Canton: Arguments for, against Harrison
In the wake of the retirement of Rodney Harrison last week, there has been considerable and emotional discussion about his Pro Football Hall Of Fame candidacy.
Some of the best written debate came from old buddy Jim Donaldson of The Providence Journal, who penned a terrific, objective and dispassionate column delineating Harrison's strengths and weaknesses. Donaldson concluded that the 15-year veteran defender is shy of the credentials necessary to merit Hall of Fame induction.
When Harrison is presented in at least five years (the required waiting period for retired players) for potential Hall of Fame induction, we will consider, as a member of the board of selectors, his candidacy with an open mind. But for now, a week removed from his NFL departure, Harrison is probably deserving of inclusion into what Sports Illustrated's Peter King once dubbed "The Hall of Very Good."
Pasquarelli: What are the odds?
Here is a look at the Hall Of Fame induction odds for each man who has retired in 2009. Keep in mind that the odds don't reflect a player or coach's achievements in the league, but rather his chance of gaining induction into the Hall of Fame. Vote on their chances by clicking here.
ODDS: 1-2 COACH TONY DUNGY: Won Super Bowl rings as a player and coach. Dungy set league records for most consecutive playoff appearances (10), consecutive 12-win seasons (six) and average number of victories per season (10.7). He is the winningest coach for two teams, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts. Some people might point out that Dungy was only 9-10 in the playoffs, that he four times exited the postseason without advancing past the first round, and won only one Super Bowl. But there are only 10 coaches from the "Super Bowl Era" in the Hall of Fame, and three of them didn't win a single Super Bowl, and two others captured just one.
ODDS: 5-2 S RODNEY HARRISON: Started in 159 of 186 appearances, but injuries and suspension limited him to only 31 games his final four seasons. Still, the 15-year veteran is the only player in league history to record both 30 sacks and 30 interceptions. Played in two Pro Bowl games and won two Super Bowls, but was fined more than $200,000 in his career for what league officials deemed late or illegal hits.
ODDS: 15-1 C TOM NALEN: Was the key to the Denver Broncos' unique zone-blocking scheme, and started 188 games. The former seventh-round pick appeared in five Pro Bowl games and two Super Bowl victories, but appeared in just five games after 2006 because of injuries. The stalwart started all 16 games in six consecutive seasons (1996-2001).
ODDS: 30-1 OT WILLIE ANDERSON: Played with balky knees his last several seasons, but lasted 13 years and started 184 games. A terrific right-side blocker, Anderson missed only two games in his first 11 seasons, but sat out 11 contests his final two years. A three-time All-Pro, he was named to four Pro Bowls, started all 16 games nine times, and started all 16 contests in seven consecutive seasons (2000-2006). Playing most of his career for a poor franchise probably will hurt him.
ODDS: 40-1. OG RUBEN BROWN: Was named All-Pro four times, and played in nine Pro Bowls, including eight straight (1996-2003). The former first-rounder played and started in 181 games with Buffalo (1999-2003) and Chicago (2004-2007). A strong in-line blocker, he was also nimble in pass protection. Brown played in only eight games in 2007 and was out of the league in 2008.
ODDS: 50-1 OT JOHN TAIT: Former first-rounder started 139 of 148 appearances with Kansas City (1999-2003) and Chicago (2004-2008). Started all 16 games in four different seasons, including his final year in the league, 2008.
But the Hall of Fame? Probably not.
Granted, Harrison owns an impressive résumé: He won two Super Bowls with the Patriots, started 159 games, and is the only player in league history to record both 30 sacks (30½) and 30 interceptions (34) in a career. He was a two-time Pro Bowl selection.
Harrison was a big hitter, a fierce and feared presence in the middle of two teams' secondaries, and an incredibly instinctive defender. All of those things, for sure, go in the plus column.
Consider the negative part of the ledger. Harrison was fined more than $200,000 by the league for overzealous hits. He was suspended for the first four games of the 2007 season for his admitted use of HGH (human growth hormone) to help overcome an injury. And after missing just 21 games in his first 11 seasons, Harrison missed more contests than he played (33-31) because of injuries and suspension in his final four NFL campaigns.
To be sure, the physical safety authored a lot of big plays, but the most lasting visual image in recent years was Harrison limping off the field with torn knee ligaments or a broken shoulder. And anyone who listened in to Harrison's national conference call in 2007 can't help but recall the reasons he employed to rationalize his use of HGH, which is prominent on the league's banned substances list.
Harrison was questioned as a team leader in both San Diego and New England. He always played with verve, no doubt about it.
As Donaldson pointed out in his column, Harrison generally played big in the big games, as evidenced by his four interceptions in the 2004 playoffs, including two pickoffs against the Philadelphia Eagles in New England's Super Bowl XXXIX victory. Still, as much as Harrison revered the game, he sometimes wandered across the line of discretion.
Since there is no concrete criteria established by the Hall of Fame, except that the selectors consider only a player's feats on the field, some might ignore Harrison's fines and suspension. But human nature enters into the voting as well, and those indiscretions could be an issue.
Even if Harrison had a pristine record, history indicates his path to the Hall of Fame could be marked by potholes.
There have been 111 players chosen for the Hall from the so-called "Super Bowl Era." From that group, there are only five safeties: Ken Houston, Paul Krause, Larry Wilson, Ronnie Lott and Rod Woodson. Only the center position, with four, has fewer Hall of Fame inductees. For whatever reason, safety just isn't a position that lends itself to Hall of Fame inclusion.
For those reasons -- and this is hardly scientific -- we make Harrison no better than a 15-1 shot for Hall of Fame induction.
Of course, things could change dramatically by the time Harrison is eligible for the Hall of Fame, after the standard five-year waiting period. Often, being inducted into the Hall is a function of that particular year's class of candidates.
And the Hall of Fame selectors, about as diligent a group as you can find, certainly keep an open mind on candidates. This year, for instance, it appeared that Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson was a long shot for inclusion. But thanks to a terrific presentation by Mark Gaughn of The Buffalo News, and positive discussion from other selectors about Wilson's candidacy, one could feel that the Buffalo owner was gaining traction with the group, and he was chosen as part of the Class of 2009.
In 2003, it appeared that former Bills guard Joe DeLamielleure didn't have a snowball's chance of being elected. But after selectors talked among themselves during the week preceding the vote, it became clear when the annual election was held that DeLamielleure had gained considerable momentum.
The dynamic inside the meeting room is a fascinating one, and usually unpredictable.
Harrison's candidacy could be strengthened by the relatively weak class of players who have retired in 2009. From that group, quarterback Brett Favre is the only sure thing -- and that's only if he decides to remain retired. If he plays this season, he won't be part of the Class of 2014.
Coach Tony Dungy also figures to have strong support. But after that, the group of 2009 retirees seems fairly nondescript.
There are some players (wide receiver Marvin Harrison, linebacker Derrick Brooks, quarterback Trent Green and tailback Edgerrin James) who could make a strong case for Hall of Fame induction, but none of those players officially has retired yet. Certainly last year's class of retirees was significantly stronger, with players such as defensive linemen Warren Sapp and Michael Strahan, offensive linemen Jonathan Ogden and Larry Allen, safety John Lynch and kicker Morten Andersen.
So, while Harrison seems a long shot for now, the situation could change radically by the time he is presented.
Len Pasquarelli, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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