Who Should be in the NFL Hall of Fame Series Center

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Who Should be in the NFL Hall of Fame Series: Centers.

 

Earlier this offseason, CowGirlCas and I posted our opinions and reasoning for who should next be enshrined in the Dallas Cowboys’ Ring of Honor. This was in our He Said (Darren Woodson); She Said (Harvey Martin) series. Afterwards, we had a lively discussion on which Cowboys players should be in the NFL Hall of Fame. With the 2014 Hall of Fame induction this weekend, we will finish out the series.

That got me thinking. While that in itself is a dangerous thing, I was interested in looking at which players, by position, were the most deserving of getting a call from the Hall of Fame throughout the league. Over the next few days, we will do this by looking at the players I believe are the top 5 players who are not currently Hall of Famers at each position. This is not a ranking, but rather an alphabetical listing of my top 5 centers. For reference, the player must be eligible for the Hall of Fame. Here is the order of our journey through some of the NFL’s all-time greats.

Today we will take a look at the centers that kept pass rushers out their quarterback’s face and directed traffic with their fellow offensive linemen. The center position is well represented in the NFL Hall of Fame, especially in comparison to its counterparts at tackle and guard. In fact, there is only one center on any NFL All-decade team that is currently eligible but not yet enshrined in Canton. Some of them were classic road-grading bulldozers that opened holes for 1000 yard rushers. Others kept the middle of the pocket solid in front of their quarterbacks. All of these players were key to helping the skill position players around them prosper. These five centers distinguished themselves as the best at their position when they played and deserve further consideration for induction into the NFL Hall of Fame.

Jay Hilgenberg Center Jay Hilgenberg

Case for the Hall of Fame:

7-time All-Pro (2 first team selections); Jay Hilgenberg was an undrafted free agent in 1981 for the Chicago Bears. Hilgenberg is best known as the brains on the offensive line for the Super Bowl Shuffling 1985 Bears. He was widely considered one of the best centers in the league and was a consistent all-conference performer during his 11 seasons in Chicago.

Reasons he isn’t in the Hall of Fame:

Jay Hilgenberg played for a team that was widely known as Walter Payton and Buddy Ryan’s defense. As such, his career at center was in a long shadow cast especially by that ferocious defense. Hilgenberg is also hurt by the fact that he never made an NFL All-Decade team. He is considered by many voters to be very good but they haven’t shown a desire to place among the games greats.

Jon Morris Center Jon Morris

Case for the Hall of Fame:

4-time All-Pro (1 first team selection); Voted member of American Football League All-Time Team; Jon Morris was drafted by Vince Lombardi’s Packers in the NFL in 1964. At the same time he was drafted by the Boston Patriots and chose to play in the AFL. Morris displayed his football intelligence by directing the Patriots offensive line as well as recovering a total of 7 fumbles. He was a top flight center in the AFL and was still a highly impactful player into the mid 1970’s. This is evidenced by his election as the Offensive Player of the Year by his 1975 Detroit Lions teammates.

Reasons he isn’t in the Hall of Fame:

Jon Morris is one of many great players whose greatness has been undervalued because they played their best years in the AFL. Morris is also hurt by the fact that his teams weren’t contenders. With what I see as a built-in bias against the old AFL greats, Morris would’ve needed greater team success to get his name higher on the list of potential Hall of Famers for today’s group of voters.

Bart Oates Center Bart Oates

Case for the Hall of Fame:

Voted 1st-team member of USFL All-Time Team; 1985 National Football League’s All-Rookie Team; Bart Oates lead offensive lines for three different championship franchises; Oates’ teams played in all three USFL championship games and won two USFL championships while being coached by Jim Mora (Sr). He is most well-known, however for opening holes for two New York Giants NFL champions coached by Bill Parcells. Oates added an additional championship as a starter for the 1994 San Francisco 49ers. He was durable and dependable as he never missed a game in his 11 NFL seasons.

Reasons he isn’t in the Hall of Fame:

Bart Oates is one of many great players whose greatness has been overlooked because they played some of their prime years in the USFL. Oates is also hurt by the fact that he never made an NFL all-decade team. In fact, he was never voted all-pro even though he centered offenses for consistent contenders. Oates has also ruffled the feathers of many old school NFL observers by very publicly expressing his feelings that the best USFL teams could have compete favorably in the NFL.

Mark Stepnoski Center Mark Stepnoski

Case for the Hall of Fame:

3-time All-Pro selection; Voted member of NFL 1990’s All-Decade Team; Mark Stepnoski was a small center but his technical skill allowed him to anchor the initial version of the Great Wall of Dallas  for the Cowboys of the 1990’s. He was more than a product of that all-time great group, however. After leaving the for Houston via free agency, Stepnoski continued to play as one of the best centers in the entire league. He is, in fact, the center I alluded to at the beginning of this article. Among those currently eligible for induction, he is the only center to have ever made an NFL All-Decade team that is not in the Hall of Fame . This stands out as a glaring omission.

Reasons he isn’t in the Hall of Fame:

Mark Stepnoski has had some unpopular off the field political stances since his retirement most notably support for the so-called 9/11 Truth movement and marijuana legalization. Following backlash from these stances (especially the first), Stepnoski felt compelled to immigrate to Canada. This hurt his chances far more than they would a skill position player who had gaudy personal stats upon which to fall back. There also seems to be a feeling among the voters that, other than guard Larry Allen, Dallas’ “Great Wall was simply a collection of good players that played great together. This sentiment has also dulled the glory of others like Nate Newton, Mark Tuinei, Ray Donaldson & Erik Williams from that group.

Mick Tinglehoff Center Mick Tinglehoff

Case for the Hall of Fame:

6-time 1st team All-Pro selection (additional 2nd team selection); Henry Michael Tinglehoff came to the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free agent in 1962. He was able to claim the starting center position from his first regular season game and never looked back. . Known as “Mick”, Tinglehoff played his entire 17 year career with the Vikings and started at center on 4 Super Bowl teams. He also has his #53 jersey retired by that franchise. Tinglehoff is one of the most highly decorate players at any position to be passed up for Hall of Fame induction. He had both longevity (17 seasons) and dominance (7 straight seasons from 1964 to 1970 in which he was voted All-Pro from a major outlet).

Reasons he isn’t in the Hall of Fame:

Mick Tinglehoff has been a victim of his Vikings’ teams inability to win against the best the AFL/AFC had to offer in those 4 Super Bowl appearances. This lack of ultimate team success has hurt a few of those great Vikings players’ chances to make it into the Hall of Fame. Otherwise there is very little to explain why Tinglehoff does not already have a bust in Canton.

 

These are my five most worthy for induction. I’m interested in your opinion on where I got it right and who I may have missed. You can add your comments or suggestions below.

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  • Khart

    As a kid who played center, I always looked up to Bart Oates. This is really well done. Thanks.