"Too bad his career was cut short."
This comment, written in response to a story I wrote about Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene last week, caught my attention. It was about Lloyd, and how he was never the same after suffering a serious injury in Week One of the 1996 season. Lloyd, 31-years-old at the time, was fresh off of five straight Pro Bowl selections and three consecutive All-Pro nods and helping lead the Steelers defense during their run to the 1995 AFC Championship.
Lloyd was never the same following the injury to the Jaguars in 1996. He was a solid player in '97, starting each of his 12 games played while forcing and recovering three fumbles. But Lloyd's aura of invincibility was gone, and by 1998, the Steelers deemed him expendable. Lloyd played one season with Carolina and retired without much- or any -fanfare after the 1998 season at the age of 33.
While we all wish he could have played longer, Lloyd accomplished a great deal during his career, and he certainly made his mark on the NFL. In fact, one could argue that Lloyd's career resume is good enough for Hall-of-Fame induction.
Lloyd's Hall-of-Fame case is made even more convincing after the retirement of former 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, who retired earlier this offseason after eight years in San Francisco, at the age of 30. Many analysts have come out and said that Willis is a sure fire Hall-of-Famer. If that's the case, then Greg Lloyd is a Hall-of-Famer as well.
Lloyd's career is strikingly similar to Willis's. Willis played and started eight seasons in the NFL, while Lloyd played nine years and started eight before his injury. Willis was a seven-time Pro Bowl choice and five-time All-Pro player to Lloyd's five and three, respectively. Willis tallied 732 tackles and recorded 20.5 sacks compared to Lloyd's 707 and 54.5. Willis notched eight career interceptions to Lloyd's 11.
In regards to team accomplishments, Willis spearheaded the 49ers defense in San Francisco's runs to three consecutive NFC Championship Games that climaxed with San Francisco's trip to Super Bowl XLVII, losing a close game to Baltimore in Willis' lone Super Bowl. Lloyd anchored a devastating Pittsburgh defense that helped the Steelers clinch four consecutive playoff appearances, win three division titles, and reach two AFC Championship Games while advancing to Super Bowl XXX.
While both Willis and Lloyd were impact players, what really separates the two is turnovers. While Willis forced 16 fumbles and recovered five during his career, Lloyd forced a staggering 35 fumbles while recovering 16 more. During his dominant run from 1992-95, Lloyd forced at least five fumbles each year. While he was great at many facets of the game, Lloyd's ability to create turnovers was maybe his greatest asset, and something that set him apart from many of his peers. Lloyd's sheer force when he hit someone was both startling and effective. Lloyd hit with the intention of jarring the ball loose and creating a turnover, and on many occasions he did.
Lloyd certainly had more quality years left in him before his career was robbed of the ending it deserved. We all wanted to see more, and when Steelers fans enjoyed Lloyd's finest season in 1995, we had no idea we were watching the end of his greatness. But the way his career ended shouldn't overshadow what Lloyd did accomplish. If Lloyd would have retired following Super Bowl XXX, the media would have viewed Lloyd's career the same way they view Willis' career: a great player that retired prematurely but still worthy of the Hall-of-Fame.
Lloyd did enough in his nine healthy seasons to warrant inclusion into the Hall-of-Fame. Hopefully, when the Hall-of-Fame voters vote Willis in in five or six years from now, they'll re-check Lloyd's credentials and realize that No.95 is due a spot in Canton as well.