NFL Special Teams and the Hall of Fame
We Asked Power Poll NFL.
Shane Lechler was voted one of the two punters on the NFL’s 100th anniversary team. In his first year of eligibility for the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the Class of 2023, Lechler didn’t even make the cut to the 28 semifinalists.
There have been 20 players in NFL history with Hall of Fame eligibility who made a pair of all-decade teams. Eighteen now have busts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and 13 went in on the first ballot. The only two players with a pair of all-decade honors not in Canton are kicking specialists – placekicker Gary Anderson and punter Sean Landeta, who made both the 1980s and 1990s all-decade teams.
Yet neither Anderson nor Landeta has ever been a finalist to have his candidacy discussed by the selection committee. Anderson is in now his 19th year of eligibility for the Hall and Landeta his 18th year – and neither one has even reached the semifinals of the process yet.
There are only three pure kicking “specialists” in Canton – placekickers Jan Stenerud and Morten Andersen and punter Ray Guy. Stenerud was elected in his first year of eligibility in 1991. Andersen, who at the time was the NFL’s all-time leading scorer, had to wait five years for his gold jacket. Guy was passed over during his entire 25-year window of modern-era eligibility before finally being enshrined as a senior candidate in 2014 after a 28-year wait.
NFL coaches will tell you special teams are a third of the game but the Hall of Fame has yet to buy into that concept. So that was the topic of this week’s NFL power poll – should the door be opened to kicking specialists for a spot in the finals?
In our first question, we asked our panel of NFL experts – former players, coaches, talent evaluators, writers and broadcasters – if once every five years a spot in the finals should be reserved for a kicker or a punter. Creation of such a spot received 115 yes votes, 106 no votes.
In our second question, we opened up the field a bit, including return specialists and coverage aces in the mix.
Billy “White Shoes” Johnson was named as a return specialist on both the NFL’s 75th and 100th anniversary teams. His candidacy has also never reached the finals – and he’s now been waiting 30 years for that chance. So, we asked in our second question if an automatic specialist spot should be created once every 10 years for a kicker, punter, return specialist or coverage ace. More were in favor of that window – 148 for, 73 against.
Dave Blezow, an associate editor of the New York Post, was a yes on both questions.
“I say yes in honor of the late Ray Guy, who in my opinion should have been a Hall of Famer the day he first became eligible,” he said. “These positions are represented in the all-pro, Pro Bowl and all-rookie awards and should at le1ast get some elevated consideration for Canton.”
Hall of Fame voter Barry Wilner was a yes on question one.
“Not only have such kickers as Adam Vinatieri and Justin Tucker been the best at their position and clutch performers – they have been as elite at their position as players at any other position who get consideration for the Hall of Fame. There needs to be a mechanism for special-teams standouts.”
Fellow Hall of Fame voter Bob Glauber concurred.
“I love this idea,” he said. “Special-teams players are an integral part of the game but it is next to impossible for them to gain admittance because there are only a limited number of spots that invariably go to position players.”
Ben Volin of Boston Globe Media cast a split vote – yes on question one, no on question two.
“I do believe kickers, punters and returners are under-represented in the Hall and deserve a special exception ever five years,” he said. “But I voted no on the second question because I do not believe special-teams aces like (Steve) Tasker and (Matthew) Slater deserve the same. As much immense respect as I have for both players, I do not believe their position requires a unique skill. I believe that many players would be successful at the position if their teams didn’t deem them too important to the offense/defense to play special teams.”
Deron Cherry, a 1980s all-decade safety for the Kansas City Chiefs as well as a special-teams standout, was a solid thumbs down to both questions.
“How is this fair to the every-down players that are not in the Hall of Fame but are waiting their turn,” he said. “These (kicking specialists) are players who contribute, yes, but at a much infrequent level. Kickers do impact the game more so you can have more deference to them. But keep the process the same. Clear the backlog of forgotten every-down players, then we can have that conversation.”
Bill Huber of Packer Central was a double no as well.
“Voters need to be more open-minded for the truly elite ones,” he said. “But how many snaps per game for those guys? Six? Should you have a special exemption for six snaps? No.”
Paul Dottino of WFAN says the process doesn’t need to be fixed -- the voters do.
“Why have educated voters habitually disregard elite special-teams players in the first place?” he said. “There shouldn’t be rules for them to earn well-deserved consideration.”
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