Not every class inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is headed by a John Elway or Troy Aikman or other all-time offensive hero. This is one of those years, when Canton will open its doors to guys named Green, Thomas, Monk, Zimmerman, Tippett and Dean.
The names don’t make you reach for the remote to program the TiVo. And that’s too bad, because Canton’s Class of ’08 includes some players who were every good at playing their position as Aikman and Elway were at theirs. You don’t get to the Hall of Fame without being one of the best to every play the game, and that’s what these guys are.
Three of them in particular — Darrell Green, Art Monk and Gary Zimmerman — are absolute immortals. But Green was a defensive back, Monk was the game’s all-time leading pass catcher but had the misfortune to be overshadowed by Jerry Rice, and Zimmerman was an offensive tackle, and Rodney Dangerfield got more respect than an offensive lineman.
Green was elected in his first year of eligibility, which is as it should be. Monk and Zimmerman should have been in the Hall long before this. If Zimmerman had been as good a running back or quarterback as he was a tackle, he would have been enshrined in his first year of eligibility. Instead, he had to wait until his fifth. At least he beat Monk, whose seven-year wait to get in remains one of life’s undying mysteries.
But that’s the nature of the game. The headliners go to Canton on the express train. Everybody else has to wait their turns. It shows that even the electors, who are steeped in the game, are blinded by superstar glare and slow to bestow immortality on the less celebrated positions.
The Hall of Fame requires the election of between four and seven new members each year. That rule is in place to make sure that the guys in the trenches get the recognition their play should have earned them. There are, after all, 22 starters for each of 32 football teams, not to mention the special teamers. That’s 704 starting players at 22 different positions. There should be more people elected each year to get the best players in each era at each position. The Hall also requires the annual election of veteran players who had been passed up during their years of eligibility.
Because there were no great quarterbacks or running backs eligible this year, it became a kind of catch-up year. Fred Dean, a defensive end, and Emmitt Thomas, a cornerback, are the old-timers of the group, having retired more than 20 years ago. The others were all the best at their positions, but if there had been an Aikman and Michael Ervin eligible this year as there was last year, one or two of this year’s inductees would have had to wait even longer.
It wouldn’t have been Green. The Redskins’ defensive back played 20 years and was still a starter at the age of 42. One of the fastest men ever to play the game, he was once timed — unofficially — in the 40 in a blazing 4.09 seconds. In his final season, as the age of 42, he was still one of the fastest men in the NFL.
His teammate was Art Monk, an end who held the all-time record for passes caught until Jerry Rice finally passed him in Monk’s last year in the league. For some reason, Monk, who has three Super Bowl rings, had to wait 13 years after he retired to be elected. But it’s a nice touch that when he finally did make it, he gets to go in with his old teammate, Green.
CSN: The Super Bowl's golden anniversary will be held in the Golden State. The new stadium, which opens in 2014, in Santa Clara will host Super Bowl L two years later, the NFL announced Tuesday.
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