Hall of Fame: Redskins Drought in Canton Could Become a Fixture
WASHINGTON (CBSDC) – I’m proud to be one of just 46 voters who elected seven new members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame this past Saturday. Congratulations to Derrick Brooks, Ray Guy, Claude Humphrey, Walter Jones, Andre Reed, Michael Strahan and Aeneas Williams for the well-deserved capstones to their football careers.
However, this was the third straight year in which the Redskins didn’t have a member of the Hall of Fame class. This comes after I helped end a 15-year drought for Washington players by spearheading the elections of Darrell Green and Art Monk in 2008. Russ Grimm followed in 2010 and Chris Hanburger in 2011. That made four former Redskins enshrined in four years.
I pushed Joe Jacoby’s case harder than ever the last two years, but the left tackle of the Hogs has yet to reach the 15-man finals and only has four years left as a modern era candidate. I nominate Jacoby’s teammates Gary Clark, Jim Lachey, Dexter Manley, Charles Mann and Brian Mitchell every fall as well as ex-general manager Bobby Beathard, late owner Jack Kent Cooke and mid-1990s linebacker Ken Harvey, but none have advanced as far as the 25-man semifinals.
Cornerback Champ Bailey, who played in his first Super Bowl last Sunday after 15 years with Washington and Denver, will surely be inducted some day, but as a Bronco, not as a Redskin the designation he wore during his first five seasons. Clinton Portis, acquired for Bailey, was a fine running back but not quite up to Canton’s standards. The same goes for recently retired tight end Chris Cooley.
So if not Jacoby, who’ll be the next Redskin elected to the Hall?
Six-time Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels, whose career ended in 2009, will be eligible for election for the first time in 2015. Samuels has a solid shot at enshrinement although he was generally not quite as dominant as Jacoby and considered the fourth-best tackle of his era behind Hall of Famers Jones and Jonathan Ogden, and Orlando Pace, who will also be newly eligible for the Hall next year. Since Jacoby was voted the fourth-best tackle of the 1980s behind Hall of Famers Anthony Munoz and Gary Zimmerman as well as Jimbo Covert, who has yet to be enshrined, that doesn’t bode well for Samuels.
Inside linebacker London Fletcher, whose superb 16-year career ended in 2013, won’t be eligible for election until 2019 so there’s no point in fully discussing his candidacy yet.
However, there are four former Redskins who deserve another serious look from the nine-man subcommittee that chooses the two senior nominees each year.
Jerry Smith hasn’t caught a pass in 36 years. In fact, he only caught eight during the last two of his 13 seasons with Washington. And yet, Smith still ranks fourth all-time among tight ends with 60 touchdown catches. Cooley, who usually played in a more pass-oriented offense, didn’t top Smith’s 421 catches until 2011. Smith, who averaged 47 catches (in 14-game seasons) during the six years before George Allen’s arrival, averaged just 23 under the conservative coach.
And Smith’s statistics compare favorably to the other great tight ends of his era, Dave Casper, Mike Ditka, John Mackey, Charlie Sanders and Jackie Smith, all of whom are enshrined in Canton. Only Ditka and Jackie Smith had more catches and receiving yards and none had more touchdowns.
Center Len Hauss became a starter five games into his rookie year of 1964 (the year before Smith’s arrival) and never came out of the lineup again during his 14 seasons while being chosen for five Pro Bowls. Jim Langer, Jim Ringo and Mike Webster, the centers on the all-decade teams of the 1960 (they only picked one) and 1970s, are all enshrined.
Although Larry Brown only had six seasons as a true No. 1 back, he averaged more rushing yards per game and scored more touchdowns than Denver’s Floyd Little, who was inducted as a Seniors candidate in 2010. Brown was a two-time All-Pro to Little’s one such selection and was the MVP in 1972, the year he powered the Redskins to their first Super Bowl. Little never even reached the playoffs with the Broncos.
Cornerback Pat Fischer was just 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, but he successfully covered much bigger receivers including Philadelphia’s 6-8, 225-pound Harold Carmichael. The feisty, tough as nails Fischer missed just 10 games during 14 years as a starter for St. Louis (1963-67) and Washington (1968-76) and was named All-Pro twice. The Redskins, who had managed just three winning seasons and not advanced to the playoffs once during the 22 years before his arrival, had seven winning seasons with five playoff trips during his nine years as a regular.
While Hall of Famers Sonny Jurgensen, John Riggins and Charley Taylor also played for Allen’s “Over The Hill Gang” teams of the 1970s, only linebacker Chris Hanburger and safety Ken Houston were truly elected because of their excellence during that era. Smith, Hauss, Fischer and Brown are all worthy of consideration for Canton.
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 four Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011.
Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin.