Countdown to Canton: Why it's way past time to put Eagles' Al Wistert in Hall
(The Pro Football Hall of Fame last month announced its 38 finalists for the Centennial Class of 2020. As a prelude to the Hall's choice of 15 inductees, we preview some of the candidates)
It won’t be long before the Pro Football Hall of Fame announces its Centennial Class for 2020, and I’ll be honest: I’ll be surprised if former Eagles’ offensive tackle Al Wistert isn’t one of the 10 inductees.
Of course, there’s no guarantee. But Wistert and Duke Slater are considered front runners for a class that celebrates the NFL's 100th anniversary.
And they should be.
Slater was the league’s first African-American offensive lineman and was so exceptional that he was a seven-time All-Pro in 10 years of play. Wistert had similar credentials … only he was named All-Pro in eight of his nine years with Philadelphia, including six first-team nominations.
A first-team choice to the 1940s’ all-decade squad, Wister was also captain of the 1948-49 Eagles that won consecutive league championships. In 1948, they beat the Chicago Cardinals, 7-0. One year later, they blanked the L.A. Rams, 14-0. To this day, those Eagles are the only franchise n NFL history to win back-to-back league championships by shutouts.
And Al Wistert was a reason why.
A tackle who played offense and defense for 60 minutes, Wister had a significant role in the ’48 championship game – a contest that was played in a raging snowstorm and where the lone score was produced by Hall-of-Famer Steve Van Buren on a short run off right tackle.
The right tackle? Al Wistert, who helped Van Buren to four rushing titles.
“Al was the greatest offensive tackle I’ve ever seen or played with,” said former teammate Bosh Pritchard.
When Hall-of-Fame coach George Allen in 1982 wrote a book entitled Pro Football’s 100 Greatest Players, he named Wistert as one of the top 10 tackles of all time. OK, big deal, right? Well, yes, as a matter of fact. The other nine are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“He was as fine a blocker as you could want,” wrote Allen. “He didn’t have the size to overpower people, but he was a master of every kind of block. He was skilled, consistent, determined and resourceful. He was very much a high-quality player.”
His alma mater, the University of Michigan, thought so. He’s in its Hall of Fame. It also retired his jersey number. So did the Philadelphia Eagles, who put him in their Hall of Fame, called the Honor Roll. Even the city of Philadelphia joined in, naming him to its Sports Hall of Fame.
But the Pro Football Hall of Fame? We’re still waiting, though my guess is that it won’t be much longer. Though the Hall’s board of selectors passed on Wistert for over 50 years, its Centennial panel seems ready to do what selectors could not – and that’s put Al Wistert where he rightfully belonged years ago.
“The two things that would make my career complete,” he said in 2005, “is to be inducted into both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Philadelphia Eagles’ Honor Roll.”
The Eagles named him to their Honor Roll in 2009, but Wistert never realized his dream of reaching the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He died in 2016 at the age of 95.
Were he alive today, he’d turn 100 in December, and how appropriate to mark the 100th anniversary of the NFL by inducting one of its greatest players in the 100th year of his birth. It makes too much sense not to happen.
Follow on Twitter @ClarkJudgeTOF