With all the buzz about the Hall of Fame this past weekend, I began to think about whether any Falcons would get in anytime soon. Now, unlike the Baseball Hall of Fame, players do not get inducted for a specific team per se, so there are already individuals in the Hall with Falcon connections. Norm Van Brocklin and Art Shell, both in the Hall as players, were Falcon coaches. Eric Dickerson played 4 games with the Falcons in 1993.
The big four Falcon greats on the bubble are of course Tommy Nobis, Claude Humphrey, Jeff Van Note, and Jessie Tuggle. I discount Deion Sanders because he’s a shoe-in to get in when he is able come 2011.
Humphrey notably has been a finalist 3 of the past 4 years, but has yet to get in. So of course he seems the most likeliest candidate to get his bust in Canton anytime soon. I decided to look at some of the accomplishments of these Falcons compared with their contemporaries already in the Hall. And by contemporaries I looked only at players that basically began their careers within three or so years of each other, assuming then that these players hit their primes at about the same time.
For Nobis, who played during the “Butkus Era” of linebackers, the thing that hurts Mr. Falcon’s chances of getting into the Hall is that he was elected to only 1 All-Pro team. While players like Butkus, Willie Lanier, and Dave Wilcox all saw six or more. One factor going in Nobis’s favor however is that he was named to the 1960s All-Decade Team. So eventually he has a chance of getting in I believe. But only 2 of the 5 linebackers on that team are currently in the Hall (Butkus and Ray Nitschke), and Larry Morris and Dave Robinson are missing. I would say that as it stands right now, Nobis’s chances of getting enshrined are pretty slim, at least for the forseeable future. Perhaps maybe in 2020…
For Humphrey, he’s already close, and I think eventually will get in. His 122 career sacks is practically enough alone to get him in. Humphrey was not named to any All-Decade team, but currently only 4 contemporaries are in the Hall right now (Joe Greene, Alan Page, Jack Youngblood, and Elvin Bethea). But like Nobis, Humphrey is hurt by the small number of All-Pro teams he was voted to (only two) compared with the rest of his peers (Bethea had the lowest with four). Again, I think Humphrey can eventually get in, but it’s not going to be in the next few years. Jack Youngblood was a finalist 8 times over the course of 11 years before he finally was elected. If Humphrey was to follow a similar path, he would likely not be elected until 2013 or so.
Van Note is no different story from Humphrey and Nobis in that his HOF chances are limited by the low number of All-Pro teams he was on (just one). Many of his contemporaries are already in the Hall. Of the 10 linemen named to the 1970s All-Decade, all of them are in the Hall, with Rayfield Wright being the last of them this year. Van Note was not on that team of course, but his accomplishments (6 Pro Bowls) probably mean he would have made the 2nd unit if there one existed. Of those 1970s blockers, 3 of which were perennial NFC Pro Bowl mates of Van Note in Dan Dierdorf, Wright, and Ron Yary. Jim Langer is the only contemporary center that is in the Hall. Like Van Note, he appeared in 6 Pro Bowls, but also played in 3 Super Bowls and was All-Pro 5 times. Van Note may get in, but it’s probably going to be a while from now just like Nobis. But I would believe that Nobis and Humphrey are closer than he is.
Tuggle just became eligible this past year, having finished his career in 2000. I’m less optimistic about Tuggle because he was already spurned from the All 1990s Team. The NFL elected Levon Kirkland to the team rather than Tuggle for unexplained reasons. Not to mention that the league explicitly mentioned that it was accounting for the entire decade rather than a few years (thus why someone like Ray Lewis did not make the unit). Tuggle, a 5-time Pro Bowler between 1992 and 1998 was spurned for Kirkland, a 2-time Pro Bowler only in 1998 and 1999, and a guy that started only 7 years out of the entire decade (compared to Tuggle’s 10), and was overshadowed (rightfully so) in Pittsburgh until about 1997 by other top (and better) linebackers such as Kevin Greene, Greg Lloyd, and Chad Brown. Greene was of course on the All-Decade team, but both Lloyd and Brown were more deserving than Levon Kirkland. Seriously, if they were going to put a 2-time Pro Bowler on this team at linebacker, it should have been Ken Norton rather than Kirkland. To this day, I hate Levon Kirkland for these reasons. Currently, however no 1990s-era linebacker is yet in the Hall. Derrick Thomas will likely be the first. He is the only eligible All-Decade team member that has been a finalist. Kevin Greene and Cornelius Bennett (another ex-Falcon) were also All-Decade players that have been eligible, and Hardy Nickerson will be so for next year’s class. I would imagine that Tuggle is not going to get in before any of these guys, not to mention Junior Seau when he becomes eligible in 2011. Tuggle I think is in the same boat as Nobis, and may have a shot after 2020 or so, but probably not before then. I’m not even sure Biscuit will get in. Sure, he played in 5 Pro Bowls and 5 Super Bowls, but he too was limited by his All-Pro status, because as far as I’m aware of, he’s was All-Pro only once.
All this talk of Hall of Fame then starts to make me wonder about current Falcons. Although I’m sure some might mention Vick or Crumpler as potentials, I would say unless Vick wins a Super Bowl, or Crumpler goes to 4 or 5 more Pro Bowls, both are longer shots than any of the guys I mentioned previously. Right now, I would say Keith Brooking and his 5 Pro Bowls is the most likely current Falcon to get HOF attention. But I would say that Brooking probably needs to go to at least 2 more Pro Bowls before I start to believe that he has any better of a chance than Tuggle.
So although, there is one Falcon currently enshrined (Dickerson), it doesn’t seem like anytime soon we’ll be seeing players that one could call true Falcons (i.e. played a few seasons with the team). At least until 2011 when Primetime gets in. After that, it’s anybody’s guess if or when a Falcon gets it. But I believe at least one of the guys I mentioned will eventually be recognized.