Mark Madden: These Steelers could benefit from Hall of Fame expansion
In 2020, the Pro Football Hall of Fame will induct a one-time-only class of 20 new members to commemorate the NFL’s 100th anniversary. Ten senior-era players will be included.
Nine players from the Steelers’ dynasty in the 1970s are enshrined in Canton.
Does this decision open the door for more?
A survey of my Twitter followers (2,941 voting) suggests defensive end L.C. Greenwood deserves a spot.
A very informal poll of Pittsburgh football media also chose Greenwood.
Which of these '70s Steelers most deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
— Mark Madden (@MarkMaddenX) August 3, 2019
But one of said media put it best: “None. Seriously.”
I concur. Nine is plenty. Enough already with the Steelers of the ’70s.
It would be better if safety Troy Polamalu made it in his first year of eligibility, or if Alan Faneca made it after missing out the last four years despite being the best guard of his generation.
Receiver Hines Ward will never make it. Ward’s stats don’t cut it, and being football’s best blocking receiver ever adds little. He’s barely in this discussion.
But Polamalu, Faneca and Ward aren’t senior-era players. (Senior-era players are defined are having been retired for more than 25 years.)
It seems difficult to believe that 10 senior-era players legitimately worthy of induction have slipped through the cracks.
But if they have, it’s logical to think that players from that Steelers’ dynasty in the ’70s could be among them. It’s arguably the greatest football team of all time.
My poll included tackle/tight end Larry Brown, Greenwood, safety Donnie Shell and safety Mike Wagner.
Linebacker Andy Russell was left off because Twitter only allows four choices. But he’s an interesting candidate.
Russell first played for the Steelers in 1963. He was with the team when it was terrible. He made second-team All-Pro in 1968, when the Steelers won twice, and in 1970 when they won five games. He was second team again in ‘72, first team in ‘75. He made seven Pro Bowls and won two Super Bowls.
Does Russell’s excellence when the Steelers were bad burnish his case?
Shell has the best raw credentials: 51 career interceptions, first-team All-Pro three times, second-team All-Pro once, five Pro Bowls, four rings.
Greenwood was first-team All-Pro twice. He made six Pro Bowls. He was second-team All-Decade as per the NFL.
Like Brown, Shell and Wagner, Greenwood won four rings. But Greenwood had a standout Super Bowl performance: Four sacks in Super Bowl X, a 21-17 victory over Dallas on Jan. 18, 1976. That’s a Super Bowl record that still stands.
That should help Greenwood. (Ward’s MVP in Super Bowl XL makes his meager chances a bit better.)
But Greenwood is also dead. Does it mean as much to induct someone posthumously, especially all these years later?
Brown and Wagner are minimally qualified, relatively speaking.
Brown made three Pro Bowls. The late Chuck Noll said he was the best of the ’70s Steelers not in the hall.
Wagner got first- and second-team All-Pro once each. He made two Pro Bowls.
The argument for Russell is a bit different, and thus compelling.
Noll’s first Steelers team went 1-13 in 1969. When the franchise won its first Super Bowl five years later, Russell was one of just five remaining from that ‘69 team, and the best.
But if you put me to a choice, I’d say Greenwood. His exploits in Super Bowl X put him over the top.
Frustration about Faneca is now an annual story. Faneca was first-team All-Pro six times, second team twice. He made nine Pro Bowls. He made first-team All-Decade. He won a ring. How much more qualified could he be?
Polamalu should be a lock in his first year of eligibility. Polamalu was first-team All-Pro four times, second team twice. Eight Pro Bowls. Second-team All-Decade. NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2010. A human highlight reel.
But the selection process involves 48 men debating, so nothing is assured.
It would be funny to see Polamalu make Canton on the first ballot when he missed out on the Steelers’ Hall of Honor in his first crack at that.
Polamalu should get in. So should Faneca. One Steeler from the ’70s could.
But, even in an expanded class of 20, would the hall induct three Steelers?
Canton should have a wing for the greatest teams ever. Maybe one from each decade. It’s a team game, after all. Nobody would argue honoring those ’70s Steelers thusly.