No one will ever convince me that Terrell Davis is not a Hall-of-Famer.
I witnessed in person what he did to the Steelers, slashing though Pittsburgh's defense for 139 yards in the 1997 AFC Championship Game. I remember how he terrorized the Packers two weeks later in Super Bowl XXXII, amassing 157 rushing yards in three quarters of work while playing with a migraine headache in the Broncos 31-24 triumph.
I remember the season that followed, when T.D. rushed for over 2,000 yards while sitting out most of his team's fourth quarters with the Broncos enjoying comfortable leads. I remember his seven-consecutive 100-yard playoff games that resulted in back-to-back championships for the Broncos in the late 90's.
It wasn't just his stats that convinced me of Davis' Hall-of-Fame credentials. It was the dominance in which he exuded nearly every time he touched the ball. He just seemed on an entirely different level than anyone else on the field, cutting and gliding through opposing defenses with the ease of Bo Jackson in the original Tecmo Bowl.
But this wasn't a video game. This was a real life athlete doing things on the NFL's biggest stages against the best defenses of that era. I understand his career was cut short, but when he played, I believe Terrell Davis did enough- a league rushing title, a 2,000-yard season, league and Super Bowl MVP awards- to earn himself a place among the NFL's immortal.
I felt the same way watching Jerome Bettis during the Bus' 10-year run in Pittsburgh. I wish every Steelers fan could have watched Bettis in his prime during the 1996 and '97 seasons. I'll never forget watching Bettis carry three Broncos defenders an additional seven yards down the field during a game in '97. Or how he literally carried the team on his back in an ugly overtime win in Arizona the week before. Or how he plowed over the Bengals in the snow in a December game that season. Bettis was just a cut above everyone else, and whenever the Bettis was in the game and the Steelers offense faced a third and short, you knew the Bus would deliver.
Even when he wasn't in his prime, Bettis just had those moments, those moments when you knew you were watching a once in a lifetime player. Everyone remembers his knockdown of Brian Urlacher in the 2005 duel with Chicago, but let's go back one season to 2004. Thought to be washed up, Bettis was back into the starting lineup for a pivotal Week 8 showdown with the 7-0 Eagles after Pittsburgh lost Duce Staley to an injury. As always, the Bus delivered, destroying the Eagles top-ranked rush defense for 149 yards as Pittsburgh prevailed, 27-3. Games like that just reinforced what I already knew, Jerome Bettis was a Hall-of-Famer.
Recently, I wrote a story discussing Greg Lloyd's Hall-of-Fame candidacy, and I was surprised to see many comments that said that while great, Lloyd's career wasn't worthy of a place in Canton. This made me wonder what people consider most when deciding someone's Hall-of-Fame worthiness.
I consider several things when trying to determine whether or not someone is a Hall-of-Famer, in my opinions. Of course, I look at stats, and while I don't hold them in the highest regard, a player that is being considered for the Hall must have decent numbers. I also look at their signature moments, something that surely helped Lynn Swann gain access to the Hall-of-Fame despite pedestrian career statistics. Swann's best moments occurred in the post season; he caught touchdown passes in three of the four Super Bowls he played in while making arguably the greatest catch in Super Bowl history (also think John Stallworth here; while his career numbers trump Swann's, that catch to win Super bowl XIV surely helped his case).
How the athlete was described by his peers goes a long way with me, too, especially if those players are from a rival team. The Steelers, for example, always raved about former Oilers Hall-of-Fame running back Earl Campbell, with Joe Greene saying that watching Campbell leave a game injured in 1978 was the only time in his career that Greene was happy to see an opposing player leave a game.
How a player did against the best competition is among the biggest things I look at when considering someone's Hall-of-Fame status. That's why I don't understand why former Raiders receiver Cliff Branch never made the Hall-of-Fame. Branch had decent regular season receiving numbers (even for back then when the passing game was light-years behind today's current passing attacks), and he was perhaps the only receiver that had Mel Blount's number. Branch played well in the Super Bowl, too, catching two touchdown passes in Super Bowl XV and recording 94 receiving yards and a score in the Raiders' win in Super Bowl XVIII.
Perhaps the biggest tool for figuring out someone's Hall-of-Fame legitimacy is talking to the people that watched them play in their prime. While I've watched hundreds of hours of Steelers highlights from the 1970's, I'll never be able to appreciate what those teams and individual players did the same way as people that watched it unfold when it was taking place. That's why when the older generation of Steelers fans tell me that L.C. Greenwood and Donnie Shell are deserving of the Hall-of-Fame, I believe them. There's something about witnessing greatness first hand that gets lost over the years, something you can only truly appreciate when you watch it unfold yourself. That's why, when my dad says that Jim Brown is the greatest running back of all-time, I don't argue with him, even though you better believe I want to.
I enjoy Hall-of-Fame discussions. It's a fun way to bridge generational gaps and educate each other in regards to players we enjoyed watching. But at the same time, I wish there was more of an official way to evaluate what makes a Hall-of-Fame career.
You've heard my benchmarks for considering what makes a Hall-of-Famer; what are yours?