Canton’s Most Glaring (And Forgotten) Omissions
Ed Budde, Maxie Baughan & Eddie Meador among the most worthy senior candidates
We call the senior pool for the Pro Football Hall of Fame “the abyss.”
There are so many Hall of Fame-worthy candidates there who have slipped through the cracks of their 25-year windows of modern-era eligibility and are now longshots to ever get busts in Canton.
There are 58 all-decade players currently in the senior pool, two members of the NFL’s 50th anniversary team, a member of the 100th anniversary team, nine NFL MVPs and five Defensive Players of the Year. Of those 75 players, only seven have ever been finalists for their careers to be discussed and debated by the Hall’s full selection committee.
Jim Porter, the Hall’s new president, recognized the issue and bumped the number of senior nominations from one to three for the next three years. Chuck Howley, Joe Klecko and Ken Riley have already been selected as the three senior candidates for the Class of 2023.
But even three per year is not going to break up the logjam. It’s merely a wink of acknowledgement.
I’ve been on the senior committee for 19 years now and we’ve been able to address some of the most glaring omissions, including first-team all-decade selections Jack Butler, Jerry Kramer, Johnny Robinson, Cliff Harris and Drew Pearson.
If Porter asked me to identify the next 12 senior candidates for consideration for the Class of 2024, my list would include what I consider the best quarterback, running back, tight end, tackle, guard, outside linebacker, inside linebacker and safety not in Canton. These are the 12 names I’d give him:
QB Ken Anderson. The 1981 NFL MVP. Anderson was the first quarterback of the game’s modern era to complete better than 70 percent of his passes in a single season. Only six quarterbacks in history have won at least four passing titles: Sammy Baugh (6), Steve Young (6), Len Dawson (4), Roger Staubach (4), Aaron Rodgers (4) and Anderson (4). The first four have busts in Canton and Rodgers is a likely first-ballot selection. That leaves Anderson, who won his first two passing titles in the in the 1970s (1975, 1976) and then five years later won two more in the 1980s (1981, 1982). Anderson took the Bengals to their first Super Bowl in 1982 and passed for 300 yards and two touchdowns in a 26-21 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. If Cincinnati won that game, Anderson would likely already have his gold jacket. He has been eligible for 32 years now.
HB Larry Brown. The 1972 NFL MVP. An eighth-round pick in Vince Lombardi’s only draft with the Redskins in 1970, Brown rushed for 888 yards as a rookie to finish fourth in the NFL and help deliver Washington its first winning season in 14 years. He followed that up with a 1,125-yard effort in 1970, becoming the first Redskin to win an NFL rushing crown in 32 years. Brown gained 948 more yards in 1971 to propel the Redskins into their first post-season in 26 years. Then Brown rushed for an NFC-best 1,216 yards with 12 touchdowns in 1972. He was named the NFL MVP as the Redskins advanced to the first Super Bowl in franchise history. A four-year window of greatness earned Terrell Davis a bust in Canton. Brown deserves the same consideration. Brown enters his 43st year of eligibility without ever having been a finalist.
TE Ron Kramer. There were 43 players named to the NFL’s 50th anniversary team. Forty-one now have busts in Canton. Kramer is one of only two who does not – and he’s never even been a finalist for his career to be discussed. Tight ends are judged in today’s NFL by their receiving abilities. In Kramer’s era they were judged on their blocking. Vince Lombardi called him “an extra tackle” in Green Bay’s famed power sweep that delivered the Packers a dynasty in the 1960s with five NFL championships. Kramer also was an asset in the passing game, catching 229 passes in his career. He averaged better than 15 yards per catch during his time with the Packers. First-ballot Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez averaged 11.4 yards per catch. Kramer is now in his 52nd year of eligibility.
OT George Kunz. Kunz was the second overall pick of the 1969 draft – only four offensive tackles in history were selected higher — and delivered on his lofty draft standing. He started as a rookie on a bad Atlanta team (6-8) but was still voted to the Pro Bowl, then went to seven more Pro Bowls in the 1970s. Kunz went to as many Pro Bowls in the 1970s as all-decade selections Art Shell and Ron Yary and more than the other two all-decade tackles Dan Dierdorf (5) and Rayfield Wright (6). Those four are among the 33 offensive tackles with busts in Canton. But no Kunz. “I don’t know how many offensive tackles there are in the Hall of Fame,” long-time NFL coach Ted Marchibroda once told me. “It’s hard to rate those guys 1-2-3-4-5-6-7. But I’ll tell you what – George Kunz is among the top seven. He was that good.” Kunz is now in his 38th year of eligibility without ever having been a finalist.
G Ed Budde. Of the 23 position players named to the NFL’s 1960s all-decade team, 22 now have busts in Canton. Of the 22 players named to the AFL’s 1960s all-decade team, only 10 have busts in Canton – and three of those got in as seniors. Budde has been one of the most glaring omissions. He went to eight Pro Bowls in a blocking front that helped deliver the Kansas City Chiefs the most victories (87) and championships (three) in the AFL’s 10-year history. The other guard from the all-time AFL team, Billy Shaw of Buffalo, was enshrined as a senior candidate. There has never been a question about Budde’s ability. He was the fourth overall pick of an NFL draft. He should not be punished for choosing to play in the AFL. Joe Namath, Lance Alworth and Bobby Bell were not punished. Budde is now in his 43rd year of eligibility without ever once having been a finalist.
DE Harvey Martin. Martin set a Dallas franchise record with 23 sacks in 1977 on the way to becoming the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Those 23 sacks would be the NFL-single season record…except that the league didn’t start counting sacks until 1982. So Hall of Famer Michael Strahan is credited with the NFL sack record of 22 ½. Martin collected another 17 1/2 sacks in the playoffs, which would be the post-season record….except that the NFL didn’t start counting sacks until 1982. So Willie McGinest is credited with the post-season sack record of 16. Martin was the Super Bowl MVP in 1978 and was named to the 1970s NFL all-decade team. He retired in 1984 with 114 career sacks. He has been eligible for the Hall for 35 years now without ever having been a finalist.
DT Tom Sestak. Another of the AFL omissions. Sestak only played seven seasons — but the selection committee has warmed to the idea of short-career players of late with the inductions of Tony Boselli, Terrell Davis, Kenny Easley and Kurt Warner. Sestak went to the Pro Bowl in four of his seven seasons and was a first-team all-pro in three of them. He led the AFL with 15 ½ sacks in 1964 and retired with 52 in his career. He also scored three touchdowns on interceptions and a fumble recovery. Like Kramer, Sestak has been waiting five decades for his candidacy to be discussed as a finalist for the first time.
OLB Maxie Baughan. Baughan became a walk-in starter for the Philadelphia Eagles as a rookie in 1960, won an NFL championship and was voted to the Pro Bowl that season. It was the first of nine Pro Bowls Baughan attended in the 1960 decade. He went to five Pro Bowls in the Eastern Conference with the Eagles and four more in the Western Conference with the Los Angeles Rams. But there was no all-decade acclaim for Baughan. The five linebackers selected to the 1960s NFL all-decade team went to a combined 12 Pro Bowls. Baughan played 12 seasons, intercepted 18 passes, recovered 10 fumbles and sacked 24 ½ quarterbacks. He retired after the 1970 season but was coaxed back four years later by George Allen to provide Washington veteran leadership for one more season. Baughan has been eligible for the Hall for 44 years now without ever having been a finalist.
ILB Randy Gradishar. The 1978 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Gradishar has a resume without any holes. He never missed a game in his 10 seasons. He started his final nine seasons and was voted to the Pro Bowl in seven of them. He was a first-team all-pro twice and a second-teamer on three other occasions. He was the face of Denver’s Orange Crush defense of the mid-to-late 1970s that ranked among the best in NFL history – yet there isn’t a single player from that unit in the Hall of Fame. He authored 33 career takeaways with 20 interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries. He converted four of his takeaways into touchdowns. He had five 200-tackle seasons and 2,000 tackles in his career. “Randy is as good a linebacker as I’ve ever been around – and I’ve been around some good ones,” said Dan Reeves, who spent 39 seasons in the NFL as a player and coach. Gradishar is in his 36th year of eligibility.
CB Dave Grayson. Yet another of the AFL omissions. Grayson played 10 seasons – his first nine in the AFL and his last in the NFL in 1970. His 48 career interceptions stand as an AFL record and he returned five of them for touchdowns. Grayson won an AFL title with the Dallas Texans in 1962 and another with the Oakland Raiders in 1967. He was voted to six Pro Bowls in his 10 seasons and was a surprising snub in 1968 when he led the AFL with 10 interceptions. Grayson also became a four-time first-team all-pro. Hall-of-Fame cornerbacks Champ Bailey was a first-team all-pro three times, Mel Blount just twice and Darrell Green once. Grayson also returned 110 career kickoffs, averaging 25.4 yards with one touchdown. He has been eligible for the Hall of Fame for 48 years now without ever having been a finalist.
S Eddie Meador. There were three safeties named to the 1960s NFL all-decade team and two of them have long-since been enshrined, Larry Wilson and Willie Wood. Like Grayson, Meador is in his 48th year of eligibility without ever having been a finalist for his career and candidacy to be discussed. Meador retired after the 1970 season. Fifty-two years later, he still holds the franchise records for interceptions (46), fumble recoveries (22) and blocked kicks (10). If you’re keeping score – that’s 68 career takeaways. That’s 29 more than first-ballot Hall-of-Fame safety Troy Polamalu and 20 more than safety LeRoy Butler from the Class of 2022. Meador was a four-down player, serving as the personal protector on punting downs and the holder on placement kicks. He both ran and passed for touchdowns on fakes. “You cannot replace Eddie Meador,” said Hall of Fame coach George Allen upon Meador’s retirement following the 1970 season. “He’s the best safety in football.”
KR Billy “White Shoes” Johnson. There were 100 players named to the NFL’s 100th anniversary team. Ninety-three have busts in Canton. Six of the remaining seven (think Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Larry Fitzgerald) are not eligible for the Hall yet. That leaves Johnson as the lone player from the 100th anniversary team eligible for the Hall but still without that gold jacket. The selection committee has historically been reluctant to enshrine special teamers. Only two pure placekickers and one punter have busts. No return specialist has been inducted despite the fact Johnson was named to two NFL all-decade teams (1970s & 1980s) as well as both the 75th and 100th anniversary teams. He returned 405 career kickoffs and punts and scored eight touchdowns.