In reference to certain borderline Hall of Fame-caliber players, it’s often said that they belong in the “Hall of Very Good” rather than the Hall of Fame.
I hate to say it, but I believe this is the case for the six players I have listed below no particular order. I mean no disrespect to these players.
They were all very good in their own right.
Interestingly, none of the players on this list played defense.
I don’t think that’s completely a coincidence, since offensive players have always tended to get more respect and accolades.
Doak Walker (Lions 1950-1955)
The first strike against Doak Walker is that he only played in the league for six seasons with the Detroit Lions. While it’s true that that mere fact alone doesn’t necessarily take anything away from Walker’s accomplishments while he was in the league, short careers have kept many other accomplished players like Terrell Davis and Sterling Sharpe out of the Hall of Fame.
Walker was a very good all-around player in his day, but out of all the players on this list, I would probably have to say Walker is the least deserving. This sentiment has also been echoed by Sports Illustrated writer Paul Zimmerman in the past. W
Walker is in the Hall of Fame for his versatility. He was a kicker, running back, and punter. Walker only rushed for 1,520 yards and 12 touchdowns in his career however, and no kicker should be in the Hall of Fame based off the merit of six seasons.
Paul Hornung (Packers 1957-1962, 1964-1966)
Like Doak Walker, Paul Hornung was inducted into the Hall of Fame based on his versatility. I must admit that Hornung is more deserving than Walker however. Hornung was a great short yardage runner and was twice voted MVP. He was also a decent kicker and led the league in scoring on three different occasions.
So what’s the problem with Hornung’s inclusion in the Hall of Fame? Well, for starters, Hornung was never even the best running back on his team. That distinction instead goes to Jim Taylor. From 1960-1964, while Hornung was in the prime of his career, it was Taylor who rushed for at least 1,000 yards every season, not Hornung. During this time the most Hornung ever rushed for was 671 yards.
For his career, Hornung never rushed for over 700 yards, never caught more than 30 passes, and was under 50 percent on field goals and passing. Just because you were versatile and played on great teams does not mean you belong in the Hall of Fame.
Lynn Swann (Steelers 1974-1982)
As a Steelers fan, I’ll admit, this one really hurts me. Lynn Swann was a great clutch performer on an even greater team. By today’s standards, Swann’s career numbers are only slightly above average. For his time, however, Swann put up very good numbers. In nine seasons with the Steelers, Swann had 5,462 yards and 51 touchdowns. The problem is Swann never had more than 880 yards in a season and had a relatively short career.
Judging receivers from this era is always tough because of how much the game has changed, and Swann is the player I have the toughest time including on this list. The main issue I have with Swann being in the Hall is that many of his peers had better numbers and are still on the outside looking in.
Receivers like Cliff Branch, Harold Carmichael, Harold Jackson, and Drew Pearson all have better career numbers than Swann. To be fair to Swann, these players all also had longer careers than he did.
If Swann had played for another few seasons at a reasonably high level, then I might not have as much of an issue with him being in the Hall of Fame. The reason Swann probably made it and those other guys didn’t is because he made some of the most impressive and most famous catches in Super Bowl history.
I know that may sound silly, but I suspect that it’s at least partially true. Clearly voters were just as torn as I am in regards to Swann; he wasn’t elected into Canton until 2001.
Jan Stenerud (Chiefs 1967-1979, Packers 1980-1983)
There shouldn’t really be a lot I have to say about this one. I know I wrote earlier that Doak Walker is probably the least deserving player on this list, but I take that back. If there is one player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame that absolutely does not belong there, that player is Jan Stenerud. No disrespect, but how this guy made it is really beyond me.
Stenerud was a very good kicker for his era, but his numbers will by no means wow you. His career made field goal percentage was 67 percent. While it’s true that kickers at the time typically only made 50-60 percent of their field goals, that does not mean Stenerud belongs in the Hall of Fame.
He was one of the first pros employed exclusively as a kicker and also one of the first to use the “soccer style” kicking technique. Maybe that partially explains why he got in, but that explanation’s certainly not good enough for me.
Bob Griese (Dolphins 1967-1980)
Since Bob Griese is the first quarterback on the list, I’d just like to get this out of the way before I go any further. I am perfectly aware that quarterback, along with wide receiver, is the toughest position in which to compare players from different eras.
What were good statistics for quarterbacks at one time are no longer considered good statistics for quarterbacks in the modern era. With that being said, the next two players on my list are included because their numbers and accomplishments aren’t Hall of Fame worthy in comparison with their peers.
I think the main reason that Griese is in the Hall of Fame is because the Dolphins won two Super Bowls with him at quarterback. This comes down to another classic case of quarterbacks getting too much credit when things go right. If it weren’t for Bob Griese, could the Dolphins still have won those Super Bowls and gone undefeated in 1972? Good chance. Offensively, the Dolphins were a power running team focused on ball control.
Griese’s career passer rating is only 77.1, which just barely ranks him in the top 75 in NFL history. Griese was a great leader and game manager, which is exactly what the Dolphins needed at the time, but that doesn’t mean he should be in the Hall of Fame.
Joe Namath (Jets 1965-1976, Rams-1977)
The biggest name to crack this list is definitely Namath. So what is he so famous for? That’s basically the same question as asking why I included him on the list, at least in the sense that the answer is exactly the same. The answer is that Joe Namath is more famous for his Super Bowl III guarantee than he is for the rest of his career.
Namath’s stats are incredibly underwhelming for a player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His career completion percentage was only 50.1 percent. He threw 47 more career interceptions than career touchdowns. Last but not least, Namath’s career quarterback rating was an extremely pedestrian 65.5. Namath very well may have been a charismatic leader, but he was never an exceptional quarterback.
The question of whether or not Namath belongs in the Hall of Fame really boils down to criteria. If you believe players should be voted in based on their level of importance to the history of the game, then you’re most likely in support of Namath’s inclusion.
After all, Namath was instrumental in bringing respect to the AFL and bringing about the merger. If you’re like me, however, and believe it should be based on performance, then there’s no way you can support Namath in the Hall of Fame.