Wednesday, July 31, 2019

What a Nightmare—How Can HOF Voters Separate the OLBers with So Many Excellent Ones?

By John Turney
With the upcoming 2020 Centennial Class for the Hall of Fame, we've read quite a few named that are being pushed or looked at. Many of them are outside linebackers. And for the life of us, they are hard to distinguish one from another. Their credentials are all similar.

Here are the current OLBers in the Hall of Fame.
(click to enlarge)

Here is a long list of some modern-era and some senior candidates.
(click to enlarge)

In the 1960s there were not true All-Pro teams, really, until 1969. Most of the selections for outside linebackers in the era are All-NFL and All-AFL selections. Five of the first six we list fall under that category.

Mike Stratton was a Second-team All-1960s for the AFL and was All-AFL four times. Larry Grantham's credentials are almost identical to Stratton's. But it's hard to gauge greatness in terms of honors with both leagues picking All-League teams

Bill Forester, Joe Fortunato and Dan Currie were corner linebackers (as they were called then) around more famous middle linebackers. They would have been competing for All-Pro honors in the early-1960s before there were combined All-AFL/NFL teams. So who was better? Hard to tell.

Maxie Baughan has nine Pro Bowls, which is the most among the waiting linebackers, and he has three All-Pro seasons, though none were consensus. He is seemingly getting some traction based on some recent articles. However, the negatives would be that a couple members of the Fearsome Foursome didn't think any of the Rams linebackers were "very good" and that the line and secondary had to cover for them some. Perhaps he was better with the Eagles.
Still, it seems Chuck Howley is the strongest candidate his honors are about the same as Dave Robinson, Dave Wilcox, and Chris Hanburger—the outside 'backers from his era. His stats are very similar as well.

So the question is why has Howley been overlooked? We don't know. Pro Football Researcher Association's founder, Bob Carroll, was a big fan for Howley. Though he admitted a personal bias in that they had a West Virginia connection.  Howley also has the endorsement of Paul Zimmerman who says Jack Ham and Howley were the two best cover linebackers he ever saw and as far as we know there is not a West Virginia connection there.

We could be wrong but it seems Howley has not gotten as many recent mentions as Baughan and we can only speculate it's because there are two other Cowboys who were 1970s All-Decade picks (Cliff Harris and Drew Pearson) who have gotten a lot of buzz. However, even though Howley wasn't All-1960s you could argue he would have been a better choice than Larry Morris. Nonetheless, for whatever reason Howley wasn't All-Decade but he was All-Pro more often than Harris and Pearson and has a ring and also a Super Bowl MVP. It will be interesting to see how it shakes out.

Clay Matthews
Clay Matthews is still a modern candidate so he's not in the so-called 'senior swamp'—but his time is running out. He was named by Mike Giddings as one of the two outside linebackers of his scouting service's era that is Hall of Famer-worthy. He was a linebacker who was more of a complete/cover 'backer earlier in his career but evolved as a guy who put in hand in the dirt on third downs as a rush backer-type. We won't hear about his candidacy until later in the Fall when the modern candidates are narrowed to 25, then in January when they are cut to 15.

Carl Banks is interesting in that he has very few honors—One All-Pro season (though his 1989 season was certainly All-Pro level) and was a Second-team All-Decade. He has two rings and was a tremendous run-stopping strong-side linebacker in the Giants 3-4 defense. However, he's had almost no HOF buzz since he became eligible for the HOF in 2001.

Rams outside linebacker Isiah Robertson has quite a few honors but many of his Rams teammates thought he made to many errors to be a HOFer. Yes, he made some huge plays, too, but was not consistent enough.

The rest of the players have some good things about them, but may not have the numbers, honors, and testimonials of some of the one's we've mentioned.  But, we could be wrong, there could be a darkhorse among them.

Art by Merv Corning


  1. Was Hanburger that much better than Howley? Doubtful.

  2. Howley just seemed to make so many big plays from the films I saw, and though undersized, Lee Roy Jordan made alot of plays as well, because the Cowboys always had a stout run defence at that time, and it wasn't just Lilly.
    That's what hurts alot of Cowboy defenders, the dominance of Lilly.
    George Andrie and Jethro Pugh had great careers as well, especially Andrie in the postseason, like Howley.

    He may not have been the best tackler, but Don Shinnick of the Colts, has always fascinated me, with his pass coverage/ballhawking skills...He still is the all-time leading interceptor amongst linebackers. I believe if he had hung on to his interception of Namath, that he dropped, early in the second quarter, the Colts might have scored, though Sauer of the Jets, deserves credit for keeping Shinnick from getting it.

  3. In Super Bowl III...The game that could have helped put other Colts like Boyd and Curtis, in the HOF

  4. Herb Adderley said that Howley was just as good as Dave Robinson, having played alongside both guys. Wilcox & Robinson better at point of attack, whereas Howley was more of a ducker/diver, but Howley was better than Hanburger IMO. Excelled at both LLB & RLB, didn't get his first All-Pro until age 30, and if he doesn't stumble out of bounds in SB VI and scores a TD, does he make the HOF?

  5. I have always felt Greg Lloyd has been historically underrated and forgotten since he retired.

    1. Three time consensus all pro which puts him in with this group, but obviously he's a modern guy. Unfortunately was shortened by injury and a nasty staff infection that ended it for him. The other excellent modern forgotten name is Wilber Marshall.

  6. Rick Gosselin has openly stated that Howley's lack of an All Decade selection has hurt his candidacy. He has said that it is hard to support a player who has been bypassed by previous HOF voters and those who selected the All Decade team. I completely disagree with this but I think Gosselin has in some ways been an impediment to Howley's possible induction.

    1. I hadn't heard that, but we've tried to do posts showing that the All-Decade teams are a great honor, but that there have been errors. Howley should have been All-1960s over Larry Morris, for example.

  7. TBH, none of these guys really jumps out at me as someone who simply must be in the HOF. I wouldn't complain if Howley were inducted but, as for the others, meh. I think your headline implies it--"Many Excellent Ones," but "excellent" does not equal "great."

  8. not only does howley numbers match up with those guys , with the exception of robinson and the great packer teams of the 60's howley was on some great cowboy teams that were in back to back nfl champ games , and went to 2 super bowls won 1 and howley was the 1st defensive player too win the award and the 1st and only player ever of a losing team too win the award . how does hamburger and wilcoxs get in before him ? he had more hardware and team success than those guys did . the hall needs to get this right !!!

  9. at the end of the day I really hope the hall doesn't turn into PARTICAPATION TROPHY CENTRAL everybody cant get in and too me the great ones too the ones that played at a high level for a long time deserve too be in not guys that were maybe all pro 1 year and a few pro bowls and then just just was a good player for the next 4 to 5 years doesn't belong in the hall .

  10. fearsome 4some didnt think the backers were any good...WHO THE F TOLD YOU THAT? baughan ran the rams D, deacon jones...while a ridiculous athlete didn't know his left from right and was lost w/o baughan on the field...merlin olsen, well he was merlin for the remaining two of the 4'some...rosey grier/lamar lundy...nice players...oh, when did they really become the "4'some", when George Allen went to LA, and oh by the way traded for Baughan who helped Allen install his Defense...taking the Rams, a perennial "average" team to one of, if not the best teams in the league. so happens i know a bit about mr. baughan, and i've NEVER, EVER seen ANYTHING written or said by one the 4'some saying the backers "were'nt very good"...PLEASE get some proof and prove me wrong....

    1. Merlin Olsen and Deacon Jones told me that. And for you to say Deacon Jones "didn't know his left from right" is crazy stupid.

      I don't think you "happens to know a bit about Mr. Baughan". Nothing that matters, anyway.

    2. told you?
      well, simple google search shows no article you wrote r/e merlin or deacon as saying this. so, it's buried deep someplace never wrote nor quoted them as saying this and we're left with your "they told me...". that's convenient...again, prove me wrong...

      crazy stupid? no, just know the facts...

    3. Who are you? And why do you have any gravitas on this subject? And I don't control Google and no idea why it doesn't return this article...

      So yes, crazy stupid and you don't know the facts. And maybe don't even know who to use Google properly.

  11. oh, another small point...all decade teams, 1960's, backers...butkus, morris, nitschke, nobis and robinson...combined pro bowls during the decade, 10...BAUGHAN, 9 ALONE...wait, what...really...?
    the all decade team had a total pro bowl number of 10, just one more than someone not selected for the team...YEA, that makes sense...maybe it has something to do with who's selecting the team? those that play and coach the game as the pro bowl team was in the 60's or those who write about the game as the hof all decade teams are selected?

  12. Yes Howley and Baughan stir up some interesting debate...Let me ask you John, what did Olsen and Jones think of Jack Reynolds ?
    I thought he was an underrated MLB that helped two teams to the SB, and has a HOF case. Can't wait for your article on MLBs, or have I missed it...Brian Wallace, fan of this site.

    1. Jones didn't really play with Hack. Olsen did, but the deal on hacksaw was he was a computer on the field. He was a 2-down LB...great vs the run, always in right place, but was limited in coverage. Usually left field in nickel. Very worthy of the HOVG. His height and speed were his liabilites. His smarts and good leverage and tackling ability were is positives.

  13. Was hacksaw Reynolds closer to 5-11 height wise. I see him listed at 6-1.

  14. I thought so. You don't see a legit 6-1 backer referred to as not tall enough.

  15. John Turney......I love and respect your work.

    One question......are you penalizing Lawrence Taylor for something?

    Taylor's actually got a total of 10 total First-team and Second-team All-Pro selections instead of 9.

    His First-team All-Pro selection total is 9.

    Unanimous First-team All-Pro selection - 6 (1981-1986)
    Consensus First-team All-Pro selection - 2 (1988, 1989)
    Minority First-team All-Pro selection - 1 (1987)

    Second-Team All-Pro selection - 2 (1987, 1990)

    So Taylor has

    Years Consensus 1st-Team All-Pro - 8 years
    Years 1st-Team All-Pro - 9 years
    Years 1st or 2nd Team All-Pro - 10 years

    1987 was Taylor's weakest year, plus he only played 12 games. I notice Pro Football Reference doesn't recognize Taylor's singular 1st-team vote in 1987. Is this because they only recognize the best 2 OLBs for the 1st-team?

    I see the same treatment given to OLB Derrick Thomas and CB Deion Sanders.