If you need to be in witness protection or avoid enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame there’s an easy way to do it. Play guard in the National Football League. No matter how proficient you might be at that thankless job, you’re not likely to be noticed. Just take a look at Steve Wisniewski if you doubt this.
Wisniewski was one of the best guards in the NFL for more than a decade, starting in 206 of a possible 208 games during his 13-year career with the Los Angeles Raiders. He was named to eight Pro Bowls, which at the time tied for the most by a Raider, and was named first-team All-Pro twice and second team, six times. The reason for the latter was he was a contemporary of the two men who finished ahead of him in the balloting for the 1980s NFL All-Decade team, Hall of Famers Bruce Matthews (9-time All-Pro) and Randall McDaniel (also 9-time All-Pro).
Take those two greats out of the equation and Steve Wisniewski might already be in Canton himself. Whether he will ever make it however is questionable because he plays a stat-less position and one that Hall of Fame voters have not often shown favor to. But the real question should be, how does a guy who made eight Pro Bowls in 13 years and eight times was named to the All-Pro team NOT enshrined?
Wisniewski was the 29th player drafted in 1989 and learned quickly that pro football wasn’t Penn State, where he was a two-time All-American. Almost before the echo of his name being called died out so had his career with the team that selected him, the Dallas Cowboys. The same day he was traded to the raiders along with a sixth round pick for that draft’s 39th selection, fullback Daryl Johnson and third and fifth round selections. In the end, none of those other picks amounted to a hill of beans but Wisnewski became one of the best guards of his time and Johnston one of the league’s best blocking fullback on three Super Bowl champions.
Wisniewski was an immediate starter with the Raiders and was named to the 1989 All-Rookie team. A year later he went to the first of his eight Pro Bowls and began to emerge as a power blocker who was able to control the middle of an offensive line while also seldom missing an assignment for a game.
When Jon Gruden came to the Raiders he quickly fell in love with Wisniewski’s style and his talent and when Wisniewski announced he was retiring after 12 seasons, Gruden went on a training camp long campaign to talk him out of it. He succeeded and Wisneiwski came back for one last year, starting every game at left guard before re-retiring into life as a minister.
A minister? A Raider?
Yes Steve Wisniewski was the most unlikely minister in ecumenical history one might think. Or the least likely Raider, depending on your point of view. A born-again Christian and long-time member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Wisniewski was a gentle soul except for the hours in which he wore football pads. Then he was an old-school road grader with unusual agility and power.
“He’s extremely powerful,’’ Gruden once said of Wisniewski. “He’s gifted with great feet for a big man and he has an incredible aptitude for football. He can probably play any position on the line with ease.’’
At 6-4, 305 pounds, Wisniewski was a feared run blocker but also an adept pass blocker. Since Pro Football Reference began collating penalties in 1994, Wisnewski registered only 19 holding calls. That’s over a span of 112 games. Couple that with his ability to avoid injury and his onfield production and you have to wonder why not one time since he retired 18 years ago has his name been mentioned for Hall of Fame consideration. The reason why is obvious – he played the wrong position on a team that didn’t win a Super Bowl. His final loss came in the infamous “Tuck Rule’’ game that launched the Patriots dynasty and seemed to stall forevermore the Raiders. None of that should have kept Wisniewski away from a full hearing of his credentials during the past 13 years of eligibility. He still has a dozen years left so perhaps one day he will get to state his case in front of the 48 Hall of Fame voters. He play over 12 seasons of excellence certainly earned him that right.