Selectors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame love edge pass rushers. So why don’t they love Simeon Rice?
The former Tampa Bay and Arizona star ranks 20th in all-time sacks with 122, with 10 or more in eight of his 12 pro seasons. Yet he’s never been a finalist for Canton and was a semifinalist just once (2018).
Considering the track record of Hall-of-Fame voters, that doesn’t add up. They're so partial to edge pass rushers that they inducted nine modern-era candidates in a 10-year period (2008-2017) – including former Miami star Jason Taylor, a surprising first-ballot choice after he was named second-team all-decade for the 2000s.
Yet they won’t budge on Rice or former Chargers’ defensive end Leslie O’Neal.
O’Neal’s 132.5 sacks tie him with Lawrence Taylor and Terrell Suggs at 13th all-time, yet, like Rice, he’s never been a finalist and was a semifinalist just once (2018). I mention him because he and Rice are the only Hall-of-Fame eligible pass rushers in the top 20 who aren’t in Canton.
And they’re not close.
I’m serious. Neither was included on the Hall’s preliminary list of 126 candidates in 2014. And while that changed a year later when a couple of voters drew the Hall’s attention to the oversight, it’s an indication of where these two are on voters’ radar.
They’re not, and don’t ask me why.
For starters, Rice’s 122 sacks are more than Charles Haley (100.5), Andre Tippett (100), Warren Sapp (96.5) and Howie Long (88), and they're in in the Hall of Fame. Rice is not. Yet his 28 forced fumbles are more than Haley and Sapp, and his six in 2006 led the league.
But there’s more. He was four-time All-Pro. He was a Super Bowl champion. He was the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. And he was so dominant during his career that in his 2014 induction speech former Tampa Bay teammate Derrick Brooks called him “one of the best – if not THE best – pass rushers of my generation.”
Yet Hall-of-Fame voters are deaf to the noise, and maybe, just maybe, it’s because of the company Rice kept. As a member of the 2002 Tampa Bay Bucs, he was surrounded by greats on defense. Brooks was a first-ballot Hall choice. So was Sapp. Safety John Lynch has been a six-time Hall-of-Fame finalist. And cornerback Ronde Barber has been a semifinalist the first two years of eligibility.
That’s four Hall-of-Fame worthy defenders from one defense, and, I don't know, but Hall voters may figure that’s enough. I mean, look at the 1985 Chicago Bears. They have three defensive starters in Canton. The 2000 Baltimore Ravens have two. Like Tampa Bay, both were dominant defensive teams, yet won only one Super Bowl with those units.
Or maybe it’s a perception that Rice was a one-dimensional player, with NFL historian John Turney of Pro Football Journal reporting that Rice had a relatively low 38.5 run stuffs (tackles for losses on running plays) during his career. By comparison, the Giants’ Michael Strahan had 84.5, and O’Neal had 73.5.
Then again, it might have something to do with Rice not being an all-decade choice. Of course, that shouldn’t preclude him from getting to Canton. It simply makes his path more difficult. But look who was chosen to that team: Strahan, Jason Taylor, Dwight Freeney and Julius Peppers each had more sacks than Rice, and all but Strahan had more forced fumbles.
So he was in an elite field of pass rushers, and I get it. What I don’t get is why we keep ignoring him and Leslie O’Neal when it comes to advancing their candidacies. O’Neal never was part of a championship team, but so what? Neither was Jason Taylor.
But Rice was. In fact, he was a critical part of a defense that was the first since the 1985 Bears to lead the league in total defense, points allowed and interceptions and that held opposing quarterbacks to a 48.4 passer rating.
So what’s not to like?
“I know I was a Hall-of-Fame player,” Rice told the Talk of Fame Network in 2016. “If I could do it all over again and have a career like (I had), I would. I ushered in a whole ‘nother level of defense, with the Jason Taylors and Jevon Kearses and Dwight Freeneys … all those hybrid, fast-speed guys. I was the first one. And then that was the mold. And they looked for those guys after that.”
I don’t know about that. What I do know is that Simeon Rice once was recognized as an elite pass rusher, one of the league’s best. It’s time Pro Football Hall-of-Fame voters notice him, too, and make him something more than a one-time semifinalist.
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