Hall-of-Fame stunner: Walls finally makes it as finalist
Four players in their first years of eligibility are among the 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2018 -- linebackers Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher, guard Steve Hutchinson and wide receiver Randy Moss. But they're not the story of this class.
Everson Walls is.
The former Dallas Cowboys' cornerback reached the list of 15 finalists for the first time in his life ... and his last time as a modern-era candidate ... and, no, that is not a misprint. In his 20th year of eligibility, Walls -- a guy who three times led the league in interceptions but had never been a semifinalist, let alone a finalist -- will have his candidacy discussed, and hallelujah.
It's about time. No, it's way past time.
And he'll have company in the Last Call Department. Former tackle Joe Jacoby of the Washington Redskins, also in his 20th and last year of eligibility, is among the Class of 2018 finalists -- with the group announced Tuesday night.
But Jacoby's been there before. In fact, he's been a finalist the past two years and was a Top-10 finisher in 2016. So what are his chances? And what are Everson Walls'? Keep reading.
LB Ray Lewis. The guy touched all the bases -- a 13-time Pro Bowler, 10-time All-Pro, two-time Defensive Player of the Year, two-time Super Bowl champion and Super Bowl MVP. In short, he wasn't just one of the best linebackers of his generation. He was one of the best linebackers of any generation. But what, you ask, about that tragedy in Atlanta? Forget it. Off-the-field and out-of-the-locker room incidents aren't allowed to be discussed. So it comes down to Lewis' play for the Baltimore Ravens, and he was such a dominant, physical performer for one of the most dominant, physical defenses anywhere that he's a cinch to make it as a first-ballot choice.
Has to be CB Everson Walls. The only cornerback and one of only two players in NFL history to lead the league three times in interceptions (safety Ed Reed was the other), Walls somehow fell through the cracks for the first 19 years of his eligibility. But then, when the curtain was about to drop, he somehow resurrected his candidacy and not only makes it as a semifinalist for the first time ... but as a finalist. That's the good news. The bad: He has stiff competition at the position in Ty Law, a Top-10 finalist a year ago.
Safeties LeRoy Butler and Steve Atwater not making it, with Roger Craig close behind. This is Craig's last year of eligibility as a modern-era candidate, so he now goes into a senior pile with far too many Hall-of-Fame worthy candidates waiting for a call that never comes. If there's solace, it's only this: At least Craig had his candidacy discussed. It happened in 2010. Atwater did, too, in 2016. But he's moved backward since then, and I don't get it. He was a first-team choice for the all-decade team of the 1990s. So was Butler, also one of the 27 semifinalists. Yet neither made the next cut, and here's why that makes no sense. They're the only members of the first-team 1990s' all-decade defense not in Canton and two of only three first-teamers from the 1990s' team, period, locked out. The other? Tony Boselli.
John Lynch or Brian Dawkins? The two played the same position (safety) and were Top-10 candidates a year ago. In fact, Lynch has been one the previous two years. This is Lynch's fifth try as a Hall-of-Fame finalist; it's Dawkins' second run ... but only because he's been eligible two years. The smart money is on a modern-era safety making it for the first time since 1998, when all-time interceptions leader Paul Krause was chosen. But who will it be -- Lynch or Dawkins? Each was chosen to nine Pro Bowls, but Dawkins was an all-decade choice. Lynch was not. Lynch was a Super Bowl champion. Dawkins was not. Look for a photo finish.
NO PASS RUSHER?
Nope. Leslie O'Neal and Simeon Rice were the choices, and neither made it. Of course, both were first-time semifinalists, so not moving to the next level isn't exactly a surprise ... except for this: In nine of the past 10 years at least one edge rusher was elected to Canton, including first-ballot choice Jason Taylor in 2017. And Taylor was the only pass rusher on the ballot.
FIVE THINGS YOU PROBABLY SHOULD KNOW
- Fourteen of the 17 finalists (includes senior candidates Jerry Kramer and Robert Brazile) were all-decade. Only Bruce, Walls and Lynch were not.
- Six all-decade choices were eliminated in the cut from 27 semifinalists to 15 finalists. They are first-teamers Richard Seymour, Atwater and Butler, as well as Torry Holt, Roger Craig and Ronde Barber.
- Eight of the 17 won championships, with Kramer's five the most. Jacoby and Law are next with three.
- There are no head coaches for the first time since 2011. No Don Coryell. No Jimmy Johnson. No nothing. Coryell and Johnson have been finalists, with Coryell reaching the final 15 the past three years -- including the Top-10 in 2016.
- Lewis' 13 Pro Bowls top everyone. Faneca, Lynch and Dawkins are next with nine each.
That would be the offensive line, where there are five candidates (tackles Tony Boselli and Jacoby, guards Alan Faneca and Hutchinson and center Kevin Mawae). Boselli and Mawae were Top-10 finishers for the Class of 2017, but having this many candidates at one position -- and, remember, guard Jerry Kramer is a senior nominee, so there are really six offensive linemen -- could create a logjam that confuses voters. Could all cancel each other out? Not likely, but possible.
LOGJAM, PART DEUX
That would be wide receiver, where Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Isaac Bruce comprise the list of finalists. Owens is a third-year finalist. Bruce is a second-year finalist. And Moss joins the party for the first time. Some voters will tell you that Moss is a slam dunk, a first-team all-decade receiver who deserves to jump the queue because he was ... well, unstoppable. Except this is also the guy who said, "I play when I want to play," and, guaranteed, if there's something that keeps him out this time around it's voters wrestling with that statement. Once upon a time, we had Andre Reed, Tim Brown and Cris Carter canceling each other out at this position. The same could happen here, with Bruce -- who wasn't an all-decade choice -- a longshot as a tiebreaker, only because Moss and Owens are so polarizing.
Running back Edgerrin James is back after failing to make the cut last year ... and don't ask me what happened then. He was a finalist in his first try for Canton in 2016. Then he failed as a semifinalist last year. But now he's back, and he should be. He was an all-decade choice who twice led the league in rushing, was a four-time All-Pro and Offensive Rookie of the Year and who is the Colts' all-time rushing leader. James is the only running back among the finalists, and that might bode well. There has been a running back chosen in each of the past three years.