Joe Jacoby, the standout left tackle of the Hogs during the Redskins’ glory days in the 1980s, will learn Thursday night whether he will finally become a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the first time.
Jacoby, who debuted in 1981, is the senior player among the 19 on the ballot (there are six coaches and contributors) but has never had his case argued in “the room,” where the 44 selectors — including yours truly — hash out the finalists’ merits before electing each year’s class.
During his 12 years as a starter for famed offensive line coaches Joe Bugel and Jim Hanifan, Jacoby missed just 16 games as Washington won three Super Bowls, four NFC titles and made the playoffs eight times while suffering a lone losing season (7-9 in 1988).
Jacoby is concerned that there’s a mistaken impression that he was responsible for failing to block New York Giants Hall of Fame pass rusher Lawrence Taylor on the sack that ended Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann’s illustrious career on “Monday Night Football” in 1985. That play has become even more infamous since that’s how the 2009 Oscar-winning movie, “The Blind Side,” begins. Trouble is, Jacoby missed that game with a knee injury, giving Taylor a break.
“The hardest thing for me to deal with was that big, agile left tackle,” Taylor told author Michael Lewis in the book that led to the movie.
Taylor figured that if he couldn’t outmuscle Jacoby, he’d try to lure the 6-foot-7, 305-pound lineman into putting his hands up prematurely. If Jacoby did, Taylor would turn on the jets and aim for the quarterback.
In an email, Taylor called Jacoby, “a very tough player. We had such great battles. For a bigger guy, he was able to move so although I was more athletic, he could really hold his own. The Hogs were all excellent players, but certainly Joe and [Hall of Fame left guard] Russ Grimm were the anchors of that line. To do it for as long as he did on such a high level, it’s a surprise to me that he’s not in Canton already.”
Jacoby was a huge lineman for his time, but he was nimble enough to pull on the counter-trey running play that the Redskins made famous and to more than hold his own against quick pass rushers such as Taylor, Philadelphia’s Clyde Simmons and Dallas’ Harvey Martin when the NFC East was its peak.
“Lawrence certainly had a difficult time trying to overpower him,” Giants Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells said of Jacoby. “We had to get him moving to have any success against him because if he got his hands on you, you were dead.”
The Giants were far from the only opponents to have trouble with four-time Pro Bowl pick Jacoby, an All-Pro in 1983 and 1984.
“Joe blocked down on me a number of times and he was like a damn tank,” said Cowboys Hall of Fame defensive tackle Randy White. “He was as good as any tackle of his time. I know that [Harvey] had the utmost respect for Joe. The Redskins had a heck of an offensive line, but Grimm and Jacoby were the anchors.”
White didn’t want to hear about players from the 1980s such as Jacoby supposedly not measuring up to those from more recent years such as Seattle’s four-time All-Pro left tackle Walter Jones, who’s a first-time nominee and one of four linemen among the 25 Canton semifinalists along with guards Will Shields, whose career began in Jacoby’s final season, and Steve Wisniewski, whose last year was 2001.
“That’s a crock,” said White, who watches plenty of games as part of a Dallas postgame show. “Joe could play today and play well. I think Joe should be in the Hall of Fame. If I had a vote, I’d vote for him.”
So, too, would Jacoby’s coaches and teammates. He was one of just six Redskins to play on all four of their Super Bowl teams under Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs and one of just three (center Jeff Bostic and tight end Don Warren were the others) to start in all four of those title games.
“Joe was my weightlifting partner and I got stronger just changing his plates,” said Grimm, who played or coached in the NFL from 1981-2012. “More than a few times, he actually picked guys up during games. Joe was a power tackle, but he more than held his own against LT which is saying something.”
Grimm is enshrined, but his election shouldn’t shut out Jacoby. Some of the NFL’s best 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. Only Gregg and Ringo won more championships together.
Taylor, White, Parcells, Gibbs and Grimm believe that Jacoby should join them in Canton. He has just four years left after this as a modern-era candidate. Doesn’t he at least deserve his day in the room?
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 three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011.