Chicago Sun-Times

Hall of Fame voters talk about Devin Hester and specialists

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Many NFL analysts and fans have weighed in on whether Devin Hester has done enough to earn a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Ultimately, though, Hall of Fame playing credentials and season tickets don't decide that. That decision comes from 44 journalists.

I decided to reach to many of them, and I asked them two questions. Here is a sampling of their answers, in order of when I got them, with their Twitter handles in parentheses:

1) Do you believe a specialist, such as a returner, belongs in the Hall of Fame?

* Jim Trotter (SI_JimTrotter) of Sports Illustrated: "My feeling is that anyone who has a significant positive impact on the game and the league should be considered for the Hall of Fame, regardless of the position/role he played."

* Ira Miller, former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle: "I think Ray Guy has been shorted by the committee, but at least he got into the discussion. Steve Tasker hasn't even been in the discussion and I think that's ridiculous. If special teams are an important part of the game, as any coach will tell you, then special teams players are eligible for the Hall. And Tasker probably is the best there ever was. Yet he hasn't been able to make the final ballot for discussion in the annual selection meeting. Ridiculous."

* Darrin Gantt (@daringantt), former Panthers writer for Rock Hill Herald: "While I have been at this for a shorter time than everyone else in the room, I believe that certain positions are overpopulated in the Hall (skill positions in general) and others are vastly underrepresented (interior linemen, safeties, specialists). That's why I'd like to hear the debate to see if it needs to be evened out, and think there needs to be more discussion on special teamers, in general."

* Jarrett Bell (@JarrettBell) of USA Today: "There are already returners in the Hall. It's just that they've excelled at other positions, like Deion Sanders and Darrell Green. And there's a punter in there, too, Sammy Baugh. Does an outstanding specialist who was average as a position player -- like a Brian Mitchell or Steve Tasker -- belong? Maybe. I think if you're honoring the best of all-time, it shouldn't matter. Bottom line is impact. But it's been rough in stacking up guys like Mitchell, Tasker and Ray Guy, against outstanding every-down players."

* John Czarnecki of FOX Sports: "Yes, I do believe there should be a spot in the Hall of Fame for special teams players. But I think it will be hard for Hester because I supported Ray Guy, who I consider to be the NFL's greatest punter, but he never came close because statistically his numbers weren't close to today's punters. But Guy impacted so many games, just like Hester does. In the end, his receiving numbers or lack thereof will play a factor."

* Tony Grossi (@TonyGrossi) of the Cleveland Plain Dealer: "I'm not close-minded on the subject, but I don't believe specialists earn spots in the Hall of Fame based solely on their specialty. Obviously, the NFL game has evolved into a game of specialists -- third-down specialists, pass rush specialists, possession receiver specialists, return specialists. Some of the greatest return specialists already are in the Hall of Fame because they became full-time great players -- Gale Sayers, Leroy Kelly, Deion Sanders, etc... If we recognize a player solely based on his specialty, then where do we draw the line? The best long snapper of all time, the best coverage linebacker, the best short-yardage blocker. I would listen to the argument, but I doubt I would be convinced."

* John McClain (@McLain_on_NFL) of the Houston Chronicle: "I believe a specialist is worthy of being in the Hall of Fame. I wouldn't say a specialist deserves to be in the Hall of Fame."

* Dan Pompei (@DanPompei) of the Chicago Tribune: "I believe players at every position, including specialists, merit consideration. Players who have the most impacts on games usually go to the front of the line.

And here's the second question:

2) Based on what he's already done -- broken the all-time record for kickoff and punt return touchdowns -- would you vote for Devin Hester to be in the Hall of Fame? Why or why not?

* Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) of Sports Illustrated: "As of today? No. You don't put a player in the Hall of Fame for three or four years of greatness, which is how long Hester's been great. Hester's been a dominant returner for three and a half of his five and a half NFL seasons. The problem with asking a question like this about a guy mid-career is the assumption that he'll continue for four or five years to be the return man he's been for much of his career. He may be. He may not be. That's why you have to let it play out. One of the best parts of Hall of Fame deliberation is the fact that you have to wait till the end of a man's career, and then wait five additional years. Then you can let his accomplishments sink in and consider them without emotion."

* Kent Somers (@KentSomers) of the Arizona Republic: "Devin Hester will be the subject of a fascinating and spirited discussion, I'm sure, if and when he is a finalist. There are returners with far more yards who aren't in the Hall. At this point in his career, I'd have to be convinced. What's difficult about the process is choosing between players. For instance, a final spot could come down between Hester and, say, one of the great receivers playing now: Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson, etc... Those kinds of hard choices make for interesting debate."

* Bob Glauber (@BobGlauber) of Newsday: "I would most likely vote in favor of putting Hester into the Hall of Fame. The idea is to select transcendent players, and Hester is the best of all time in his role."

* Gary Myers (@garymyersNYDN) of the New York Daily News: "My feelings about Devin Hester is that he's the best returner in NFL history. He's a game changer and has been a true impact player. There is no reason to ever kick to him. I would rather risk the kickoff going out of bounds and the Bears starting on the 40 than take a chance on him taking it back all the way. He returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown in the Super Bowl, and even though the Bears did not win the game, it was the most dramatic opening in Super Bowl history. Punt returns? Directional punt right to the sideline. So, yes, he would get my vote."

* Frank Cooney of Sports Xchange: "I would certainly consider Hester. Whether he would get the vote would depend entirely on who else is being considered during that vote. That's the critical consideration that people do not appreciate when they simplify the issue and ask if somebody should be voted into the Hall of Fame. It took some players, such as Lynn Swann and Art Monk, years to get through the process and into the HOF. Only a very few players are slam dunk Hall of Famers regardless of who else is being considered. We are talking about players such as Jerry Rice, Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Emmitt Smith, etc. Almost all others are subject to comparison against others being considered at that time."

* Howard Balzer (@HBalzer721) of Sports Xchange: "The quality of the candidates in a given year can also have an impact. It might be a copout, but it's impossible now to make a blanket statement regarding voting or not voting for Hester. I do believe the Hall needs to look at separating specialists, contributors and even assistant coaches from the 'mainstream' to create a better way to honor them. Assistant coaches are rarely even considered."

* Nick Canepa (@sdutCanepa) of the San Diego Union-Tribune: "There is one specialist in the Hall, Jan Stenerud, and there's no chance I would have voted for him. A Hall of Famer has to be dominant; he has to change games. The only kicker I've seen who I would vote for is Ray Guy, because his punting changed the course of games. Hester is different because he HAS changed games. It would depend who's on the ballot when he comes up, but, yes, I definitely would consider him and more than likely vote for him. He's unique in the history of football."

* David Climer (@DavidClimer) of the Tennessean: "We don't know what Hester might do from this point forward, nor do we know if another player or players might eclipse everything Hester has done and on and on and on."

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Say you're picking sides for a football game. Why wouldn't you pick Devin Hester, unless you had no punt returns? We are talking about this game with these rules, are we not? I would take Shane Lechler to punt. Now, who would you take? Isn't this more fun? Some of those commentators are way too serious. Who can ever forget Steve Tasker?
I wonder who would be my gunner?

How about this; has the player changed the game? Hester has affected the very way the game is played, from strategy (teams choosing a penalty and letting opponents start at the 40 instead of kicking to Hester and risking a TD) to coverages to even the kicks that stay inbounds. His value to his team far exceeds the traditional return man who *might* run one back. Teams are forfeiting field position out of fear of the guy---when has that occurred in football before? He has, simply put, changed the game.

And let's not fool ourselves; specialists have made it into the Hall already. Running backs who only ran one way--hard and up the middle (Riggins?) or out of bounds before being hit (Franco Harris)--none of them known for their exceptional blocking or passing. These guys did one thing well--they ran the ball. Why not complain about how they "only had rushing yards and no kick return yards"?

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This page contains a single entry by Sean Jensen published on November 18, 2011 11:30 AM.

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