Reporting David Elfin
Joe Jacoby was one of the greatest Redskins during the franchise’s greatest era, but he was never the excitable sort.
So when I informed Jacoby this morning that my fellow selectors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame hadn’t seen fit to include him among the 15 finalists for the Class of 2013, the former All-Pro left tackle was disappointed but not surprised.
Jacoby knew that this was a tough year to be one of 25 semifinalists because of the extremely high quality of the first-year eligibles. Indeed, Hall of Fame “rookies” Larry Allen, Jonathan Ogden, Warren Sapp and Michael Strahan are among the 17 men (including Seniors Committee selections Curley Culp and Dave Robinson) whose candidacies we will dissect, argue about and vote on in New Orleans on Feb. 2, the day before Super Bowl XLVII.
The other 11 men on the ballot include running back Jerome Bettis, receivers Tim Brown, Cris Carter and Andre Reed, guard Will Shields, defensive end Charles Haley, linebacker Kevin Greene, cornerback Aeneas Williams, coach Bill Parcells and owners Eddie DeBartolo and Art Modell. The latter was only the candidate previously eligible to reach the finals for the first time and that likely happened because he died in September and was a sentimental choice.
“We were a long shot,” said Jacoby, who hadn’t been a semifinalist since 2008. “At least we got to this point. I knew there were a lot of great first-year players being considered.”
In an especially gracious moment, Jacoby added, “I’m glad that Parcells made it.”
That was a case of a rival returning the favor. Jacoby’s Redskins dueled Parcells’ New York Giants for NFC East supremacy for nearly a decade, but those games were always one of respect, not hatred. So much so that fellow Hall hopeful Parcells endorsed Jacoby’s candidacy in a conversation with me last month.
“The Redskins were our fiercest rival,” Parcells said. “You know the players from their team almost as well as you know your own players. Joe and [Hall of Fame guard] Russ [Grimm] and [Hall of Fame receiver] Art Monk and those guys earned my respect just by virtue of the competition they provided for us. Joe was certainly up there among the very best. Joe had a lot of toughness and he was a pretty smart player. We had difficulty fooling him. There were some very, very good speed rushers back then, and Joe did well against them. And he was pretty good in the running game, too. Joe was a very, very critical part in the championships [the Redskins] won.”
Giants outside linebacker Lawrence Taylor, who basically redefined that position into a pass-rushing spot, was quite the challenge, but Parcells said that Taylor “made it hard on Lawrence,” something that LT told Jacoby at a golf tournament a few years back.
Unlike first-round pick Taylor, Jacoby wasn’t even chosen in the 1981 draft even though the Redskins selected five offensive linemen. He signed as a rookie free agent but still wound up starting 13 games. The next year, Jacoby was the left tackle on Washington’s first Super Bowl champion and the year after that he began a string of four straight Pro Bowl appearances while twice being chosen All-Pro.
During his 12 seasons as a starter for famed offensive line coaches Joe Bugel and Jim Hanifan, Jacoby missed just 16 games. More important, the Redskins won three Super Bowls and four NFC titles and made the playoffs eight times while suffering a lone losing season (7-9 in 1988).
“Joe was one of the last guys to play left tackle in a right-handed stance,” said Grimm, Jacoby’s one-time roommate who played alongside him for most of a decade. “It’s almost impossible to do because you take a false step with your right foot when you have a speed rusher coming at you, but Joe had the strength, the wingspan and enough speed to make it work for him.”
Being a Hall semifinalist didn’t work this year for Jacoby, now the offensive line coach at Division III Shenandoah, but there was still good news for him. Three of the 12 modern-day players who are finalists are offensive linemen. That shows the committee’s appreciation of their importance, something that’s hard to quantify since they don’t have statistics. And next year’s class of potential Hall newcomers only includes one seemingly sure thing, receiver Marvin Harrison, which enhances Jacoby’s chances of finally making it to the final 15 before his modern-day eligibility ends in 2018.
As to those who say that “The Hogs” already have their enshrinee in Grimm, some of the NFL’s most superb offensive lines have more than one Hall of Famer. Consider Oakland’s Art Shell and Gene Upshaw, Miami’s Larry Little and Jim Langer, Green Bay’s Forrest Gregg and Jim Ringo, and Houston’s Bruce Matthews and Mike Munchak.
“Joe definitely deserves to be in the Hall,” Grimm said. “We should be there together. No one talked about Russ Grimm and The Hogs. They talked about The Hogs and Joe was a big part of our success.”
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin