The Pro Football Hall of Fame honors and safeguards the greatest players in NFL history. However, quite a few legends slipped through the cracks over the years. Dozens of senior committee candidates have résumés worth induction. Historic franchises like the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers have more worthy snubs than most franchises. There’s still time to correct the voting process and fill Canton with the bronze lookalikes of forgotten greats.
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.
Before meeting the NFC West’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 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. Rams players are Rams players whether they are from the Los Angeles or St. Louis days. This article primarily focuses on highlighting the players and bringing awareness to forgotten legends anyway, not the teams.
This is the third article in an eight-part series. Check back regularly for the following editions.
Honorable mentions- Jim Bakken, Roy Green, Ernie McMillan, Luis Sharpe, Adrian Wilson
The then St. Louis Cardinals used the eighth overall pick on Anderson in 1979. The Miami product made an immediate impact, rushing for 1,605 yards and eight touchdowns as a rookie. He was the Offensive Rookie of the Year, a Pro Bowler, and a First-Team All-Pro. Anderson made his second consecutive Pro Bowl in 1980 but never again received the recognition.
In his first six seasons, Anderson ran for 7,364 yards and 40 touchdowns in 86 games. Unfortunately, injuries began to dog him in 1985. The Cardinals traded Anderson to the New York Giants in 1986. After missing most of 1987 and not playing much in 1988, Anderson revived his career briefly by running for 1,807 yards and 25 touchdowns between 1989 and 1990. He won two Super Bowls with the Giants.
After rushing for only 930 yards in the previous four seasons, Anderson racked up 1,023 yards in 1989. His next season wasn’t as good, but the aging back still ran for 102 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl XXV. After the game, future Hall of Fame head coach Bill Parcells said of Anderson, “I was calling him Elvis Presley on his comeback. You know, can you still do it? I think he probably had some apprehension. When you don’t do it for two or three years, you have to wonder. It’s a natural thing. But he should go to Canton. He’s got too many pelts on the wall.”
That’s a strong endorsement from the iconic Big Tuna.
The Cardinals don’t have the deepest pool of Hall of Fame candidates. McMillan and Sharpe both made two All-Pro teams as offensive tackles, and Roy Green was a First-Team All-Pro in back-to-back years for amassing 156 receptions, 2,782 yards, and 26 touchdowns in 32 games.
Wilson, who made five Pro Bowls and three All-Pro teams during his 12-year career, has the second-best case among retired Cardinals. He’s a member of the elite 20/20 club as well.
I would’ve had Bakken over Wilson if the Hall was more accepting of special teams players. The kicker spent his entire 17-year career with the then St. Louis Cardinals. Bakken made four Pro Bowls and was a First-Team All-Pro in 1975 and 1976. He made the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-1960s and All-1970s teams and has the 34th most points scored (1,380) in league history.
Lou Groza (1,608), Jan Stenerud (1,699), and Jim Turner (1,439) are the only kickers that played during or before the 1960s with more points than Bakken.
Honorable mentions- Jim Benton, Nolan Cromwell, Roman Gabriel, Torry Holt, Harold Jackson, Isiah Robertson
The Cleveland Rams began playing games in 1937. They moved to Los Angeles for the 1946 season. As one of the ten oldest active franchises, Los Angeles has a plethora of forgotten greats. While Holt is the odds-on favorite from this group to make the Hall of Fame next, Meador has just as good of a résumé.
Los Angeles selected Meador in the seventh-round of the 1959 NFL Draft. The Arkansas Tech product spent his entire 12-year career with the Rams, making six Pro Bowl appearances. He earned a Second-Team All-Pro selection as a cornerback in 1960 before switching to safety in 1964.
In his new role, Meador made five consecutive Pro Bowls, was a Second-Team All-Pro in 1967, and was a First-Team All-Pro in 1968 and 1969. His 46 interceptions and five defensive touchdowns are still franchise records. Meador also holds the Rams career record for kicks blocked.
Meador is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-1960s Team alongside teammates Deacon Jones and Merlin Olsen. Gabriel wasn’t so lucky. He missed out on All-Decade honors despite winning the NFL MVP in 1969 and making three of his four Pro Bowls during the 1960s. After 16 seasons, Gabriel retired with 29,444 passing yards and 201 passing touchdowns.
Very few former MVPs aren’t in the Hall of Fame, especially ones from 50 years ago. Gabriel wasn’t a one-year wonder either. He ranked among the top five quarterbacks in passing touchdowns in five seasons and top seven in passing yards seven times. While Jones was the face of Los Angeles’ defense, Gabriel captained the offense.
Last August, the National Quarterback Hall of Fame inducted Gabriel alongside Kurt Warner and former Super Bowl MVP Doug Williams. Gabriel still leads all Rams quarterbacks in wins, pass attempts, and passing yards. He’s also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame Class of 1989 and was the NFL’s first Filipino American quarterback.
Gabriel and Meador played in a different era of football. Maybe voters have forgotten what those two meant to the NFL, but sooner rather than later, they should earn gold jackets.
Holt also deserves a bronze bust, and his induction should come in the next two or three years.
“Hearing from other guys that I played against, other guys that are in the hall, other guys that are going to the hall, they’ve said to me that they think that I’m a Hall-of-Famer,” Holt told the team’s official website in February. “And that feels good, but it’ll feel even better once you hear your name being called or once you hear that knock.”
“They’ve all been helpful, they’ve all been encouraging,” Holt said of his many Hall of Fame former teammates. “Kurt [Warner] has said numerous times why he feels like I should be in the hall. If you look at him and, what he says on social media, on Twitter, he’s very active there, very transparent, very candid there about how he feels about me as a Hall-of-Famer. Aeneas [Williams] has done the same thing, Orlando [Pace] has been encouraging, Marshall [Faulk] as well.”
“Isaac [Bruce], his team, his group this year was very helpful in helping us navigate through this, giving us tips and things he learned through the process,” Holt continued. “Very, very helpful to me and my team in terms of things we needed to look for and how we needed to prepare as this thing goes. Very thankful to those guys and their help.”
Part of the transcendent Rams offense nicknamed “The Greatest Show on Turf”, Holt made seven Pro Bowls in his 11-year career. He made two All-Pro Teams, led the NFL in receiving yards twice, and made the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-2000s Team. Starting in 2000, Holt had six consecutive seasons with more than 1,3000 yards and eight straight campaigns with over 1,100 yards. His 13,382 receiving yards rank 16th all-time.
Robertson spent eight of his 12 seasons with the Rams. During that peak run, the Southern University product made six Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro five times. The 1971 Defensive Rookie of the Year played a pivotal role on a Rams team that won six division titles and went to four NFC Championship Games between 1973 and 1978.
Sportswriter Rick Gosselin detailed Robertson’s situation in an article last year,
“[Robertson] has since been inducted into the New Orleans, Southern, Louisiana, SWAC and Black College Halls of Fame. His greatness has been recognized everywhere he has worn a football uniform except the NFL.”
“That’s an oversight that needs to be addressed,” Gosselin wrote. “Robertson died in a fatal car crash in 2018 but he and his career should not be forgotten.”
Cromwell doesn’t have as strong of a case as Robertson, but the safety was a member of the 1980s All-Decade Team and a three-time First-Team All-Pro. Jackson led the NFL in receiving yards twice as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles but made three of his five Pro Bowls with the Rams. The 16-year veteran amassed 10,372 receiving yards and 76 receiving touchdowns.
Benton was also a terrific receiver for his era. The Arkansas product played from 1938 through 1947, amassing 288 receptions, 4,801 yards, and 45 touchdowns. Benton won NFL Championships with the Bears in 1943 and the Rams in 1945. He led the league in receiving yards in both 1945 and 1946, averaging 102.4 yards per game during that span.
A two-time First-Team All-Pro, Benton made the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-1940s Team. The other former First-Team All-Pro pass catchers on that All-Decade lineup (Pete Pihos and Mac Speedie) have gold jackets.
Honorable mentions- Roger Craig, Tim McDonald, Howard Mudd, Justin Smith, Gene Washington, Bryant Young
As one of only four franchises with five or more Super Bowls, the 49ers have their fair share of legends. While Craig has a strong case for induction, Willis’ résumé is unparalleled among his peers. The star linebacker opened his career with seven consecutive Pro Bowl selections and was a five-time First-Team All-Pro during that stretch.
The 2007 Defensive Rookie of the Year led the NFL in tackles twice and amassed 916 in his first seven seasons, according to Pro Football Reference. Willis retired early, wishing to avoid the long-term health effects of playing football. He made the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-2010s Team alongside future Hall of Famers Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner.
Willis wasn’t one of the finalists for the Class of 2021, but that didn’t bother the 36-year-old. He discussed his mentality with ESPN,
“I just try to be in the now. If it takes another 20 years, that would be awesome. I’d rather see guys that are older and being able to enjoy it get my slot and I’ll wait another three or four or five or 10 or 20 years to get in when I’m older … With that being said, if it happens one day it will be awesome. If not, it will still be awesome.”
If Willis’ Canton case devolves into a battle between entrenched sides, the career-49er will have some powerful voices in his corner.
“P. Willis, that’s a young lion, man, that I talk to a lot,” Ray Lewis told the Los Angeles Times in 2013. “We just got to texting days ago. He was just really talking about the feeling and how surreal it [Super Bowl XLVII] is for him. Since he has come into this league, I’ve always been [talking with him], since we met each other at the Pro Bowl and I knew his story and why he wears 52 and all that.”
Craig’s Hall of Fame case rests on his versatility. The Nebraska product only ran for 8,189 yards during his 11-year career. However, Craig is one of only three backs to record over 1,000 rushing and receiving yards in a single season. He retired with 13,100 yards from scrimmage, three Super Bowl rings, the 1988 Offensive Player of the Year award, and a spot on the 1980s All-Decade team alongside three Hall of Fame running backs.
Young is still on the modern-era ballot. The defensive tackle spent his entire 14-year career with San Francisco, amassing 89.5 sacks. Young made four total All-Pro teams and received a spot on the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-1990s Team. Smith doesn’t have an All-Decade spot, but the 14-year veteran recorded 87 sacks during his underrated career. He went to five Pro Bowls and made three All-Pro teams.
McDonald spent three of his six Pro Bowl seasons with the Cardinals but joined the 49ers in time to win Super Bowl XXIX. The dominant safety was a Second-Team All-Pro four times and retired with 40 interceptions and over 1,000 unofficial tackles.
Mudd only spent eight years in the NFL, but he made three consecutive Pro Bowls from 1966 through 1968. The run concluded with a First-Team All-Pro selection in 1968 and a spot on the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-1960s Team.
Washington made four consecutive Pro Bowls to open his career and was a First-Team All-Pro in 1969, 1970, and 1972. While Washington led the NFL with 1,100 receiving yards in 1970, it was the only 1,000-yard campaign of his career.
Honorable mention- Ricky Watters
The Seahawks have two running backs in franchise history with Hall of Fame cases. Seattle entered the 2010s with several notable snubs, but the voters cleaned that up by inducting Cortez Kennedy in 2012 and Kenny Easley in 2017. Like Easley, Alexander experienced a short peak with extreme success in the NFL. He has one of the best five-year stretches by a running back in recent history.
From 2001 through 2005, Alexander ran for 7,504 yards and 87 touchdowns in 80 games. The Alabama product also tallied 8,850 yards from scrimmage and 98 total touchdowns during that time. Alexander punctuated his five-year run with an MVP season where he led the league with 370 carries, 1,880 rushing yards, and 27 rushing touchdowns.
Alexander never ran for 1,000 yards again after his MVP season. He spent three more years in the NFL, doing enough to top 10,000 yards from scrimmage and reach 100 rushing touchdowns. Alexander was the Offensive Player of the Year in 2005 and made the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s All-2000s Team.
Former teammate Nate Burleson went to bat for Alexander in 2019, telling TMZ Sports, “With Shaun Alexander, there’s three tiers. Was he one of the best of his draft class? Yes. Was he one of the best of his era? Yes. And, can you write the story of football without him? That might be up for debate.”
Burleson doubled down in 2020 on the Scoop B Radio Podcast,
“He’s [Alexander is] a quiet individual who went out there and didn’t talk about how great he was. He’d rather do it on the field. And also I believe because it was a small window of time where that he was the best running back in football.”
When asked whether Alexander deserves a spot in Canton, former Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck left no room for interpretation,
“I sure do,” Hasselbeck told Sports Illustrated. “I’m not an expert on the numbers and I was never that big into stats. When we were teammates, he was one of the best running backs in the game, a household name, on the cover of Madden, breaking franchise and NFL records seemingly all the time.”
Watters was a good back but not on Alexander’s level. Watters never made an All-Pro team, but he opened his career with five consecutive Pro Bowl appearances. In ten years, Watters amassed seven 1,000-yard rushing seasons and 14,891 yards from scrimmage. While he was a fantastic franchise back, Watters doesn’t have a Hall of Fame résumé.
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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