Once upon a time, way back in 1978, which was my rookie season with the Green Bay Packers, there were only two Super Bowl Era ends in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Today, we call them wide receivers. Those two men were the Chargers’ Lance Alworth and the Colts’ Raymond Berry.
Now, slow down. I’m sure some of you are thinking about googleing to see if I’m correct. As one modern day diva would say, “Child, please.” Remember, I’m talking about the Super Bowl Era. There were some great ends in the Hall who played in the “Modern Era” – the time period after World War II ended in 1945. Among them, the great Rams Tom Fears and Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch, and Pete Pihos of the Eagles. Now, those guys were all in the Hall prior to 1978, and all those guys were great “ends”. But they don’t fall into the bracket of what we think of as the modern day wide receiver.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the man who started it all: the “greatest” receiver ever, Don Hutson of the Packers. When you go back and look at Hutson’s numbers compared to his contemparies they were truly Ruthian in stature. In 1942, for example, Hutson caught 74 passes for 1211 yards and 17 touchdowns. The very same season, Bears Hall of Fame quarterback Sid Luckman completed 57 passes total and had 10 TDs! But I digress…
The year before I arrived in Green Bay, the Pack’s leading wide receiver Steve Odom caught a whopping 27 passes and scored 3 touchdowns. That’s about the same as the first fours games for the Lions’ Calvin Johnson this year (24 receptions, 8 TDs).
Today, there are 21 Modern Era (post-1945) wide receivers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That’s about 1 elected for every three seasons over the last 65 years of Pro Football. And now, just like trying to get Packers season tickets (where the waiting list is currently over 90,000), there is a waiting list for receivers to enter the Hall. Call it inflation or throw a red flag at the rule changes, but there is a backlog of really good “ends” that want in: Andre Reed (951 catches), Cris Carter (1,101), Tim Brown (1,094), Marvin Harrison (1,102), Randy Moss (954) and Terrell Owens (1,078 and counting – maybe).
And the numbers are only going to swell. Bigger, faster players. Smaller, lighter equipment. Bigger fines for hitting those “defenseless players.” Some call it basketball on grass – or FieldTurf. No contact. But there is one receiver who has flipped the script, so to speak, and that is Hines Ward.
Don’t get me wrong, Hines has impressive numbers – 980 receptions for 11,960 yards, Super Bowl MVP, Dancing with the Stars champion. He has more receptions than Steelers Hall of Famers Lynn Swann (336) and John Stallworth (537) have combined. But what Hines Ward has always done best is block. I mean, really, really block. So much so the NFL made a rule change about blocking defenseless defenders! Hines Ward, Hall of Famer: that would be a great fairytale ending.
– James Lofton
James Lofton is the analyst for Westwood One’s coverage of Sunday Night Football. This weekend, he’ll be in Pittsburgh to watch Hines Ward and the Steelers take on the Baltimore Ravens. Coverage begins at 7:30 PM Eastern.