As the Kansas City representative to the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Board of Selectors, I have received plenty of questions and criticism for former Chiefs guard Will Shields’ omission from the Class of 2014.
The questions are good, the criticism is valid.
Will Shields will get into the Hall of Fame. Likely next year. Definitely in the next few years.
We are sworn not to reveal what goes on during the nine-hour-plus meeting, but trust me, Shields made progress in the room. It just takes time.
A year ago, in Shields’ second year of eligibility, he didn’t make the cut from 15 to 10, and there was no discussion after I made his presentation, which just happened to follow the presentations for Larry Allen and Jonathan Ogden.
Those two were slam dunks, and I could tell there would not be room for three offensive linemen in 2013. This time, I followed the presentation of Seattle left tackle Walter Jones, and there was discussion about Shields’ candidacy, all positive.
Problem is, left tackle is held in higher regard, and Jones, in his first year of eligibility, had an impeccable body of work, just as Shields did, and playing tackle gave Jones the edge. Next year, former Rams left tackle Orlando Pace will be eligible, but he is not held in as high regard as Ogden or Jones, so that should clear the way for Shields.
Only two first-time eligible players were elected on Saturday – Jones and Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks, who like Shields, played in 224 consecutive games without a miss and was a dominant player for some great defenses.
Buffalo wide receiver Andre Reed made it in his eighth year of eligibility over Indianapolis wide receiver Marvin Harrison, who retired ranked second all-time in career receptions, and who had four straight seasons of 102 or more catches, including an NFL-record 143 in a season in 2002; and Oakland’s Tim Brown.
More telling, is after the presentation of Harrison, there was no follow up discussion, just as in Shields’ case the year before. I got the feeling that the voters believed it was Reed’s turn for election, just as it was for Cris Carter last year.
And even next year, Harrison and two other first-time eligible receivers, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt, may have to wait for Tim Brown, a worthy candidate who has waited five years now.
As for defensive end Michael Strahan and cornerback Aeanas Williams, the other two modern-day players who were elected, you can argue Shields was a better player. It was the second year of eligibility for both. Strahan, who thanks to Brett Favre, set the NFL single-season sack record of 22.5, and had 141 sacks during a 15-year career. Williams was a brilliant player for some awful Arizona teams before helping St. Louis with some big interceptions during a Super Bowl year.
Remember, it took Derrick Thomas five years on the ballot to be elected. It took Buck Buchanan 10 years. It’s even more difficult for guards. It took guard Russ Grimm of Washington’s famed Hogs 14 years, including six times as a finalist.
The key is having your name on the ballot and being discussed in the room. Shields’ name will continue to be on the ballot, and he’ll get closer with each discussion.
It’s a challenge to keep making the presentation fresher, especially for an offensive lineman where there aren’t many stats.
But I stressed how Shields excelled in the West Coast offense of the mid-1990s after he was drafted in 1993; the power-running game during Gunther Cunningham and Herm Edwards’ periods as head coach; and during the offensive explosion and ecord-setting years under Dick Vermeil during 2001-05 when Priest Holmes ran wild, Larry Johnson became a force, and future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez caught everything in sight. And how he never missed a game in 14 years.
Though the guidelines of the Hall of Fame confine discussion to what a player does on the field, I also pointed out Shields’ community involvement as a tie-breaker for those voters who are on the fence between Shields and another candidate. I cite his Walter Payton Man of the Year Award and how his Will to Succeed Foundation has been a template for other players in the league.
I always bring that up, because Will Shields is the ideal candidate to represent the Hall of Fame, both as a player and a person, and believe me, the committee agrees.
It will just take a little more patience for it to happen.