Pop Quiz: Name the only Canton-eligible running back among the NFL's top ten all-time leading rushers who is not in the hall of fame.
If you guessed former Pittsburgh Steelers' running back Jerome Bettis, you would be correct (LaDanian Tomlinson will not be eligible for a few more years).
This year I was very disappointed in the choices for the 2013 NFL Hall of Fame class. Whereas all of the inductees were deserving, there continues to be players whose careers demand for admittance into Canton but continue to be passed by other players who make fans scratch their heads.
You can say that every year about some players and make arguments, but I have been completely perplexed over the past few years about who has and has not been inducted into the Hall of Fame. With this year's induction less than a month away now, I then wondered what may be in store for the Steeler I have liked the most over the past two decades, Hines Ward.
Now I have nothing against inducting the likes of Curtis Martin (a Pittsburgh native), Emmitt Smith (the all-time leading rusher of the NFL), Deion Sanders and Jerry Rice ahead of Bettis, but that is because these are legends that live in the record books and/or have a large number of Super Bowl rings. It does seem odd however when individuals such as Warren Sapp, Curley Culp and others not in that category go in before Bettis, who meets the standards of several recent inductees.
After three straight years where the hall admitted all-time leading rushers in Emmitt Smith, Marshall Faulk and Curtis Martin, I was sure that Jerome Bettis was next-in-line with the class of 2013. Knowing the inductees for 2013 now, I honestly cannot say when I think he will be inducted because every year it seems as if he would be a natural selection. The passing over of Bettis added to a long line of perplexing dismissals in recent years for me.
This year I was satisfied with Cris Carter (for anyone who may be wondering, yes, I do have his jersey), but I thought that was a decision long overdue. Larry Allen and Jonathan Ogden are all-time great offensive lineman, but I did not think they deserved to be taken in before the sixth leading all-time running back, Jerome Bettis. For the record, Michael Strahan also deserved to be inducted this year before Warren Sapp.
I say that because the rest of this article focuses on the Steelers. Hines Ward still has a few years left before he is declared to be eligible for a bust to be made in his honor in Canton, but I have a distinct feeling it will be many more years before that actually happens.
Why? Look at the only two Steelers receivers who are in the hall of fame. Lynn Swann is the MVP of Super Bowl X, part of the greatest draft class by a single franchise in league history and an owner of four Super Bowl rings was passed over every year from 1988 until his eventual induction in 2001. John Stallworth did not have a Super Bowl MVP to boast, but he was another major target for quarterback Terry Bradshaw , could have been the MVP of Super Bowl XIV and also owns four Super Bowl rings. Whereas neither receiver could be considered in the greatest-of-all-time discussion for the position in the history of the league, they were both spectacular players in their era.
That being said, Hines Ward eclipsed all their records and became the first Steelers receiver to gain 10,000 yards. He, like Swann, is a Super Bowl MVP and was part of multiple championship seasons for Pittsburgh. Despite his 1,000 receptions, 85 touchdowns and 12,000+ yards, Ward is most remembered for his hard hitting gritty style of play. He often was dubbed "the greatest blocking receiver in the NFL" and as nice of a title as it sounded, I always felt it was a back-handed compliment that took away from how big a play-maker he really was.
It is a concern of mine that this stigmatization of Ward will heavily impact any considerations he may have from Hall of Fame voters in the future. Whereas Bettis may be more of an immediate matter for Steeler fans when it comes to Ohio celebrations in August, it is my hope that fans won't have to see both these players still be candidates at the same time in a few years.