It started after the great news that Cortez Kennedy was finally elected to the Hall Of Fame. I was already asking myself - "what defines the men who enter this elite class?" I had had many a chat about the guys in there and how each selection is judged, and really, it's a complex topic that started the idea of Tier One players in the HOF and Tier Two players. Let me explain.
When a Tier One player is elected, these players are, beyond a doubt, greater in their eras than most, if not all, others at their respective positions. As coaches, the Tier One coach revolutionizes the sport and defines an organization for many years, often turning it from a nothing into a contender and at least winning one championship along the way.
Tier Two players and coaches really earn their elections on stats and consistent success without really separating themselves from the really good players or coaches. The Shaun Alexander debate was interesting, but I think if he were to get elected, he is one of these Tier Two players. I think Bill Belichick is a Tier Two coach. I say this even though he logged three championships, because he arrived in New England with a large part of that team already defined - with leaders intact like Teddy Bruschi, Lawyer Milloy, and Ty Law. He certainly organized and focused them, but to say he built that organization into it's success is just hard for me to see him in the same vein as a Bill Walsh or a Joe Gibbs or a Don Shula, all whom took over dead-last teams and drafted and revolutionized their teams to successful dynasties. And as we've seen the talent age and retire, Bill Belichick has failed to coach up any new, young, league standouts except a pair of tight-ends.
This opinion of mine is probably controversial, I realize that, but even the journalists make the distinction of "first ballot" for the HOF. So with all this mess, the complexities and all the drama that ensues on the topic, I decided to really take a look at the careers of the three Seahawks (Walter Jones will be a first ballot) who are or will be in the hall of fame and show the traits that each of them share.
1 - Near Perfection in their jobs: Snap one to snap 50+ in a game, Steve Largent and Cortez Kennedy and Walter Jones were better than the guy across from them. Not just a few plays, not just when it mattered most, these guys were better start to finish.
2 - Teams had to scheme around them. Here are some quotes about each guy from players and coaches.
Dan Reeves (then with the Broncos) - "Watching Steve Largent run patterns, it's like watching an artist at work. Even if you double him, there'll be a point in his patterns where he comes open, you just have to double him anyway."
Ray Rhodes on Walter Jones: "You really had to scheme knowing that you had no left defensive end. Walt was gonna just take him out of the game so you had to just treat your defense as if you had no one on that side and change your gameplan."
Brian Baldinger on Cortez Kennedy: "I heard about this guy a little bit coming into our game against the Seahawks, but it wasn't until the first play was called an he swatted me aside with little effort on a run that I went, 'Ummm, this guy is just a little different.' He wasn't just strong, he had quickness like you wouldn't believe."
John Madden also held the opinion that Walter Jones was the best player in football. Not just position wise, but the best player in the entire profession.
It's easy to see when I watched these three play why they were so regarded, and why, unlike with most stars, their play was not overblown by hyperbole.
When I watch Steve Largent, the greatest trait he had going for him was his quickness - everyone knows that - but unlike most of his counterparts who loved to show speed and blow by defenders, to explain Steve's best trait, I'll use this quote from poet John Wesley, "Though I am always in haste, I am never in a hurry."
Steve often beat his opponents by outlasting their wits. Getting them turned around just enough to give his QB a spot to throw to. He had pure concentration and could barely see a ball coming out of his break and make a slight adjustment to bring it in. Those most common reaction to watching him work was laughter, because his patience, his routes and his concentration left more than a few defenders with hilariously bad ankles.
When I watch Cortez Kennedy I am in awe of how a man 300+ moves that fast. He was not only relentless on the field, run or pass, he had a mentality that looked scary. Once, in a short yardage run, he pushed against a double team so hard he actually caught the running back as he went to leap over the pile. He was just so impressive to see in his prime years that it was not uncommon to see three assigned blockers on 'Tez for run or pass. And, if a QB got ballsy and thought he could hold the ball on 'Tez because he was doubled? - It usually resulted in the sound of crushed ribs, or as Steve Young once put it "I think it was 'Tez, but I know it was somebody fat."
Walter Jones, he's just a different animal when you talk HOF. The easiest stat anyone remembers is that Walter Jones gave up zero sacks in three full NFL seasons. Walter only gave up 23 in 11 full seasons, but just two sacks in the span of four years. He was so dominant at what he did that he could make All-Star pass rushers look like nobodies. Saying he was perfect would be a slight exaggeration, but not much of one.
Whether he faced the bull rushes of Julius Peppers or the many speedy tools of Dwight Freeney, Walter countered them all with ease. He wasn't without some competition there though, as he once quipped, heading into a 2007 game against the Ravens, (speaking about Jonathan Ogden) "Some say he's the best, some say it's me, I say it's me." The ease at with which he stated that can't be conveyed in the quote, but it made me chuckle when I heard him say it to Paul Silvi five years ago.
For me though, as a fan, as much as we rave about his pass blocking perfection, his run blocking is the most entertaining and shows all of his skills as a lineman. He was the best all-around blocker the Seahawks had. I contend that his decline had more impact on the running game than any other place on this team. My example of this is the famous 2005 Giants game, in which Osi Umenyora ended Walter Jones' sackless streak by picking up impressive back-to-back sacks. What people missed in that game is how Walter not only took care of business for the rest of the game, but also dominated Osi on some key runs, including the final 12-yard run that put Josh Brown into chipshot range.
The play actually looked like it's supposed to be a counter right - which would have centered the ball in the middle of the field for Brown, but the line got pushed around and Shaun tapped his feet a bit indecisively. At that instant, as though Walter realizes what had happened, he (70+ snaps in and 11 minutes of overtime) took Osi two yards toward the sideline with pure power, clearing a hole for Shaun to run through for a easy 12 yards.