Bob Hayes headlines our list of players who have been overlooked unfairly by the Hall of Fame

Waiting for the call: Bob Hayes headlines our list of players who have been overlooked unfairly by the Hall of Fame

Jeff Ryan

BLAST 500 HOME RUNS COLLECT 3,000 hits, or pitch your way to 300 wins and you’re virtually assured of a trip to Cooperstown. Unfortunately, the route to Canton isn’t nearly as direct. There aren’t any real benchmarks that guarantee enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the voting process is highly subjective, and the guidelines are flawed (a minimum of three and maximum of six candidates gain acceptance).

As a result, some very deserving gridiron greats have been left wondering if the whole process is a bust at a time when each of them should be holding a bust, wearing a yellow jacket, and making a teary acceptance speech.

It’s about time the Hall sent out the call for …

BOB HAYES Cowboys, 49ers (1965-75)

The most deserving player on our list, “Bullet Bob,” was the wide receiver who actually changed the way the game was played. A 100-meter gold medallist at the 1964 Olympics, Hayes was so fast that he couldn’t be contained with conventional man-to-man coverage. Many of the zone defenses in place today were devised to stop him.

The four-time All-Pro selection and finalist in last year’s Hall of Fame balloting averaged 20.3 yards per catch, 25.3 yards per kickoff return, and 11.1 yards per punt return. He finished his career with 371 catches and 71 touchdowns. Hayes, who died in 2002, struggled with substance-abuse problems and once served 10 months in prison for selling drugs, errors in judgment that have turned off some Hall voters and even delayed his entry into the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor until 2001.

JIM MARSHALL Browns, Vikings (1960-1979)

Minnesota was an NFC powerhouse in the ’70s, yet the stars of those teams have been sentenced to a pigskin purgatory when it comes to getting their due. Carl Eller waited 25 years after he retired before getting in, Paul Krause held his breath for 19 years, and coach Bud Grant was on hold for nine. Speculation is that the voters are punishing the Vikings for going 0-for-4 in the Super Bowl.

“I’ve pondered that for years,” says Marshall. “Maybe it was ownership not pushing us as candidates or limited exposure in a small market. I’ve heard it all. And I refuse to worry about it anymore. My credentials speak for themselves.”

They certainly do. The star defensive end was a integral part of the famous “Purple People Eaters” defense, he played on four NFC and 10 division championship teams, and he holds the NFL records for consecutive game played (282) and most opponents’ fumbles recovered in a career (29). He also had 127 sacks.

Marshall’s chances, it’s been suggested, might also be hurt by his having picked up a fumble and rumbled 66 yards in the wrong direction in a 1964 game in San Francisco. It’s a piece of tape that seems to have been replayed more than the Zapruder film.

“What can I say?” asks Marshall. “It was an entertaining moment in football history.”

HARRY CARSON Giants (1976-88)

One of the finest middle linebackers to ever imbed his helmet in a running back’s sternum, the five-time finalist is finding the door to the Hall far harder to crash through than any offensive line. Carson was so disappointed by his snub in 2004 that he actually asked Hall officials to remove his name from future consideration. Fortunately, they haven’t.

Why Carson is reduced to shaking his head and accepting condolence calls every year is a mystery. He made nine Pro Bowls in his 13 seasons and was an outstanding run-stopper and motivator on one of the great defenses of the past 20 years, a squad that thrashed John Elway’s Broncos in Super Bowl 21. What more could Carson have done besides vacuum the artificial turf at Giants Stadium?

Contrary to popular belief, he didn’t simply benefit from playing alongside Lawrence Taylor. Carson made the Pro Bowl twice before L.T. ever set foot in the Meadowlands.

JIM PLUNKETT Patriots, 49ers, Raiders (1971-86)

Some quarterbacks get into the Hall because their eye-popping stats overshadow their failure to capture a ring (Fran Tarkenton’s 342 TD tosses and Dan Fouts’ 43,040 yards passing). Others deserve entry because they’re winners who only worried about numbers when they were Roman numerals on Super Sunday. Plunkett is one of those crunch-time crusaders.

The 1971 AFC Rookie of the Year was besieged by injuries and bad teams for much of his career, he never made a Pro Bowl, and by 1980 was an Oakland backup. Then Plunkett took over for an injured Dan Pastofini, led the Rakters to a Super Bowl 15 win over the favored Eagles, and was named the game’s MVP. Three years later, he engineered another upset, this time over the Redskins in Super Bowl 18. Plunkett’s combined Super Bowl numbers were 29 of 46 for 433 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Overall, Mr. Clutch won eight out of 10 postseason games.

“Sometimes I feel slighted,” says Plunkett. “Joe Namath and Len Dawson only won one Super Bowl each and they’re in. I had an up-and-down career, but I finished strong.”

KEN STABLER Raiders, Oilers, Saints (1970-84)

Let’s compare “The Snake” with his ’70s contemporary, Hall-of-Famer Bob Griese. Stabler had more passing yards (27,938 to 25,092), touchdown tosses (194 to 192), league MVP awards, (two to one), and times leading the league in TD passes (two to one) and quarterback rating (two to one). Griese’s Dolphins won two Super Bowls, Stabler’s Raiders one. If Griese is immortalized, Stabler should be, too.

ART MONK Redskins, Jets, Eagles (1980-95)

Monk didn’t possess the game-breaking speed of Lance Alworth or display the aerial acrobatics of Lynn Swann. In fact, he ran most of his routes short and underneath. But Monk made the grabs that kept drives alive and frustrated defenses.

Monk totaled 940 catches (fifth all-time) for 12,721 yards (ninth), led the NFL in receptions in 1984 with a then-record 106, and hauled in passes in 183 consecutive games, the second longest streak in league history. He played on three Super Bowl winners, and made 69 catches for 1,062 yards and seven touchdowns in the postseason.

“His numbers are amazing,” says CBS analyst Randy Cross, “but Monk was never a self-promoter and never real flashy, and that hasn’t helped him.”

CLIFF HARRIS Cowboys (1970-79)

Harris has the most impressive hardware collection this side of Home Depot. The bruising free safety played on seven division winners, five NFC champions, and two Super Bowl winners, was named to six Pro Bowls, and was a four-time All-Pro and five-time All-NFC selection. Earl Campbell once said Harris hit him harder than any tackler he’d ever faced.

“What defined my career was my risk-taking,” says Harris. “I didn’t just cover the receiver. I also attacked the line of scrimmage. I always had excellent recognition of where the run was going. To me, it was warfare.”

RAY GUY Raiders (1973-86)

He’s not even among the top 20 leaders in career punting average, yet Guy deserves a spot in Canton because he’s simply the best to ever play his position. Oddly, although the Hall of Fame Selection Committee hasn’t granted him a spot in Canton, it did name Guy as the punter when it selected an All-Time NFL Team in 2000. Go figure.

It was Guy’s hang time, as much as his distance, that made him so reliable. (One kick struck the gondola hanging from the roof of the Louisiana Superdome during the 1976 Pro Bowl.) Guy was named to seven Pro Bowls, he led the NFL in average yards-per-kick three times, had a career average of 42.4 yards a boot, and had only three punts blocked in 1,052 attempts. He also played for three Super Bowl champions.

So why has he been denied? Apparently, the voters have a bias against kickers. Only one, placekicker Jan Stenerud, has ever been inducted.

JACK TATUM Raiders, Oilers (1971-80)

Though only 5″10″ and 205 pounds, the three-time Pro Bowl free safety was so intimidating that some receivers who cut over the middle against him probably still hear his footsteps when they close their eyes and lay in bed at night. With his menacing glare and vicious hits, “The Assassin” epitomized the bully image of the Silver-and-Black squads of the ’70s.

“Tatum was a force,” says hall of fame quarterback Len Dawson. “Every hit was legal in those days, and he would really rock you if you went into his area.”

Adds Plunkett, “It was an awesome sight. Tatum would recoil his body and just explode into a receiver. His timing was extraordinary.”

Tatum’s candidacy has no doubt been hurt by the hit he put on the Patriots’ Darryl Stingley in 1978 that left the wide receiver paralyzed. Though the shot was clean, it came in an exhibition game and on a play on which Stingley had no chance to catch the ball.

OTIS TAYLOR Chiefs (1965-75)

Kansas City’s brilliant wide receiver is one of those former AFL stars who gets overlooked because he played for a run-oriented offense.

Taylor’s numbers, though not spectacular, measure up favorably to those of Hall-of-Famer Lynn Swann. (Taylor had 410 catches, 7,306 yards, and 57 touchdowns to Swann’s 336 catches, 5462 yards and 51 touchdowns.) And like Swarm, the three-time Pro Bowler was a big-play receiver. He made three of the most important grabs in Chiefs history during the 1969 postseason. Taylor hauled in a Dawson bomb that set up the winning touchdown en route to eliminating the defending world champion Jets, he made a key third-down catch that led to the go-ahead score against the Raiders in the AFL title game, and his 46-yard touchdown catch put Super Bowl IV against the Vikings out of reach.

“One of the best runners you’ll ever see after he caught the ball,” says Dawson. “When the game was on the line, you thought about Otis first.”

COPYRIGHT 2005 Century Publishing

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group