Mike O'Hara: It's time to let the best at every position in the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Posted Apr 10, 2013

On the heels of Jason Hanson's retirement, Detroitlions.com columnist Mike O'Hara analyzes kickers inability to earn election into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and whether that should change

Jason HansonK Jason Hanson (G. Smith/Detroit Lions)
Even in retirement, Jason Hanson has hit the target.

Hanson made a pitch at his retirement press conference Tuesday for the Pro Football Hall of Fame to open its doors to kickers.

Hanson’s comments were made in response to a question, and he wasn’t acting on his own behalf but for all kickers, who effectively have been excluded as serious Hall of Fame candidates by the Board of Selectors, who vote on the nominees each year.

Jan Stenerud, who was inducted in 1991, is the only pure kicking specialist in the Hall of Fame. Stenerud played from 1967-85 and spent most of his 19-season pro career with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Other kickers or punters in the Hall of Fame also played a regular position. That includes Lou "The Toe" Groza, George Blanda and Yale Lary. Lary was a defensive back for the Lions.

Hanson’s comments came after Lions Vice Chairman Bill Ford Jr., franchise President Tom Lewand and head coach Jim Schwartz spoke of Hanson’s Hall of Fame worthiness.

"If the NFL is serious about taking kickers, and they should be, then Jason’s got to be the next guy in the Hall of Fame," Ford said.

The only kicking specialist to get serious consideration since Stenerud’s induction is punter Ray Guy, who played for the Raiders from 1973-86.

Compared to the punters of his era, Guy was so superior, with such sub-orbital hang time, that former Lions head coach Monte Clark told his punters not to watch Guy warm up, to keep them from getting psyched out.

Hanson announced his retirement last week, citing a heel injury that had not healed sufficiently for him to kick at a level he thinks is required to compete at a high level.

If he played any other position except kicker, Hanson’s statistics would warrant strong consideration for the Hall. He holds the NFL record for most games played with one franchise (327), and is third in field goals made (495) and third in points scored (2,150).

Morten Andersen and Gary Anderson are the two kickers ahead of Hanson on the career list for field goals made and points scored. Neither has been a serious Hall of Fame candidate, Andersen retired after the 2007 season, and Anderson after the 2004 season.

"I really appreciate those comments," Hanson said of the comments made on his behalf. "The decision is obviously not mine to take. I haven’t even begun to evaluate my stats, or what does it mean, or how you stack up.

"I still believe to this day that media a little bit, and fans and those who know the game, still don’t quite know what to do with kicking and still don’t quite know how to evaluate what makes one kicker better than another.

"I think it’s a difficult thing. I understand that a little bit, but I think that the NFL, let’s just say as a blanket statement, needs to come to grips with it. I didn’t invent the game, and we’re part of it and it’s a big deal.

"What guys have done -- give them a separate wing in the Hall of Fame. But I don’t know how you can ignore it, because I was in it. I felt the pressure. I felt the intensity and the consequences of making and missing."

As a former Hall of Fame selector, I can attest to the inherent difficulties of voting on a group of nominees that includes offensive linemen. They are the only players in any major sport who are not judged in a significant way by commonly known statistics.

There is no such dilemma for kickers and punters. It is far beyond the time for Canton to be home to the best players at all positions.