Brian Dawkins is the only player in NFL history with at least 25 sacks, 25 interceptions and 25 forced fumbles. Terrell Owens is ranked second all-time with 15,934 yards receiving and third with 153 touchdown catches. Yet both Dawkins and Owens were on the outside looking in when the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced its class of 2017 on Saturday.
Who was inducted? Well, there's Terrell Davis, with all of four healthy season in the NFL. Then there's Morten Andersen, a kicker — seriously, a kicker.
It's not that Davis and Andersen don't have Hall of Fame resumes in their own right. Davis' career was cut short by injury, but rushed for over 2,000 yards in an MVP season in 1998 and helped carry the Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowl championships. Andersen holds the NFL records with 2,544 points scored and 382 games played. They're not entirely without merit.
Yet Davis' and Andersen's accomplishments pale in comparison to those of Dawkins and Owens. Dawkins revolutionized the safety position in the NFL and was the one constant on an Eagles defense during an era when the team went to five conference championship games and a Super Bowl. Owens is one of the most dominant, all-around wide receivers to ever play the game.
This is the part where we're supposed to say it's a no-brainer and we're shocked that the voters got this so wrong. But in all honesty, why should anybody be surprised? The selection committee has been reaching dubious conclusions for years.
In 2016, it was Tony Dungy, a head coach with a 9-10 record in the playoffs and one Super Bowl win. In 2015, it was Jerome Bettis, a running back who averaged 3.9 yards per carry over his career. 2014 was a real treat, for Eagles fans in particular, with Aeneas Williams getting in while Eric Allen goes overlooked despite a similar resume at cornerback, and Ray Guy, a punter — sure, the most famous punter of all-time, but a punter nonetheless.
What exactly is the criteria here? Because none of Davis, Dungy, Bettis or Williams were historically great players by any measure, at least not to the degree of a Dawkins or Owens. Andersen and Guy are specialists, which shouldn't necessarily preclude them, but that's two in a span of four years, the latest making it over some especially worthy candidates.
It sure seems like the criteria that matters is who can gain favor with the selection committee. That explains why Marvin Harrison was enshrined over Owens last year despite having lesser numbers at the same position.
Should Owens' behavior be a factor? Perhaps, if only because you can make the argument that his penchant for disruption negated a lot of the good he did on the field. Only at what point does his case not boil down to the simple fact that there have been few if any wide receivers in the history of the game who were better, and the proof is in the numbers?
Dawkins' snub, on the other hand, is a bit more of a mystery. He was a tremendous presence in the Eagles locker room and has a squeaky-clean reputation off the field.
Apparently, there's a feeling that John Lynch being a finalist in the same year hurt Dawkins, as the two safeties canceled each other out, creating a "logjam" at the position as one reporter referred to it. Except Dawkins was far better than Lynch — 1,131 tackles, 26 sacks, 37 interceptions and 37 forced fumbles to 1,051 tackles, 13 sacks, 26 interceptions and 16 forced fumbles. Also, there's only seven pure safeties in the Hall to begin with.
There's about to be a logjam at safety though, when Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu become eligible in the next few years. That's why it probably would've been a good idea to take Dawkins' seriously now rather than punt and elect a kicker who has no peers and is retired for a decade. Maybe that's not a reflection of how the process actually works, yet it's difficult to make sense of how this went down.
Maybe when Dungy or Bettis or Williams and Guy were enshrined, there wasn't really anybody else on the ballot who was beating down the door. Not the case in '17. In addition to Dawkins and Owens, some outstanding candidates were overlooked this time around, like Ty Law and Tony Boselli.
It's not getting easier for any of these guys, so when candidates with obvious holes in their resume like an extremely abbreviated career or being a kicker are chosen, you have to wonder about the thought process.
As it turns out, it's almost certainly political. We know for a fact it is with Owens. For Dawkins, it's not as clear, although you have to wonder if some of the voters view him in the same light as Lynch, Reed or Polamalu, all of whom have their Super Bowl rings, unfair though that might be.
Whatever the reasoning, the voters got this one wrong. With nine invitations to the Pro Bowl, Dawkins made the trip just one fewer time than Davis and Andersen combined. If nothing else, Owens certainly has the pair beaten in terms of the "Fame" aspect.
Apparently, the Pro Football Hall of Fame isn't about numbers or greatness or fame at all these days. Instead, it's all about the whims and preferences of the selection committee it seems.