Junior Seau is a first-ballot Pro Football Hall Of Famer. There is no debate, no argument, no counter-point, nothing that can contradict that statement.
The late Chargers legend is eligible for enshrinement for the first time this year and, to the surprise of nobody, made the list of 15 finalists for induction (the Class of 2015 will be announced on January 31, the day before the Super Bowl in Arizona).
By any measure, Seau is one of the greatest linebackers who ever lived. The NFL started keeping tackling stats in the late 1970’s. Only three players (Jesse Tuggle, Ray Lewis and Clay Matthews Jr.) made more tackles than Seau did in his 20 year career.
I used to work with Dale Hellestrae, an offensive lineman who played 15 years in the NFL, most of them with the Dallas Cowboys when Jimmy Johnson was coaching them to Super Bowl wins. We were talking about Junior one day and I remember Dale saying what made Junior so good was Seau’s combination of intelligence, aggressiveness, and speed. When a big offensive lineman got his hands on Seau, he could be blocked. The problem was getting your hands on him, which was extremely difficult to do.
It will be a fantastic, awful, joyful, tearful day for Chargers fans when Junior takes his rightful place alongside football’s immortals.
If Don Coryell gets his bust in Canton, OH, with him, they’ll have to hand out boxes of handkerchiefs at the door.
I’m going to spend a lot more time talking about Coryell than Seau because nobody needs an explanation of why Junior is a Hall Of Famer. Coryell, however, has been snubbed for far, far too long.
The late Chargers and Cardinals coach is a Hall of Fame finalist for the second time. It’s sickening that Coryell is not already a member of pro football’s most exclusive club.
The man was one of the most innovative and influential coaches in history. Heck, they named an entire offense after him! Coryell revolutionized the passing game at San Diego State in the 1960’s (for that, thankfully he is a member of the College Football Hall Of Fame). He took his pass-first mentality to the NFL in 1973. That year NFL teams averaged little less than 19 points a game. What happened next is astonishing.
Within a decade, in 1983, NFL teams were averaging 22 points a game. A new breed of quarterbacks (Joe Montana, Dan Marino, John Elway, etc.) had entered the league, all of them running elements of the Air Coryell offense. Scoring stayed at that level through 1986, when Coryell left San Diego.
Average scoring across the league dipped immediately and did not return to the 22-point level again until 2009.
Now, that sure doesn’t seem like a coincidence. Coryell’s impact is still felt in the pro game today. Many of the schemes, routes, personnel groupings, even the terminology is a direct descendant of the system Coryell pioneered.
He never took his team to a Super Bowl. But, he won. In the Super Bowl era, the Cardinals have had two head coaches with a winning record. One is Bruce Arians, who’s been there the last two seasons. The other is Don Coryell.
In his career, Coryell won 111 games. That’s more than John Madden (who was an assistant under Coryell at SDSU and told me he would not have had the success he had without Don’s help), Bill Walsh … and Vince Lombardi.
The difference is, all of those guys won rings. But, so did Mike Shanahan, Barry Switzer and Brian Billick. Shouldn’t the ability to make an impact so big it changes the trajectory of a sport be more important than winning one particular game on one particular Sunday?
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, here are the other 13 finalists, in alphabetical order:
Morten Andersen, K
Jerome Bettis, RB
Tim Brown, WR
Terrell Davis, RB (Lincoln High School alum)
Tony Dungy, Head Coach
Kevin Greene, LB/DE
Charles Haley, LB/DE
Marvin Harrison, WR
Jimmy Johnson, Head Coach
John Lynch, FS (Torrey Pines High School alum)
Orlando Pace, OT
Will Shields, OT
Kurt Warner, QB