The Pro Football Hall of Fame has announced their Class of 2012: Defensive back Jack Butler, center Dermontti Dawson, defensive end Chris Doleman, defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy, running back Curtis Martin and tackle Willie Roaf.
Butler spent nine seasons as a cornerback for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Over that time, he intercepted 52 passes, returning four for touchdowns. When he retired, he was second all-time in interceptions (tied with Bobby Dillon), behind Emlen Tunnell. He only made the Pro Bowl four times in his career, and made first-team all-pro three times. He was injured late in the 1959 season, and retired after only seven games. He was named to the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 1950s. A good tackler with excellent instincts, Butler is yet another defensive back to go in. This is the sixth consecutive year that a defensive back has been inducted.
Dawson was the Steeler’s center for 12 of his 13 years with the team. Taking the place of Hall of Famer Mike Webster was no easy feat, but Dawson proved that he had the skills. He also proved he had durability, as he started in 184 regular season games, with a consecutive start streak of 170 games. Over his career, he went to seven Pro Bowls as was named first-team all-pro six times. He was the anchor of the Steelers’ line that propelled Pittsburgh to lead the NFL in rushing twice (1994 and 1997).
Doleman was the fourth overall player in the 1985 NFL Draft, taken by the Minnesota Vikings. He started his career as a linebacker, but was moved to defensive end in his sophomore season. In his first full year at that position, he registered 11 of his 150.5 career sacks. In 1989, he led the league with 21 sacks. Over his career, he was top ten six times in season sack totals. He was named to the Pro Bowl eight times and was named the conference Defensive Player of the Year in 1992. He only missed two games in his career, playing in 232 games and starting 213 of those games. He currently ranks fourth in total sacks (only counting sacks since it became an official statistic in 1984), behind Bruce Smith (200.0), Reggie White (198.0), and Kevin Greene (160.0). He was also named to the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 1990s.
Kennedy played for the Seattle Seahawks for 11 seasons, starting 153 of his 167 games. He played eight seasons before sitting out with an injury. He was named to the NFL’s All-Rookie team in 1990 and made it to the Pro Bowl eight times. In 1992, Kennedy was named the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. His stats are not impressive, which is why you need to look past stats to see the impact a player had on the game. He was often double and triple-teamed, but still recorded 568 tackles and 58.0 sacks over his career. He also forced 11 fumbles and recovered six (including one returned for a touchdown).
Martin finished his career with 17,421 yards from scrimmage, which places him eighth all-time in the record books, behind Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Marshall Faulk, LaDainian Tomlinson, Barry Sanders, and Marcus Allen. All are Hall of Famers, except Tomlinson, who is still an active player. The remaining two in the top ten are Thurman Thomas (Hall of Famer) and Tony Dorsett (Hall of Famer). He was named to the Pro Bowl five times and won the Associated Press’
Offensive Player of the Year award in 1995. He and Barry Sanders are the only running backs to have started their careers with 10 straight 1,000-yard seasons. Over his career, he averaged 1,282 yards per season. If he did not sustain an injury in his final season (costing him four games), he would have been on pace to have 11 straight seasons with at least 1,000 yards rushing.
Roaf was the eighth player selected in the 1993 NFL Draft and the top lineman. He went on to play 13 seasons for the New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs, starting in 189 games. Over his career, he was named to 11 Pro Bowls, was named All-Conference nine times and named first-team All-NFL three times. He was also named to the NFL’s All-Decade team of the 1990s. Injuries prevented him from attaining more accolades, as he missed games in four of his 13 seasons.
Going into Saturday night, 17 men were finalists for induction. The two seniors candidates, Butler and guard Dick Stanfel, were joined by 15 modern-era candidates: running back Jerome Bettis, wide receivers Tim Brown and Cris Carter, owner Ed DeBartolo, Dawson, Doleman, linebacker Kevin Greene, defensive end Charles Haley, Kennedy, Martin, head coach Bill Parcells, wide receiver Andre Reed, Roaf, guard Will Shields, and defensive back Aeneas Williams.
The 15 modern-era finalists were whittled down to 10, with Bettis, Brown, DeBartolo, Greene and Shields eliminated. The only surprise here would be DeBartolo. It looks like his five Super Bowl rings did not overcome the stain of his legal troubles.
Brown had a tough road as he was competing with Carter and Reed for induction. With similar arguments for each candidate, they cancel each other out. If I were to bet, I would think that Reed gets in before Carter, as the voters seem to slightly favor Reed over Carter. I think that with Brown left out of the final ten, that pretty much seals his fate to the senior’s abyss.
The ten remaining modern-era candidates were pared down to five, with Dawson, Doleman, Kennedy, Martin and Roaf as the sole finalists. Combined with the two seniors candidates in Butler and Stanfel, each were put up for an up-or-down vote for induction. To enter the Class of 2012, the candidates must receive at least 80 percent of the vote. Only Stanfel did not make the cut. I am not surprised that Stanfel did not make the cut. He was not as strong of a candidate as Butler. His final season as All-pro was basically on reputation. He only played in six games. It will be extremely difficult for Stanfel, now that his case has been heard by the entire committee and they rejected him.
As far as the other finalists that did not make it, I think that a few will finally wear the gold jacket. Bettis will probably get in eventually, as well as Parcells. I think that Reed and Carter have one, possibly two more years to get in before they lose their opportunity in the modern-era voting. There are other receivers coming up that will cloud the field: Marvin Harrison (2014), Isaac Bruce (2015), Torry Holt (2015), Terrell Owens (2016), unless Owens returns to the NFL after his stint in the minor leagues.
Ken Crippen is the executive director of the Professional Football Researchers Association, a non-profit educational organization dedicated to preserving football history. You can follow him on Twitter: @KenCrippen.