Who Should be in the NFL Hall of Fame Series – Specialists

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Who Should be in the NFL Hall of Fame Series – Specialists

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. 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. 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.

Coaches from high school through the NFL consistently speak about the 3 phases of the football game. These coaches tell the world that Special Teams is a third of the game and just as important. While that all sounds good in theory, even the most casual observers can see that the top Specialists that kick, punt, return and cover are not given the same degree of respect as their counterparts on offense or defense. Today we will take a look at the guys that have excelled in the “Forgotten Third” of the game at the highest level.

Morten Andersen Specialist Morten Andersen

Case for the Hall of Fame:

6-time All-Pro; 1986 NFL Golden Toe (Top Kicker) Award winner; 1995 NFL Golden Toe Award winner; Voted member of National Football League 1980s All-Decade Team; Voted member of National Football League 1990s All-Decade Team; Morten Andersen’s career spanned 25 seasons and 5 franchises. Andersen held 13 NFL records at the time of his retirement including most Field Goals attempted and made. He is the only player to hold the all-time scoring record for two different franchises (New Orleans Saints & Atlanta Falcons). He also holds the record for most points scored in the Pro Bowl (45).

Reasons he isn’t in the Hall of Fame:

Morten Andersen’s records will be hard to top because of his longevity & that longevity works against him in the minds of some voters who say he was good not great & his numbers are merely a product of the length of his career. His candidacy for the Hall of Fame, like everyone on today’s list, is hurt by the specialist position he played. Kicker is not a valued position by the Hall of Fame voters or football fans in general.

Mel Gray Specialist Mel Gray

Case for the Hall of Fame:

7-time All-Pro; Voted member of National Football League 1990s All-Decade Team; Voted member of United States Football League (USFL) All-Time Team; Mel Gray’s NFL career spanned 12 seasons but he is best remembered as an elite return specialist for the 1990’s Detroit Lions teams. Gray was so dominant that he was voted All-Pro in more than half of his seasons in the NFL and is widely considered one of the top return specialists in the history of the NFL.

Reasons he isn’t in the Hall of Fame:

Mel Gray never found much success as a wide receiver or running back on offense so many voters will minimize his impact. His candidacy for the Hall of Fame, like everyone on today’s list, is hurt by the specialist position he played. Return specialist is not a valued position by the Hall of Fame voters though the excitement they generate can make them fan favorites

Reggie Roby Specialist Reggie Roby

Case for the Hall of Fame:

7-time All-Pro; Voted member of National Football League 1980s All-Decade Team; Reggie Roby is considered one of the best punters in NFL history. Roby played 16 seasons in the NFL. For the majority of his career and 6 of his All-Pro seasons, Roby was a member of the Miami Dolphins. Roby was remembered at his death by legendary coach Don Shula as a field position weapon.

Reasons he isn’t in the Hall of Fame:

Being among the best ever at your position should make a player an excellent candidate for his sport’s Hall of Fame. But there is really only one player who was strictly a punter that has ever been voted into the NFL Hall of Fame. While Ray Guy’s greatness was finally recognized this year, there is very little appetite to induct another punter in the near future.

Steve Tasker Specialist Steve Tasker

Case for the Hall of Fame:

7-time All-Pro; 7 Pro Bowl appearances; The only Special Team specialist voted Pro Bowl MVP (1992 season); Special Teams captain for 4 consecutive AFC Championship teams. Bill Bates of the Dallas Cowboys was so proficient as a special teams specialist that he is widely credited with moving the NFL to add a spot for specialist to the Pro Bowl rosters. But for as good as Bates was, Tasker was even better. He became a household name and a league-wide star for his skill at covering kicks and punts.

Reasons he isn’t in the Hall of Fame:

While many NFL observers believe that Steve Tasker is the greatest “Third Phase” Specialist in the history of the league, the Hall of Fame voters have shown very little desire to actually enshrine players that were primarily special teams players; be that kickers, punters, returners or, in Tasker case, cover men. Being the best may well get Tasker the same eventual induction it finally got Ray Guy in 2014. Until then he will continue to be seen as a player that is hall-worthy even if his position is not considered to be.

Rick Upchurch Specialist Rick Upchurch

Case for the Hall of Fame:

5-time All-Pro selection; Voted member of National Football League 1970s All-Decade Team; Voted member of National Football League 1980s All-Decade Team; Rick Upchurch blazing speed and knack for the big play made him a member of the Denver Broncos Ring of Honor. When he retired, Upchurch was the NFL’s career leader in punt return yards. He also was tied for the NFL record with eight punt returns for touchdowns. He is still one of only 5 players to have a career punt return average over 12 yards per attempt.

Reasons he isn’t in the Hall of Fame:

Even though Rick Upchurch was one of the most electrifying return specialists the NFL has ever seen, he was mostly limited to the role of a specialist throughout his career. He was more impactful on offense than either Mel Gray or Steve Tasker. He retired with 24 receiving an 3 rushing touchdowns but, since his career is defined by his special teams play, he continues to face an uphill battle towards possible induction into the Hall of Fame.

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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  • Al

    Nice job on the piece, but Wow: how is Bill Bates not on this list?

    • That’s a good question and I have to agree. Bill Bates was the one who got Special Teams players considered for the Pro Bowl.

    • Big Harb

      Bill Bad Ass was one of my all-time favorite Cowboys and deserves consideration as the first great specialist to demand pro bowl consideration. He just wasn’t better than Tasker IMHO.

  • Julian Roby

    Please put my father Reggie Roby in the hall of fame. I know it isnt a easy process but it would mean the world to him and my family. He was an amazing punter and the best father i could have ever had in my entire life. I just don’t understand the NFL after what they did to him and his heart.(sorry for that comment…wanted to get that off my chest). I miss him so much and i just wish he was still here with my family. He was truly a great and humble man. Miss you and love you dad. Please consider my father to the HOF. Thank you for having him in the kickers hall of fame but please it would mean everything to have him in the hall of fame. Guy made it and i really hope father can.