Most of my friends are now married, with many flabbergasted that a strapping, gainfully-employed, middle-aged, bald man like myself remains single. My standard response to relationship questions for several years has been that I will marry the summer of Jerome Bettis’ enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, spending my honeymoon in Canton for the festivities.
Surprisingly, women I have dated were not enthusiastic when told of my honeymoon destination and itinerary. However, they obviously have never experienced the rapture of paying homage to the gridiron immortals forever housed in historic, lovely and scenic Canton.
However, a friend called last night to ask when my wedding will be after reading that Bettis, in his first year of eligibility, is among the nominees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Bettis is undoubtedly a hall of famer and would go in on first ballot in some years. Unfortunately, though, I told him I still have some time, because Bettis will likely not be part of a star-studded 2011 class.
Bettis joined former Steelers standout center Dermontti Dawson among the 113 modern-era players nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2011.
Also on the nomination list with Steeler ties were safety Donnie Shell, linebacker Kevin Greene, kicker Gary Anderson, coach Buddy Parker, defensive coordinator Bud Carson, player personnel head Art Rooney Jr. and scout Bill Nunn, although only Bettis and Dawson are considered top-tier Steelers candidates for the next several classes.
Unfortunately for Bettis, other first-year nominees for 2011 include running backs Marshall Faulk and former Pitt Panther Curtis Martin, offensive tackle Willie Roaf and cornerback Deion Sanders.
Up to five modern-era players can be inducted in each class. There are no explicit criteria, and often a lack of logic exhibited by members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee who meet privately in a single room during Super Bowl weekend to decide each class.
However, after years of following the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection process, here is what I have theorized about the tendencies of committee members: quarterbacks are revered, running backs are well-liked, receivers and tight ends are disrespected and made to wait, offensive tackles are valued greatly and interior offensive linemen are not. There are fewer pronounced differences by position for defensive players, although kickers and punters are never seriously considered by the committee.
Moreover, the committee does not like having players from the same position in the same class. Excluding quarterbacks (who rarely have to wait multiple years before induction), the committee has not selected three players from the same position in the same class since the 1969 group included defensive tackles Turk Edwards, Leo Nomelini and Steeler legend Ernie Stautner.
That does not bode well for Bettis, who nearly all electors will place behind Faulk on the pecking order, with most also ranking Martin above Bettis.
Currently, Martin ranks 4th (14,101), Bettis 5th (13,653) and Faulk 10th (12,162) on the all-time rushing list. However, Faulk rivals Roger Craig as the best receiving running back ever. Faulk was also NFL MVP twice (and candidates seemingly and justifiably get bonus points if they were considered the best at their position at some point), a 7-time Pro Bowl selection, and 6-time NFL All-Pro selection (3 on first-team). Faulk is a first-ballot lock.
Martin, also a quality receiver, was a 5-time Pro Bowl selection and 3-time NFL All-Pro (2 on first-team). Bettis’ numbers are similar (6 Pro Bowls, 2 times All-Pro, with 1 first-team All-Pro) to Martin. Bettis, however, averaged 3.9-yards per carry and was a one-dimensional player who was never considered the best tailback in the league. Martin only averaged 4.0 yards per carry but was more explosive and versatile than Bettis.
However, a counter argument could easily be made that Bettis’ YPC average is more impressive considering how he was used and that Bettis – like Faulk – has a Super Bowl ring whereas Martin does not.
The guess here, though, is Faulk, Martin, Roaf and Sanders are joined by a receiver such as Tim Brown or Chris Carter in the 2011 class. The 2012 class will definitely include Bettis if he is not a first-ballot selection. It could also include Dawson, whose top competition will be then first-year eligible Will Shields, whose resume as a 12-time Pro Bowler and 9-time All-Pro trumps Dawson (7 and 6, respectively).
However, Dawson saw his career cut short due to injuries and is considered arguably the most athletic center of all-time. Shields’ resume is identical to fellow guard Randall McDaniel who absurdly was not even among the 10 modern-era finalists in his first year of eligibility in 2008 but then jumped all the way to a hall of fame selection in 2009, almost as if the committee forgot he was on the ballot in 2008.
Hopefully, they will give Shields a similar, short-term shaft, which could allow for Dawson to sneak in with the 2012 class. That would make for a glorious honeymoon weekend if Bettis and Dawson are in the same Hall of Fame inductee class.
Here are my projected modern-era Hall of Fame selections for the next five classes, including each player’s years as a finalist (final 10) at the point of their selection.
Note: This is not who I think is deserving of being in each class, but rather who and when I project each player to be inducted. Moreover, some of these inductees have been eligible for more years than the number beside them, which is again their projected years as a finalist. Also, former Steelers head coach Bill Cowher is eligible in 2012, but Cowher will not be an early selection and I expect him to return to the sidelines within the next 2-3 years.
Legendary defensive end L.C. Greenwood, who is no longer eligible as a modern-era inductee, can only hope the anti-Steelers bias can be negated enough to eventually get him tabbed as one of the two senior candidates allowed to be nominated per season. However, there is a lengthy list of quality, older, senior candidates likely ahead of Greenwood on the pecking order.
WR Tim Brown (2)
TB Marshall Faulk (1)
TB Curtis Martin (1)
OT Willie Roaf (1)
CB Deion Sanders (1)
RB Jerome Bettis (2)
WR Cris Carter (5)
C Dermontti Dawson (4)
DE Richard Dent (8)
Paul Tagliabue (6)
OG Larry Allen (1)
OT Jonathan Ogden (1)
Bill Parcells (2)
DT Warren Sapp (1)
TE Shannon Sharpe (5)
LB Derrick Brooks (1)
RB Roger Craig (5)
DT Cortez Kennedy (5)
WR Andre Reed (8)
OG Will Shields (3)
S John Lynch (3)
Marty Schottenheimer (2)
LB Junior Seau (1)
DE Michael Strahan (3)
QB Kurt Warner (1)
Note: Marvin Harrison should be in this class, but the PFHOF selection committee seems intent on hazing every receiver except Jerry Rice by making them wait multiple years before induction.