It recently was announced that offensive lineman Russ Grimm and outside linebacker Rickey Jackson were among the 17 finalists for the 2010 Hall Class. Final voting by a 44-member panel takes place Feb. 6, the day before Super Bowl XLIV, for induction in August in Canton, Ohio.
Grimm played for Pittsburgh from 1978-80, while Jackson played from 1977-80. Former Panthers outside linebacker Chris Doleman did not make it from the semifinal list to the final 17. Grimm was a finalist before, while Jackson has made it this far for the first time.
The remaining finalists are wideout Jerry Rice, running back Emmitt Smith and wideout-kick returner Tim Brown, who are in their first eligible year, wideouts Cris Carter and Andre Reed, tight end Shannon Sharpe, running back Roger Craig, center Dermontti Dawson, defensive tackles John Randle and Cortez Kennedy, defensive ends Richard Dent and Charles Haley and Don Coryell, a former head coach.
The two senior nominees are running back Floyd Little and cornerback Dick LeBeau, who was a stellar 14-year player but also is considered among the NFL's top assistant coaches and is the Steelers defensive coordinator. Coryell, Craig, Haley, Little, and LeBeau also are first-time finalists.
A final candidate must get 80 percent of the vote to make the Hall. A minimum of four and a maximum of seven inductees will be chosen, but no more than five modern-era nominees can be elected in a single year. So, for six entrants, one must be a senior nominee. For seven, both senior nominees must make it.
While Grimm and Jackson certainly are deserving, they have to be considered among the long shots. Rice, the NFL's all-time leading receiver, and Smith, the career rushing leader, are locks for induction. That means Grimm and Jackson must beat out the others for two of the three remaining spots.
LeBeau should get in on his playing career alone with 62 interceptions in 14 seasons, all as a cornerback, but when his time as an assistant coach and a defensive innovator are considered his overall body of work is strengthened. If the panel feels that way, then six total inductees will be named with five modern-era players in the group. Both Grimm and Jackson have impressive resumes, even though offensive linemen like Grimm are somewhat limited basically due to no personal statistics.
However, Grimm was a third-round pick by the Washington Redskins in the 1981 NFL Draft, and he played 11 seasons until 1991. He was selected to four Pro Bowls, was an All-Pro performer four times as well with 114 NFL starts and was an anchor on the Hogs offensive line that fueled three Super Bowl titles. That earned Grimm a spot on the NFL's All-Decade Team in the 1980s.
Jackson also was a 1981 NFL Draft pick, but he went in the second round to the New Orleans Saints and played 15 seasons until 1993 with the Saints and two more years with the San Francisco 49ers. He was in six Pro Bowls and selected as an All-Pro performer four times.
Jackson had 128 career sacks with eight interceptions and a safety. Considered to be among the hardest-hitting linebackers in his era and certainly among the most-productive, Jackson keyed a turnaround for the Saints in the late 1980s and early '90s. He had 290 career tackles at Pitt with 166 solo stops.
Grimm and Jackson were lettermen at Pitt from 1977-80. The Panthers were 9-2-1 for Jackie Sherrill in 1977, dropped to 8-4 the next season, but were 11-1 in 1980 and '81 to finish just out of the national championship race. Pitt won three of four bowl games following those seasons.
There are only four former Pitt players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They are quarterback Dan Marino, running back Tony Dorsett, tight end Mike Ditka and linebacker Joe Schmidt. There's a chance that number will increase, but the competition is stiff with Brown, Sharpe and Dawson other top candidates.
Here is some information on the other Pro Football Hall of Fame finalists:
Rice tallied 1,549 catches for 22,895 yards and 197 touchdowns in a 21-year career. He leads second-place Marvin Harrison by 447 career catches, and his 208 total scores (11 rushing) are 33 more than runner-up Smith. He is a two-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year and holds many Super Bowl records as well. Rice was the Super Bowl MVP in 1989.
Like Rice, Smith won three Super Bowls. He rushed for 18,355 yards and 164 touchdowns. He also caught 515 passes and scored on 19 receptions. Smith was the league MVP in 1993 and Super Bowl MVP in 1994.
Brown played 16 seasons for the Raiders and one for Tampa Bay and was a superb kick returner as well as a dangerous wideout. As a rookie in 1988, Brown led the NFL in kickoff returns, return yards, and yards per return. When he retired, he was fifth in total yards with 19,682.
Carter was signed by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1987 supplemental draft and played three seasons. They released him, and he signed with the Minnesota Vikings and played 12 years. He finished a 16-year NFL career with the Miami Dolphins and tallied 1,101 catches for 13,899 yards and 130 touchdowns.
Reed also played 16 seasons, including 15 with the Buffalo Bills before ending with the Redskins. He had 951 catches for 13,198 yards and 87 touchdowns.
Sharpe played 14 seasons with the Denver Broncos (1990-99, 2002-03) and Baltimore Ravens (2000-01) and won three Super Bowls. He was a premier receiving tight end with 815 catches for 10,060 yards and 62 touchdowns, and that could be his ticket to a Hall induction this year.
Craig was the first NFL back to both run and catch passes for more than 1,000 yards in a season for the San Francisco 49ers with 1,050 rushing and 1,016 receiving. He played 11 seasons for the Niners (1983-90), Los Angeles Raiders (1991) and Vikings (1992-93) and tallied 8,189 yards rushing (4.1 average) and 56 touchdowns with 566 catches for 4,911 and 17 scores.
Dawson played for the Steelers from 1988-2000 and was considered to be the NFL's top center for an eight-year span from 1991-98. Injuries curtailed his final two seasons, but the Steelers were among the league's top rushing teams when he was healthy. Dawson should be in the Hall, but a lack of personal stats could keep him out, like Grimm, even though he was the best at his position.
Randle spent 14 seasons in the NFL with the Vikings (1990-2000) and Seattle Seahawks (2001-03) and finished with 137.5 sacks. He was a dominant defensive lineman in the 1990s.
Kennedy's entire 11-year career was with the Seahawks (1990-2000), and he finished with 58 sacks. While he was a solid run-stopper, it seems like a stretch for him to get in the Hall and even amazing that he's a finalist.
Dent recorded 137.5 sacks in 15 seasons with the Chicago Bears (1983-93), 49ers (1994), Bears again (1995), Indianapolis Colts (1996) and Eagles (1997). He won Super Bowl rings with the Bears and 49ers.
In 13 NFL seasons with the 49ers (1986-91), Cowboys (1992-96) and 49ers again (1998-99) Haley won three Super Bowls and recorded 100.5 sacks.
Coryell was an offensive innovator, primarily with the passing game, in stints as head coach with the St. Louis Cardinals (1973-1977) and then the San Diego Chargers (1978-1986) with an offensive known as "Air Coryell.''