Why have so many Patriots been overlooked so far for the Hall of Fame?
It’s a frustrating process, and it does feel like the dynasty Patriots are underrepresented.
Heard some static from Patriots fans over the past few days, annoyed that Richard Seymour was left on the doorstep of the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the third straight year after reaching finalist status.
I get the annoyance with the situation. The voting is secretive, and the outcomes are often bewildering. But don’t get discouraged about Seymour’s chances, or for that matter those of some of his overlooked ring-hoarding Patriots teammates such as Rodney Harrison and Willie McGinest (still the NFL’s all-time leader in postseason sacks).
For all but the elite of the elite, the process is torturous. Consider a couple of players who did make the cut this year. Alan Faneca, a six-time All-Pro who is in the conversation as the NFL’s second-best run-blocking guard of all time after John Hannah, didn’t make it until his sixth year of eligibility. That would infuriate you if you were a Steelers fan.
John Lynch, also among the eight-person 2021 class, was a two-time All-Pro and nine-time Pro Bowl selection and one of the hardest-hitting safeties of any era. He required eight years on the ballot. (You’d think his preseason turn with the 2008 Patriots would have put him over the hump sooner, but no.)
It’s a frustrating process, and it does feel like the dynasty Patriots are underrepresented in the Hall compared with previous dynasties. That’s not a rationale for encouraging conspiracy theories about, oh, how Roger Goodell is pulling the strings behind the scenes to keep them out or something like that.
Ty Law was a member of the Class of 2019, breaking the seal for players associated first and foremost with the Patriots dynasty. (Randy Moss ’18 is probably best remembered as a Viking.) Some of the finest players from the dynasty are still playing or recently retired. Adam Vinatieri is a lock. So is Rob Gronkowski. I’m starting to think that Brady guy has a shot, too, if he ever actually retires.
I’d bet Seymour, whose arrival in 2001 I’ve always believed was almost as important to the defense as Brady’s seized opportunity was to the offense, gets in next year. Vince Wilfork, a first-timer on the ballot next season, will have a wait, probably longer than Seymour’s because of the absence of a compelling statistical argument, but I bet he gets there, too. Lynch’s election should help Harrison, an equally ferocious hitter with superior statistics, more rings, and absolutely no interest in playing politics.
I’d advocate for McGinest. Others might for Tedy Bruschi, though to me, he was the Dont’a Hightower of his time, a quintessential red-jacketed Patriots Hall of Famer. If Lynn Swann’s winning Canton case was built with a reel of Super Bowl highlights, then Julian Edelman’s can be, too. And there will be other Patriots with a real chance, among them Wes Welker and Logan Mankins.
It just takes time. Donnie Shell, star safety for the Steel Curtain Steelers, retired after the 1987 season. He made the Hall of Fame in 2020. I suspect the Patriots version of him will be Devin McCourty.
I wouldn’t sweat it about Seymour and the other stalwarts of the Patriots dynasty getting their due. If Patriots fans should be agitated about anything when it comes to the Hall of Fame, it’s that a couple of great players from deeper in the Patriots past haven’t received proper respect.
Gino Cappelletti should have been inducted decades ago. It’s an absolute joke that Canton has never called for him. He spent his entire 11-year playing career with the Patriots (1960-70), all but the final one in the AFL. A five-time All-Star and 1964 Most Valuable Player, he is that league’s all-time leading scorer (1,130 points) and was one of the most versatile players of any era, kicking 176 field goals while catching 292 passes for 4,589 yards and 42 touchdowns. He also intercepted four passes as a defensive back. He also briefly coached for the Patriots and called nearly 600 games as a beloved color analyst alongside Gil Santos.
As for the other overlooked Patriots star, let’s play a quick game. Here are the career spans and statistics for three wide receivers, all of whom began their career in the ’70s.
Receiver A (1973-83): 489 receptions, 7,822 yards, 48 touchdowns, 16 yards per catch
Receiver B (1971-84): 590 catches, 8,985 yards, 79 touchdowns, 15.2 yards per catch.
Receiver C (1977-90): 557 catches, 10,716 yards, 72 touchdowns, 19.2 yards per catch.
Receiver A is Dallas Cowboys great Drew Pearson, who finally got the knock on the door this year. Receiver B is Harold Carmichael, the 6-foot-8-inch former Eagle who was part of the centennial class. Receiver C is Stanley Morgan, who as far as I can tell has not gotten a sniff from the Hall of Fame in recent years, even though he is one of the most prolific deep threats in league history.
Morgan, who spent all but the final season of his career with the Patriots, is 10th all time in yards per catch, and no one in front of him comes close to his 557 receptions. He’s 40th all time in receiving yards; only three players ahead of him (Steve Largent, Charlie Joiner, and Don Maynard) started their careers before he did. From 1978-81, Morgan caught 167 passes for 3,842 yards — an average of 23 yards per grab.
It’s somewhat understandable why Morgan was overlooked during his career. The Patriots didn’t have the high profile of the dominant AFC teams such as the Steelers, Raiders, and Dolphins. The franchise was banned from having home games on “Monday Night Football” from 1981-95, covering a good part of Morgan’s career, because of fans’ habitually unruly behavior during prime time. He also never had a defining moment, playing in one Super Bowl and dropping an early touchdown pass in the blowout loss to the Bears in January 1986.
But his continued disregard by the Hall of Fame is a mystery. In 2007, Sports Illustrated’s Paul Zimmerman made a case for Morgan in his reader mailbag and took offense to the receiver’s exclusion from that year’s pool of 120 preliminary Hall of Fame candidates.
“So with all those 120-something names we had to wade through, all those jamokes, why wasn’t Morgan there?’’ asked Dr. Z. “The answer is something that always sets my teeth on edge when I hear it so many times during the enshrinement meetings. ‘Slipped through the cracks.’
“I’m just as guilty as the others, dozing in my gondola by the Grand Canal. He won’t slip through the cracks next year, I promise. His name will be on the list.”
Zimmerman was a man of his word. Morgan’s name was on the ballot in 2008, and again each year through 2011. He fell off in 2012, made it again in ’13, and that was it. He’s a senior candidate now — that’s the designation for any player who has been retired for more than 25 years — and one who continues to slip through the cracks the way he used to slip through defenses with such ease.
Gino Cappelletti should be a Hall of Famer. Stanley Morgan should be, too. And while we’re working to remedy that, I’m still waiting for an explanation for why Andre Tippett didn’t get in until 15 years after he retired. There’s a player who should have been ushered to the front of the long line.
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