The list of finalists for the NFL Hall of Fame was released Thursday night, and three of the San Francisco 49ers from the semifinalist list made it through to the final decision, to be made during Super Bowl weekend—Charles Haley, Eddie DeBartolo, and Kevin Greene.
That leaves Roger Craig as the odd man out, once again. Though Craig made the finalist list back in 2010, he’s been knocked out at this point four years in a row now, looking less and less likely to one day be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Since Craig has been eligible for the hall, he’s watched Eric Dickerson, Marcus Allen, Barry Sanders, Thurman Thomas, Emmitt Smith, Floyd Little, Marshall Faulk, and Curtis Martin get their bust in Canton, but the call hasn’t come for one of the first dual-threats in NFL history—the first man to notch more than 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season.
What’s keeping Craig out?
Perhaps it’s the fact that he was surrounded by no-doubt Hall of Famers like Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, and had another calling the shots in Bill Walsh. There seems to be a general feeling among the voters that while Craig was a valuable piece, he wasn’t the real difference-maker—that is, he benefited more from his surroundings than enhancing them with his own skills.
He also rarely topped the charts; he only cracked the top five in terms of rushing yards once in his career, and only hit the top ten twice more. While not an insignificant portion of his yards came from the passing game, that lack of yards on the ground might be harming his case.
There’s also a lack of longevity—he only had eight seasons of over 500 yards rushing, and only thrice cracked the thousand-yard barrier.
Due to the fact that he also played fullback and was in a time-share with Wendell Tyler for the first few years of his career, his career as a focal running back is essentially six seasons long. Compare that to Terrell Davis, who didn’t make the cut to the finalist list either and had nearly the same length of featured production as Craig did, with higher highlights.
The fact that he’s a running back counteracts the “look at the rings” argument—although he was part of three Super Bowl winning squads, those rings seem to matter more to voters if they’re on the fingers of a quarterback rather than a running back; no one records a team’s win percentage when such-and-such a running back starts.
Perhaps the voters see Craig peaking in the proverbial Hall of Very Good—he’s a player who consistently provided production and was a notable piece of a dynasty, but was a tier below his superstar, legendary brethren.
I don’t buy it.
When the semifinalist list was first announced, I made rough cases for the four 49er members, pointing out, among other things, how he was a high-level contributor for seven seasons—more than either Davis or Jerome Bettis—who did make the finalist list. His historic importance, as the first really successful player in the mold of a dual-threat of a backfield, boosts his candidacy, in my opinion.
Compare the ‘70s Steelers to the ‘80s 49ers, and you’ll see a huge difference in the number of players elected to the Hall for both teams.
They both had the same level of success in their decade, so the fact that ten Steelers and only five 49ers have been elected seems a bit oddly balanced. Some of that is due to the five player yearly limit; there has been more competition for slots for the ‘80s players simply due to the ‘70s wave of expansion bringing more players to the NFL.
Still—while Craig may not be an automatic lock to be in the Hall, he has just as good of an argument of some of the more borderline dynastic Steelers—with Lynn Swann being the one that jumps out at you most. I’m wary of the “if guy X is in the Hall, why isn’t guy Y in the Hall?” arguments, but you’d think Craig’s association with the ‘80s 49ers would help his cause, not hurt it.
I’m not even necessarily saying I’d vote to put Craig in this year; it’s a crowded field atop the list, with Michael Strahan, Derrick Brooks, and Marvin Harrison all elbowing to get in. I do think he’s worthy of at least getting into the final room one last time and having the voters hear his case, before being relegated to the Seniors Committee in four years.