2005, and 2006 and was a First-Team All-Pro in 2005. The Virginia product led the NFL in yards from scrimmage twice before retiring at his peak.
Barber ranks 27th all-time in rushing yards (10,449), 17th in all-purpose yards (17,359), and 15th in yards from scrimmage (15,632).
Honorable mentions- Eric Allen, Bill Bergey, Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb, Al Wistert
Baughan was one of the best linebackers in the NFL during the 1960s. In that decade, the Georgia Tech product made nine Pro Bowls and made six total All-Pro teams. He also won an NFL Championship with Philadelphia as a rookie. The Eagles didn’t win another title until the 2017-18 season.
Baughan’s exclusion from the 1960s All-Decade Team remains confusing. The honorary unit featured five linebackers, three of which are in the Hall of Fame. From that group, only Dick Butkus and Ray Nitschke outclassed Baughan. Maybe Tommy Nobis jumps him too, but that still leaves Baughan as a more accomplished player during the decade than Larry Morris and Dave Robinson. He deserved a spot on that team.
Writing for Talk of Fame Network, Gosselin detailed Baughan’s career accomplishments compared to those of other all-time greats from his era, “Among his contemporaries in the 1960s, Chris Hanburger went to nine Pro Bowls, Butkus, Chuck Bednarik, Bill George and Willie Lanier eight apiece, Dave Wilcox seven and Sam Huff five. All are now in the Hall of Fame.”
Of that group, Hanburger is the most recent player to receive his gold jacket. Canton inducted the five-time All-Pro with the Class of 2011. Wilcox, a member of the Class of 2000, is the only other linebacker mentioned that waited until the 21st century for his induction.
Baughan’s presence in the senior pool of candidates is indefensible. He should already be in Canton.
Another Eagles linebacker has an interesting Senior Committee case as well. Bergey joined Philadelphia in 1974 following a five-year stint with Cincinnati. In his 12-year career, the former second-round pick made five Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro five times. Unfortunately, Butkus and Jack Lambert took the middle linebacker spots on the 1970s All-Decade Team, blocking out Bergey.
While he isn’t in Canton, Bergey joined the Eagles Hall of Fame in 1988. He spoke briefly with the team’s official website about the honor and his mentality regarding the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“Going in [to the Eagles Hall of Fame] with Tommy McDonald [in 1988], it’s just another real nice feeling. I think all together I’m in like a dozen halls of fame: the college, the states, the counties and all of that stuff,” said Bergey. “I’m not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and I’m not hung up on that at all. I’m old enough to where none of that stuff matters anymore. It is what it is, and I’m content. I feel good about everything. I have no problems whatsoever.”
Wistert also has a gripe with the Hall of Fame. The former fifth-round pick joined Philadelphia in 1943 at the start of the franchise’s 11th season. Wistert and the Eagles went to three NFL Championships, winning two during his nine-year career as an offensive tackle. The Michigan product was a First-Team All-Pro four times and made the 1940s All-Decade Team.
With Wistert controlling the offensive line, Hall of Fame running back Steve Van Buren amassed four rushing titles and led the NFL in rushing yards per game five times. Hall of Fame coach George Allen was so impressed looking back on Wistert’s career that Allen included him among the ten best tackles of all-time in his book Pro Football’s 100 Greatest Players.
Unfortunately, Wistert passed away in 2016 at 95 years old.
While Wistert’s fate remains in the hands of the dreaded Senior Committee, Allen still has a few years of modern-era eligibility left. The cornerback spent seven of his 14 seasons in Philadelphia. He made six Pro Bowls, was an All-Pro three times, and intercepted 54 passes.
Any player with over 50 interceptions has a good shot of finding himself in Canton, but Allen played in an era dominated by Darrell Green, Deion Sanders, Aeneas Williams, and Rod Woodson. It seems unlikely that Allen distinguished himself enough from his incredible peers to warrant induction.
Cunningham and McNabb were both great franchise quarterbacks, but neither has a résumé genuinely worthy of the Hall of Fame, especially over the already mentioned players. Cunningham was one of the most versatile quarterbacks in NFL history and came within 60 yards of rushing for 1,000 yards in 1990. However, he only earned four Pro Bowl appearances and three All-Pro selections. Peyton Manning and Johnny Unitas are the only players other than Cunningham in NFL history to win the Bert Bell Award three times.
While McNabb went to six Pro Bowls and holds Philadelphia’s franchise records for wins, completions, passing yards, and passing touchdowns, he was never an All-Pro. McNabb would’ve had a shot at Canton if his Eagles teams weren’t on the losing end of four Conference Championships and Super Bowl XXXIX. His 37,276 passing yards rank 25th all-time.
Honorable mentions- London Fletcher, Brian Mitchell, Sean Taylor, Joe Theismann
Washington has a much smaller pool of Hall of Fame candidates than the other NFC East teams. Jacoby was a member of the hogs, Washington’s dominating offensive line that helped them win three Super Bowls in the 1980s and early 1990s. Jacoby participated on all three championship teams. During his 13-year career, the former undrafted free agent went to four Pro Bowls and earned two First-Team All-Pro selections.
Jacoby joined Hall of Fame tackles Jimbo Covert, Anthony Muñoz, and Gary Zimmerman on the 1980s All-Decade Team. He and Atlanta’s Bill Fralic are the only two linemen on the honorary team without gold jackets.
ESPN’s John Keim put together an article in 2017 supporting Jacoby’s Canton candidacy. Keim raised the point that Jacoby was better than Hall of Fame guard and fellow hog Russ Grimm, who received his bronze bust in 2010. Jeff Bostic, the Pro Bowl center on those Super Bowl-winning Washington teams, agreed.
“This is no slight on Russ, but Joe was a better player,” Bostic stated. “I don’t think the NFL had seen a guy like Jacoby when he came on the scene. This guy was 6-8, 330, 340 pounds. He ran a 5.1 in the 40. For a guy his size, I’ve never seen anyone run like he could. He was strong as an ox. The beauty of what I’m seeing this year, I’m hearing the Randy Whites, Chris Dolemans … I’m hearing people he played against saying he needs to be in the Hall of Fame.”
Speaking of Doleman, the Hall of Fame defensive end told the Talk of Fame Network that he’d induct Jacoby before fellow candidate Tony Boselli.
“If I had to pick one, I would go with Joe Jacoby,” Doleman said. “Just for the simple fact that Joe Jacoby lined up against Lawrence Taylor two times a year. When he played Dallas, he always had to play either Charles Haley or one of the great defensive ends that were coming from that side of the ball.”
Former Washington general manager and scout Charley Casserly also went to bat for Jacoby, saying, “It clinched it for me when Russ got in. He was certainly deserving, but Joe played against the hardest you could play. He played vs. Lawrence Taylor and Clyde Simmons. He was a great player.”
“He was just a bulldozer as a run-blocker,” Casserly added. “He could knock people off the ball. He could power block. It’s rare when a left tackle could power block. He was a good pass-blocker with long arms and size and on the counter trey he pulled. Look at today’s game and how many can power block and pull and block the outside rusher? Almost none of them can power block. It’s rare.”
Taylor, who most historians consider the best defensive player in league history, also spoke on Jacoby’s behalf, saying, “As far as I know, one of the criteria for the Hall is, were you amongst the absolute best during the course of your career? Joe Jacoby was amongst the best of his generation.”
Theismann won a Super Bowl with Washington in 1982. He was the NFL MVP and Offensive Player of the Year in 1983. Unfortunately, Theismann suffered a nasty career-ending injury in 1985. While the former fourth-round pick doesn’t have a complete Hall of Fame résumé, it’s impossible to ignore someone with an MVP award completely.
Mitchell starred as a return man in the 1990s. He led the league in all-purpose yards four times and earned three All-Pro selections as a kick returner. Mitchell is the all-time leader in kick return yards (14,014) and punt return yards (4,999). However, he has 93 more kick returns and 112 more punt returns than the next closest players. Mitchell’s 23,330 all-purpose yards only trail Jerry Rice’s 23,546 on the all-time list.
Fletcher only made four Pro Bowls during his career despite being one of his era’s most consistent players. The former undrafted free agent only began drawing attention toward the end of his career when he was past his prime. In his final five seasons, Fletcher made four Pro Bowls and earned two Second-Team All-Pro bids.
Tackles didn’t become official until 2001, but ESPN credits Fletcher with over 2,000 tackles during his 16-year career. The John Carroll product also amassed 39 sacks, 23 interceptions, and 19 forced fumbles. Fletcher’s 215 consecutive starts beginning in 2000 and running through his retirement after the 2013 season rank seventh all-time and first among linebackers.
Taylor’s career was well underway when home intruders fatally shot him in 2007. The former fifth overall pick spent four seasons in Washington, making two Pro Bowls. In his nine appearances in 2007, Taylor had five interceptions. He posthumously received Second-Team All-Pro honors.