Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
25 Jul 2008
by Mike Tanier and Doug Farrar
In late June, the Broncos blog Mile High Report investigated a phenomenon that has stuck in many a Broncos fan's craw for years. The Broncos have been an incredibly successful franchise since the mid-1970s, with six Super Bowl appearances, two championships, and tons of playoff appearances. But the Broncos have just two official representatives in the Hall of Fame: John Elway and Gary Zimmerman. The article calls the low Broncos representation a "snubbing" and a "gross injustice."
A couple of us at Football Outsiders decided to use the Mile High Report as a springboard for a larger Hall of Fame discussion. We wanted to know what the typical ratio of Hall members to franchise accomplishments truly is, and to determine what teams are over- or underrepresented. So we cooked up a method to measure each franchise's Hall of Famer-to-Accomplishment Index, then used the numbers as an excuse to publishing a rambling discussion about the Hall of Fame. It's July, people.
First, we needed to properly define Hall of Famers (HoFers) and Accomplishments.
For HoFers, we only counted players (not coaches or execs) whose careers lasted significantly past the year 1950, which marked the NFL-AAFC merger. We left the old-timers out because we wanted to focus on players everyone still remembers, and we aren't interested in arguing that there are too few Dayton Triangles in Canton. We wanted to eliminate the "Eric Dickerson-Atlanta Falcons" phenomenon by limiting the number of teams that a player could represent, but we allowed dual representation for many players. That means that Dickerson represents the Rams and Colts, Marcus Allen the Raiders and Chiefs, James Lofton the Packers and Bills (but not the Eagles) and so on. We used a "four years or one Championship" rule of thumb for allowing players to represent a second team, but there were judgment calls. By our counting, the Broncos have three Hall representatives, because Willie Brown counts for both them and the Raiders.
For Accomplishments, we gave teams one point for every year of existence from 1950 through 2002, four more points for playoff berths in that era, five more points for an NFL championship, and two points for either an AFL championship or a Super Bowl loss. The system is imperfect and filled with little biases, but the overall list passes the common sense test. The Cowboys, Browns, Niners, Rams, and Steelers are the most accomplished teams in the study (younger fans, please remember that the Browns were a 1950s powerhouse). The Texans, Panthers, Ravens, Seahawks, and Jaguars rank at the bottom of the list, and we'll save the expansion teams -- Houston, Carolina, Baltimore, and Jacksonville -- for the bottom of Part Two so that the primary discussion can be about those teams that may have legitimate issues with the HoF voters.
Divide HoFers by Accomplishments, multiply by 100 to make the numbers pretty, and you have a HoFer Index. The higher the ratio, the kinder voters have been to your franchise. Quick, easy, and ready for discussion.
To aid in the discourse, we've linked every player's name to their page at the Hall of Fame site (for HoFers) or their page at pro-football-reference.com (for hopefuls). Never heard of Gerry Philbin, Jim Hart or Curley Culp? Click and learn!
Accomplishment Score: 73
Hall of Famers: 7
Mike: The Cardinals have the highest Index in our study, though many of their early HoFers played on great 1940s teams that didn't make the cut due to method restrictions.
Doug: It's tough to argue that the Cardinals are underrepresented; this is a franchise known above all for underachieving, especially since the move to Arizona. I was more interested in going back and seeing if there were any players from the Coryell era in the mid-1970s, when they battled the Cowboys and Redskins in the NFC East. Dan Dierdorf, Roger Wehrli and Jackie Smith are all good choices -- are there any others? Jim Hart was a good quarterback who threw a lot. Does he go in the bin with the other quarterbacks who just amassed a lot of stats over time?
Mike: I think three players from that era is more than fair. We're only talking about a handful of playoff appearances, and Don Coryell's legacy also lives on with Charlie Joiner, Dan Fouts, and Kellen Winslow. Hart falls into a huge vat with Ken Stabler, Ken Anderson, John Hadl, Roman Gabriel, Archie Manning and others: Very good quarterbacks from the late '60s and '70s who are well known but were clearly a notch below the true greats of the era. If you want, you can put them in order: Stabler and Anderson go above Hart; Gabriel and Hadl are about on par with him. Hart doesn't sound like a HoFer to me.
One recent Cardinals player who could sneak in is Aeneas Williams: Eight Pro Bowls, three-time All Pro, a Super Bowl appearance with the Rams. He may be another Wehrli who has to wait his turn because he isn't a huge name, but he was a great player. Anyone else?
Doug: Williams shouldn't have to sneak in, but you're right about the huge name factor. Nobody else springs to mind on this end.
Accomplishment Score: 75
Hall of Famers: 0
Doug: The silence is deafening. Jeff Van Note, for sure. Five Pro Bowls, eighteen seasons, missed a total of four games in his entire career. Warrick Dunn as a two-team guy if you agree that he should be in. William Andrews had a wonderful stretch that was too soon forgotten, but injuries cut him short. Can a team with a franchise history of over 40 years really have only one sure Hall of Famer?
Mike: Van Note and Claude Humphrey would be the obvious choices. I think Van Note should be in; for some reason, the voters haven't been kind to 1970s centers with long careers. Morten Andersen will probably get in. Andrews isn't a HoFer, nor is Jamal Anderson. I am guessing Prime Time will feel very lonely, and he will have to hang out with the Cowboys busts for company.
Doug: Is Warrick Dunn a HoFer in your book?
Mike: A close call. Being the greatest guy in the world will help his cause. But at what point in his career was he a truly great player?
Doug: I keep going back to the Bill James concept of Peak vs. Career Value, and in Dunn's case, he's got both covered. His overall rushing and receiving numbers combined put him pretty high up on the career list â€“ he currently ranks 20th in career yards from scrimmage, and he's been used in platoons and committees most of his career. He had that surge in productivity with the Falcons from 2004-06, and while he was the beneficiary of Alex Gibbs' blocking schemes and the fact that defenses facing Michael Vick were always on edge, he still put up the numbers. With Dunn, I think you have to add Peak and Career together because of the way he's been used through his career, but the numbers will tell the story.
Accomplishment Score: 140
Hall of Famers: 6
Mike: The Bills total seems pretty low, though the Hall is still getting around to putting in the players from their Super Bowl run. Bruce Smith is going in. I am proudly pro-Andre Reed, though I seem to be in a dwindling minority. I understand the arguments against Reed; he was a system guy, his numbers looked better at retirement than they do now, he made seven Pro Bowls because most of the great receivers were in the NFC. I think people have forgotten how he was perceived when he played. There are a lot of guys, like Kent Hull and Cornelius Bennett, who would have much bigger reputations if Scott Norwood made that field goal.
Doug: No argument with Reed here. Ruben Brown made nine Pro Bowls. He'll get some love when he's eligible.
Mike: Brown may have resurrected his reputation with the Bears. When he left Buffalo, he was an out-of-shape guy who had lost his motivation. He's also known as a guy who won some Pro Bowl berths by default: big name, marginal competition. He'll have a hard time getting in.
Accomplishment Score: 138
Hall of Famers: 12
Doug: As the preeminent old-school franchise, it's tough to argue that this team is undermanned in the Hall from a historical perspective. Are there any remaining players from the '80s, perhaps, who should be in? Dave Duerson?
Mike: I love Duerson, Gary Fencik, and Wilber Marshall as players, but not as Hall candidates. Richard Dent is getting a lot of support from voters. I am interested in seeing how his candidacy goes: It will tell us something about the regard in which the career sack leaderboard is held.
When I see all the old Bears and Cardinals (and Lions, in a moment) who made the Hall of Fame, I can't shake the impression that the bar is being set higher nowadays. Let's face it: It was easier to be a first-team All-Pro in a 12-team league than in a 32-team league.
Accomplishment Score: 75
Hall of Famers: 2
Mike: A low index. The Bengals don't have a long accomplishment list, but their two Super Bowl appearances were in the 1980s, and many of their playoff seasons were in the 1970s and 1980s. Is there a lost Hall of Famer somewhere? Ken Anderson is the only obvious candidate.
Doug: You know what's weird about Anderson? The argument that he just dinked and dunked is applied to him in a pejorative manner because he played in the long-ball era of Terry Bradshaw and Joe Namath. If he started his career ten years later and played the same way, who knows? Maybe he'd already be in. Lemar Parrish had some impressive numbers as a defensive back and kick returner in the 1970s. Nobody else stands out. I always liked Isaac Curtis, but the numbers aren't there.
Mike: Statistics work against Anderson to some degree. We use the term a few times in the course of this article: stat compiler. It's often used as an insult, a suggestion that the guy didn't bother winning games and just threw 10-yard passes on third-and-15 to make his numbers look good. I know that's not what you or I mean, but I hear it used as a casual write-off for guys who never won a Super Bowl but battled hard (and put up nice numbers) for year after year.
Doug: David Lewin wrote about Anderson's candidacy in 2006, and I agree that the omission is tough to justify. I just think there's a pre-Joe Montana bias against guys who didn't air it out all the time, which is especially unfair in Anderson's case. If not for Bill Walsh's work with Anderson, and development of that offense over time, there might not have been a Joe Montana.
Accomplishment Score: 190
Hall of Famers: 15
Mike: The Browns high Index is a little misleading. If we count all of the championship teams from the AAFC (which miss our cut), the Browns would actually have a low ratio. All told, their HoF total looks just right: lots of old-timers to match their old-time accomplishments. Thoughts?
Doug: I agree. I took a look back at the Schottenheimer era (40-23 in the regular season from 1985 through 1988), and aside from the already inducted Ozzie Newsome, there aren't any sure things. Bernie Kosar and Clay Matthews make interesting arguments, that's all.
Mike: Matthews, a linebacker who played for 20 years, probably would make the HoF playing for better teams or in a higher-profile situation. Since we aren't talking about coaches, we don't have to argue about Schottenheimer, which will keep this feature under 3,000,000 words.
Accomplishment Score: 212
Hall of Famers: 9
Doug: Troy Aikman and Michael Irvin are already in, and their numbers will be shooting through the roof in the next few years, of course (insert cheap Emmitt Smith induction speech joke here). Is Charles Haley a worthy name? Who from that awesome offensive line gets in?
Mike: The Cowboys are the most Accomplished team on our list, and there are tons of guys in the pipeline. Haley could well get in; he certainly has the postseason resume. Larry Allen goes in five years from now. Emmitt, and Prime Time, of course. And there are plenty of old Cowboys who deserve consideration, like Bullet Bob Hayes and Drew Pearson. Both of those guys are great wide receivers of their eras, both have the numbers and their share of postseason accomplishments.
Wow, am I really talking up Cowboys for the Hall of Fame? I might not be able to sit at the lunch table anymore.
Accomplishment Score: 131
Hall of Famers: 3
Mike: According to this method, the Broncos have every reason to feel screwed by the Hall of Fame. This is a team with two titles and six Super Bowl appearances, plus nearly 50 years of history, but their HoF membership ranks down with the recent expansion teams. Their accomplishment score ranks with the Lions and Chiefs, two teams with 19 combined Hall of Famers. Doug, let's put four or five Broncos in the Hall to even the scales a bit.
Doug: Verily. We will first take the Wayback Machine to the early days of the AFL, where we'll meet Lionel Taylor, the league's all-time best receiver not named Alworth or Maynard. Led the AFL in receptions every year from 1960 to 1963, and again in 1965. He did this all on terrible teams with no complementary targets and a string of crappy quarterbacks. Picture Steve Smith topping the NFL in numbers year after year with Tarvaris Jackson throwing to him and you'll get the idea. Next, we'll travel ahead a few seasons and pick up Richard "Tombstone" Jackson, regarded by many historians as the best player not currently in the Hall. Dr. Z. who would know, has said and written that Jackson might have been the best he'd ever seen. Jackson and Terrell Davis both have those short-but-dominant-career sticking points. I'd be interested in your take on Davis.
Mike: I argue long and hard for Terrell Davis every chance I get. Mike Smith and I bickered on this point a few years ago. I know his career was short. It was two years of absolute domination -- rushing titles, scoring titles, best player (Elway included) on a Super Bowl team -- plus two other very good seasons. I don't think anyone suggests that he needed five more years like 1997-98 to make the HoF. So what does he need? Four more 1,100-yard, eight-touchdown, third-guy-on-the list for the AFC Pro Bowl type seasons? Who really cares about seasons like those? But if he had them, he'd have 11,000 yards and seven Pro Bowl berths and ring some magic bells for people.
Doug: You and I have discussed Randy Gradishar. He was the inspiration for this article, in a way. He was the engine that made the Orange Crush defense go. Steve Atwater had a six-year stretch in the early to mid-'90s where he was just a stone killer. Billy Thompson is under the margins, but an interesting player to talk about as a defensive back and return man. Louis Wright was a star for the '70s teams and the early Elway teams.
Do you think that any of the Super Bowl/Alex Gibbs-era linemen besides Gary Zimmerman make the cut?
Mike: Tom Nalen would be a very good choice.
Accomplishment Score: 133
Hall of Famers: 11
Mike: Like the Cardinals, the Lions are a historic franchise that was pretty darn good in earlier times.
Doug: Not too much to talk about since the Wayne Fontes era. I think we tend to see this franchise through Millen-colored goggles and forget that there were patches of success over the last few decades. The early-70s Lions teams, with Mel Farr and Lem Barney hanging out with Marvin Gaye, were pretty cool. Looking at the 1990s teams, I don't know that there's anyone else besides Barry Sanders who's going to Canton.
Mike: Alex Karras is a Hall of Fame caliber player who isn't in. During a Top 10 taping, I was asked if Webster or Blazing Saddles actually hurt Karras' chances to make the Hall. I guess some people had a hard time taking him seriously after Webster; lots of star football players get bit parts in movies, but Karras spent five years teaching America to love. Heck, Little House on the Prarie (and those flower ads) didn't hurt Merlin Olson. Karras was an outstanding defensive tackle on some great defenses.
Doug: The man said it himself. "Mongo only pawn in game of life."
Mike: That's about it, unless you want to argue about Bubba Baker or somebody. The voters did right by the members of the great 1950s Lions teams. To be honest, I had to look up Lou Creekmur because I know absolutely nothing about him. But he has an excellent dossier.
Doug: I think Karras and Jerry Kramer are two players who people think are already in. I'm not privy to the voting process, but I wonder if certain players are excluded because it's assumed they're already there, as silly as that sounds.
Accomplishment Score: 170
Hall of Famers: 14
Doug: This looks pretty in line, with the obvious heavy emphasis on the Lombardi era and a severe dropoff through the pre-Holmgren Era of Crap. Here's a name for you when considering the players as the team was gearing up for its second run of Super Bowls: Sterling Sharpe. Abbreviated career, but he's got quite a few of the Bill James "black type" numbers -- led the league in receptions three times, top 10 in most other categories in multiple years. He seems like one of those bubble guys to me, though his low career ranking probably keeps him out in an airborne era.
Mike: I like Sharpe. I hate picking Hall of Famers off the all-time career leaderboards. Canton is full of guys who were excellent over short careers, from Gale Sayers to Lynn Swann to Lee Roy Selmon. Sharpe was that kind of player from 1989 to 1994.
I know the Packers have a high Index, but it's hard to place a value on what they did in the Lombardi era. And there's some stuff that is left out of our figures, like nearly winning the NFL championship in 1960. There are a few guys from the 1960s teams, like Jerry Kramer, who deserve enshrinement.
Doug: Kramer's definitely a notable snub. Not only a five-time first-team All-Pro as a guard, but he led the NFL in field goal percentage in 1962. Let's see Steve Hutchinson do that!
Accomplishment Score: 159
Hall of Famers: 9
Mike: Most of the Colts HoFers are old-timers, naturally. They'll add at least two modern players to the list: Marvin Harrison in a few years, Peyton Manning five years after he retires (which could be more than a decade from now). Any glaring omissions that you see?
Doug: Not really. They had that nice little ride in the mid-'70s when Ted Marchibroda turned the team around, but is Bert Jones a Hall of Famer? I don't think so. Raymond Chester? Nah. Wouldn't surprise me if Reggie Wayne played Stallworth to Harrison's Swann. Edgerrin James will get some talk down the road, but boy, did he pick the wrong year to leave Indy.
Mike: John Dutton was the best player on those 1970s teams, and he isn't a real HoF candidate. For the record, Harrison is a much better player than either Swann or Stallworth. Let's see what Wayne does, and what the Colts do, in the next five years.
Accomplishment Score: 122
Hall of Famers: 7
Mike: This number appears to be right down the middle. Do you agree that Derrick Thomas should be in?
Doug: Without question. Defensive Rookie of the Year in 1989, the most sacks in the 1990s, that incredible seven-sack game against Seattle. I remember Gunther Cunningham saying on one of those Top 10 shows that there were other games in which Thomas could have had eight or nine sacks. I watched the guy enough not to doubt it at all. Basically a deserving Pro Bowler his entire career. What, in your opinion, has kept him out?
Mike: To be charitable, I would say "backlog." To be honest, I would say that some voters are very capable of outsmarting themselves. They see a high sack total and say, "I'm not swayed by gaudy numbers. I want to nominate a complete player." Then they remember that Thomas wasn't a great run defender and cast their votes elsewhere. Ten years from now, memories will fade, and Thomas will either grow into a "complete" player or will become a one-dimensional caricature of a sack specialist. That will decide whether he gets in or not. Cris Carter may have suffered the same fate this year, with voters coming up with clever reasons not to vote for him ("Gee, his yards per catch was kinda low, and he never won anything."). Carter's numbers are overwhelming, and he's still in the public eye, so he won't have to wait much longer.
Doug: Getting back to Kansas City, they'll have Will Shields and Willie Roaf as candidates (though New Orleans gets half a Roaf, ha ha ha...) before Jonathan Ogden, Orlando Pace, and Walter Jones sashay in as complete no-brainers over the next five to ten years. What an amazing era for offensive linemen!
Accomplishment Score: 159
Hall of Famers: 8
Mike: The Dolphins list is dominated by guys from the early 1970s, which is logical and fair. I feel like there should be more 1980s Dolphins, but as I look through their rosters, I keep finding guys like Bob Baumhower, who were good but a healthy notch below Hall standards. And I know their counts will go up in six or seven years when Zach Thomas and Jason Taylor become eligible.
Doug: I agree on the '80s/early '90s rosters, with the possible exception of left tackle Richmond Webb, who made seven Pro Bowls. According to the Palm Beach Post, Webb faced Bruce Smith in three different times in Webb's rookie year and didn't allow a sack. Derrick Thomas once, no sacks. Lawrence Taylor once, half a sack. It just kinda went from there. Webb has a good case.
And I love to watch Manny Fernandez blow up double-teams in the early Super Bowls, and the Sabols certainly love him, but he's another "short career" exclusion.
Mike: Now there's a name I don't hear very often in Hall of Fame conversations. You had to really stand out from the crowd to get noticed as a defensive tackle in the 1970s. Fernandez didn't stand out enough.
Coming Tuesday: Part II, starting with the Minnesota Vikings.
101 comments, Last at 08 Aug 2008, 7:10pm by bachslunch