For decades, I thought the best player not enshrined in the Hall of Fame was Green Bay guard Jerry Kramer.
Voted by the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee as the greatest guard in the NFL’s first half century, Kramer sat through 10 trips to the finals without getting selected. Then he sat in the senior pool for 19 years before the senior sub-committee decided to bring him out one last time in 2018. He was elected to that Class of 2018, ending a 45-year wait.
With Kramer finally in Canton, I thought the best player not enshrined in the Hall was Kansas City safety Johnny Robinson.
Robinson was the only member of the 1960s NFL all-decade team not enshrined. Like Kramer, he won multi-championships in his career, except that he did it in the AFL. He also had the stats – 57 career interceptions. He was a six-time finalist, then sat in the senior pool for 18 years before the senior sub-committee decided to bring him out one final time in 2019. He was elected to that Class of 2019, ending a 43-year wait.
With Robinson enshrined, I again get asked who’s the best player (in the senior pool) not enshrined in the Hall of Fame. My answer is no longer that cut-and-dried as in the past. Because I’m no longer sure who that is.
There are seven first-team all-decade players in the senior pool. Is it one of them: wide receiver Lavern Dilweg (1920s), guard Ox Emerson (1930s), guard Bruno Banducci or tackle Al Wistert (1940s), wide receiver Drew Pearson or safety Cliff Harris (1970s)? How about tackle Jim Covert (1980s)? All deserve to be in the discussion.
Linebacker Maxie Baughan also deserves to be in the discussion. He’s one of only three players in the senior pool who went to nine Pro Bowls and still isn’t enshrined. But he’s the only one who played the bulk of his career in the NFL.
In fact, all nine of Baughan’s Pro Bowls came during the 1960 decade. He went to those nine Pro Bowls in a 12-year career. The other two nine-time Pro Bowlers, offensive linemen Jim Tyrer and Walt Sweeney, played the bulk of their careers in the AFL. Sweeney went to nine Pro Bowls in 13 seasons and Tyrer nine in 14 seasons.
But Baughan has never even been a Hall of Fame finalist to have his candidacy discussed.
Quarterback Ken Anderson deserves to be in the discussion. He was the first quarterback to complete 70 percent of his passes in a single season (1982) and won four NFL passing titles, two each in the 1970s and the 1980s. He took his team to a Super Bowl and was the league’s most valuable player in 1981. He’s been a Hall of Fame finalist twice but now finds himself in the senior pool. His wait is at 27 years and counting.
Ken Riley ranks second among pure cornerbacks in interceptions with 65. Yet he has never been a finalist. His wait is at 31 years now. Randy Gradishar, Alex Karras, Bobby Dillon, Chuck Howley, Ed Sprinkle, Tommy Nobis, Pat Fischer, Louis Wright, Donnie Shell… I think all deserve a fairer shake than they have received from the process thus far. And if you want to go back even further, Duke Slater from the 1920s and Bucko Kilroy from the 1940s should enter the discussion.
The best player not in Canton is now a tougher call. I’m undecided. Who do you think? Let me know either on Twitter or in the comments section.