The 2011 NFL Hall of Fame finalists were announced on Monday and former Notre Dame greats Tim Brown and Jerome Bettis made the cut. Both Fighting Irish legends, however, will have some stuff competition for the five spots open to players from the modern era.
Jerome Bettis is a finalist in his first year of eligibility. After his standout career at Notre Dame, Bettis was the 10th overall selection in 1993 NFL Draft by the then St. Louis Rams. Bettis burst on to the scene as rookie by winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award and being named to the All Pro Team.
Bettis would end up being traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1996 where he spent the next 10 seasons. The Steelers ended up being as match made in heaven for Bettis. He ended up racking up 13,662 yards in his career – good enough for 5th all time.
Unlike so many athletes in today’s day and age, Bettis had a story book ending to his career. In 2006, Bettis won his first and only Super Bowl when the Steelers beat the Seahawks in Bettis’s hometown of Detroit.
Other running backs among the finalists this year include Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams great Marshall Faulk and former New England Patriot and New York Jet Curtis Martin. All three backs are in their first year of eligibility. Martin ranks just ahead of Bettis in the all-time rushing record book. Martin sits at 10th all time in rushing with 12,279 yards, but also has another 6,875 yards receiving in his career.
Tim Brown, Notre Dame’s last Heisman Trophy winner (1987), is a finalist for the second year a row.
After his standout career at Notre Dame, Brown was the 6th overall selection in the NFL Draft by the then Los Angeles Raiders. Brown would spend the next 16 seasons in Los Angeles/Oakland playing racking up all kinds of gaudy statistics. During the course of his NFL career, Brown went to 9 Pro Bowls and was named to the NFL’s 1990’s Team of the Decade.
Throughout his career, Brown hauled in 1,094 passes (4th all time) for 14,934 yards (4th all time), and 100 touchdowns (6th all time). His 9 seasons of 1,000 yards or more receiving also ranks 3rd all time.
While he certainly had a hall of fame worthy career playing mostly for Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders, Brown is up against a few other former great wide receivers among the 17 finalists. Buffalo Bills legend Andre Reed and former Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Viking Cris Carter were also named finalists.
Other finalists include Deion Sanders (CB), Willie Roaf (OT), Dermontti Dawson (C), Richard Dent (DE), Charles Haley (DE), Chris Doleman (DE), Cortez Kennedy (DT), Ed Sabol (NFL Films founder), and Shannon Sharpe (TE).
A maximum of five of these 15 greats will be selected by the 44 person Hall of Fame committee.
Neither Notre Dame legends is a lock to make the Hall this year with the competition both face at their respective positions. At running back, Bettis and Martin had more sustained success than Faulk, but Faulk was a touchdown machine and was easily the game’s most dangerous back when he was at the top of his game.
Reed, Carter, and Brown all had similar careers. All racked up lots of stats, went to a lot of Pro Bowls, and won plenty of awards, but none won a Super Bowl. Reed did, however, go to four straight with the Bills.
Of the two, Bettis may have the easier time getting in this year. The other running backs who are eligible are also in their first years and Bettis has the stats, the ring, and the storybook ending working for him. Brown may have to wait another year or two as both Reed and Carter have been eligible longer and finalists more times.
Regardless of whether or not Brown and/or Bettis get into the Hall of Fame this year, both should eventually have not have much trouble finding their way to Canton in the coming years – if not this year.