Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Five Offensive Linemen Who Should Be in the Hall of Fame

From True/Slant on August 7, 2009:

The offensive line serves as a potent metaphor for a larger football team: if one lineman makes a mistake, the whole thing can fall apart. These men are the tone-setters for the entire offensive plan. Their lives are measured in inches, battles won in increments. Every play requires the timing of a swiss watch and movements complex as a Ballanchine ballet. They work in tight quarters with their enemy lined up close enough to smell.

There are just 34 of these modern era men in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. By way of contrast, there are 23 modern era quarterbacks enshrined in the Hall. Every time a QB is out on the field, there are five offensive linemen out there, so shouldn’t the ratio of offensive line players to quarterbacks read more closely to five-to-one? At least like two to one?

Thankfully, this weekend the great Minnesota Vikings guard Randall McDaniel will be inducted into the Hall, evening the score just a little bit. Here are five other men of the trenches who should be in the Hall of Fame:

1. Jerry Kramer, Green Bay Packers, 1958 to 1968. It actually gives me a physical pain when I think about Kramer’s absence from the Hall. I get a stabbing, nauseating pain when I think that one of the greatest guards to ever play the game in any era, for any team, is not there, a fact which diminishes the Hall itself. Jerry Kramer was the lead guard on the famous Lombardi era sweep and, essentially, blocked Paul Hornung into the Hall. He threw the most famous block perhaps in all of football history as Bart Starr went right behind him for the winning touchdown in the icebowl. Vince Lombardi said Kramer was the best guard working in football. Do you want to argue with coach Lombardi? I don’t. Kramer was the only guard selected for the NFL’s 50th Anniversary All-Time team, and the only member of that team not in the Hall. It’s a felony.

2. Bob Kuechenberg, Miami Dolphins, 1970 to 1983. Six times he was sent to the Pro Bowl and once he was a key contributor to an unbeaten team. Twice he held the Lombardi Trophy as a victor. The great Bob Lilly declared Kuecheberg one of the best linemen he had ever played against, after going up against him in Super Bowl VI. Yeah, yeah, I know that 1972 team can be annoying, reveling in the fact that they remain the only undefeated team in the modern era. I wish those guys would shut up and keep their champagne popping to themselves, too. Still, Kuechenberg is a no-brainer for the Hall.

3. Dermontti Dawson, Pittsburgh Steelers, 1988 to 2000. Unlike Kramer and Kuechenberg, Dawson never got to play on any truly transcendent teams (like the Pack of the ’60’s and the ‘72 Dolphins). He never got to fondle a LombardiTrophy. It doesn’t help that he assumed his position as the anchor of the Steelers offensive line immediately after the great Mike Webster retired. When it comes to the offensive line, you can’t rely on stats and numbers to bolster your arguments for or against a player’s induction: you had to have seen these guys to know. I watched probably every game of Dawson’s career and he had the most nimble, nifty feet of any center I’ve ever seen. He had the feet of a half-back, the body of a guard and the mind of a chessmaster. He was fast, graceful and explosive. His talent was jaw-dropping. It’s not his fault he snapped the ball to the likes of Bubby Brister for a number of years.

4. Russ Grimm, Washington Redskins, 1981 to 1991. Unlike Dawson, above, Russ Grimm probably suffers because of the level of talent around him. During the course of his 11 year career in D.C., Grimm was a member of the Hogs, the only O-Line in memory with such legion fans and cult popularity. Along with Grimm, the other original Hogs were, Mark May, Jeff Bostic, Joe Jacoby and George Starke. Also, along with Grimm, both Jacoby and May are worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. Their unit is considered one of the best offensive lines in the history of the game. When you watch old films of each of those three Redskins Super Bowl teams, you see each respective quarterback standing in a pocket with miles of space around him and running backs dashing through holes large enough to fit three hogs through. Grimm was crusty. Grimm was big. Grimm kept his own counsel. Grimm was also nearly impossible to beat.

5. Max Montoya, Cincinnati Bengals, 1979 to 1989; Los Angeles Raiders, 1990 to 1994. A Bengal? Really? Yes. I think that Montoya suffers from having played alongside the immovable object, the wondrous Anthony Munoz. Everybody’s star was outshone by Munoz’, but Montoya was a key element to the Bengals franchise’s only two Super Bowl appearances. Montoya and Munoz blocked Pete Johnson (Pete Johnson?) into 1,000 yard season and the Bengals to their first Super Bowl appearance in 1981. Then Montoya and Munoz repeated the trick for Icky Woods again in 1988. His name wasn’t the household name like Munoz, but Montoya deserves another look.

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