Darrell Green, Chris Carter, Paul Tagliabue among Hall Of Fame finalists
Tagliabue, commissioner during the NFL's biggest period of prosperity, retired in 2006, replaced by Roger Goodell. He failed to get the necessary votes for election a year ago.
In his 17 years in charge, the league experienced no labor stoppages, while its TV contracts skyrocketed. There also were expansions to Jacksonville, Charlotte, Cleveland and Houston under his watch, and several teams moved into new stadiums, many of them built with public funds.
But some people, including some journalists who have a vote, found Tagliabue to be unapproachable and uncooperative.
Still, as one of Tagliabue's supporters said: "Can you write the history of the NFL, the most successful professional league in America, and not include Paul Tagliabue?"
Green is a rarity in that he played two decades with one team, the Washington Redskins. He was nearly as fast at the end of his stellar career as a cornerback and punt returner as he was when he first broke into the league from Texas A&I in 1983.
And that means fast: For years, Green was considered the NFL's quickest player.
"If you think you know fast, then you need to have seen Darrell Green run," Carter said. "A lot of guys thought they could outrun him, but they couldn't."
Green holds the record for consecutive seasons with an interception (19), and had 54 picks for 621 yards and six TDs. A member of the 1990s All-Decade team, Green made seven Pro Bowls.
Often during his career, he covered Carter, who retired in 2002 with 1,101 receptions, and 130 TD catches, both second overall to Jerry Rice. Carter also made the 1990s All-Decade team and his 122 receptions in 1993 set an NFL record since surpassed by Marvin Harrison.
He's also served as a mentor to younger receivers, particularly Randy Moss early in Moss' career in Minnesota. Carter made eight Pro Bowls.
Two other receivers are finalists: Art Monk and Andre Reed.
Monk retired in 1993 with records for most consecutive games with a reception (164) and career catches (820). Both have been surpassed, but Monk didn't play in as wide-open an era on offense as other receivers. He was one of the most consistent possession and third-down receivers in the league throughout his 14 pro seasons.
Reed was the main receiving threat on the prolific Buffalo Bills of the late 1980s and early 90s. A key to the team's four straight AFC titles, he went from Kutztown State in Pennsylvania to Jim Kelly's top target in Buffalo, and gained 13,095 on 951 catches, third all-time when he retired.
Three of the most impressive and consistent blockers in league history are finalists: guards Russ Grimm, Bob Kuechenberg and Randall McDaniel.
Grimm starred for the Redskins for 11 seasons and was one of the anchors for "The Hogs." He won three Super Bowls with Washington.
Kuechenberg has seen several of his Miami Dolphins teammates enshrined. He played from 1970-84 and was among the most versatile linemen of his day, playing center and tackle, too.
McDaniel was a road-grader in the running game for the Vikings for 12 seasons, and also a premier pass protector who went to 12 straight Pro Bowls as a starter.
Tackle Gary Zimmerman was a standout for both the Vikings and Broncos, winning a Super Bowl in his final season of 1997. He made his reputation in the USFL before joining Minnesota in 1986.
The defensive finalists are ends Fred Dean and Richard Dent; linebackers Randy Gradishar, Derrick Thomas and Andre Tippett. Also in the final 17 is punter Ray Guy.
Dean and Dent were sack machines for championship teams, Dean in San Francisco and Dent in Chicago. Although he weighed only 230, Dean was a fearsome pass rusher because of his speed and agility; blockers struggled to get their hands on him.
Dent, MVP of the 1986 Super Bowl, was big, strong and quick. He had 10 or more sacks in eight seasons.
Tippett was considered the best linebacker in the AFC during an era when Lawrence Taylor ruled the other conference. Tippett was an outstanding pass rusher for New England who also could handle coverage and was a force against the run after coming out of junior college to the pros.
Gradishar took a different route. One of the best linebackers in college football history at Ohio State, he became the mainstay of the "Orange Crush" defense in Denver. He made seven Pro Bowls.
Thomas might have been the best pass-rushing linebacker of his era and set the single-game mark with seven against Seattle in 1990, the year he had 20 sacks. An All-American in college, he swiftly moved to the Chiefs and had an immediate impact with 10 sacks and 75 tackles, earning Defensive Rookie of the Year honors.
He died eight years ago in a car crash.
Guy is considered the best pure punter ever, but no one from that position has made the Hall. He led the NFL in punting three times, had a 42.4-yard career average and had only three of 1,049 kicks blocked for the Raiders.
Seventeen finalists will be cut to seven, with at least four -- and a maximum of seven -- chosen for the Canton, Ohio, shrine by a panel of 44 selectors. To be elected, a finalist must receive a minimum of 80 percent of the votes.
Enshrinement will be Aug. 2.
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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