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O'HARA: 2 Lions who could join Stanfel in Canton

As many players have done before him, guard Dick Stanfel is leaving a path of golden footsteps for Detroit Lions players to follow to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In this Canton Countdown, Stanfel's induction Saturday evening prompts a look at two retired Lions players – one old, one recent – with the best chance to join Stanfel in Canton.

There's also a look at how Stanfel was part of a golden period of football in Detroit, some numbers that show the difference in the game Stanfel played in the 1950s compared to what we have today, and a hardline contract negotiation between Stanfel and Lions management that is comical by today's standards where eight- and nine-figure player contracts have become the norm.

We start with the Lions' next possible Hall of Famers:

1. Lions next in line for Canton: The most deserving old Lion probably is the late Alex Karras, a dominating defensive tackle who played 12 seasons in Detroit from 1958-70.

The recent retiree is Calvin Johnson, who announced his retirement in March after nine seasons as a Lion.

It is ironic how cold, hard statistics play different roles in defining the careers of Karras and Johnson.

In Johnson's case, stats fall short of making a strong case for him as a Hall of Famer. You had to see him play to realize how great he was, not read his stats in the record books.

It's the opposite for Karras. An absence of stats – the fact that the NFL did not recognize quarterback sacks as an official stat during his career – puts him somewhere between longshot and no shot to reach Canton.

Here's a look at both – and how one man's historical research might help Karras:

Karras: He had a career worthy of Canton after coming to the Lions in 1958 as a first-round draft pick out of Iowa. Karras, who died in 2012, was first-team All-Pro three times, made four Pro Bowls, and made the Pro Football Hall of Fame's all-decade team of the 1960s.

What about sacks? The NFL didn't recognize them as an official stat until 1982. However, in his research for Pro Football Journal, stats compiled by noted NFL historian John Turney rank Karras high on the all-time sack list for defensive tackles.

Turney credits Karras with 105 career sacks. That puts him 43rd on the all-time list, and second among pure defensive tackles. Hall of Famer Alan Page is No. 1 among tackles with 148.5 sacks. Page's career ended in 1981, the year before the NFL kept sacks as an official stat.

Turney explained his ranking for Karras in a recent email exchange: "We have a good number for Karras, but you have to understand that some of the data is incomplete from the late 1950s, so he could (and we are sure) he has a handful more. But we have him with 105 sacks."

Being on the Pro Football Hall of Fame's all-decade team of the 1960s also should have worked in favor of Karras at some point – particularly since the other two defensive tackles on the team, Bob Lilly and Merlin Olsen, are in the Hall of Fame.

However, the only path available to Canton for Karras is as a senior candidate – the same path taken by Lions Hall of Famers Charlie Sanders, Dick LeBeau and now Stanfel.

For some reason, Karras has never been one of the 56 players who made the final cut as senior candidates.

Johnson: His 731 career catches — 43rd on the all-time list — do not measure up to the modern-day 1,000-catch standard almost mandatory for wide receivers to be serious candidates to make the Hall of Fame.

Even then, there's no guarantee of a first-ballot election. Marvin Harrison of the Class of 2016 made it in his third year, despite being third on the all-time list with 1,102 catches.

And Terrell Owens did not make it on the first ballot this year, and he ranks sixth all time in catches (1,078), second in receiving yards (15,934) and third in receiving TDs (153).

One man's opinion: Calvin Johnson belongs in the Hall of Fame, and will make it eventually, but not on the first ballot when he becomes eligible in 2021. He set the single-season record with 1,964 yards in 2012, and he was the most dominating receiver of his era. Just ask the cornerbacks who had to cover him. That's good enough to be fitted for a gold jacket.

2. Golden era: It was just becoming that for the Lions when Stanfel arrived as a second-round draft pick in 1951. He was with the Lions through 1955 and finished his career with three seasons in Washington after a trade.

On the field, the Lions were a dominant team for much of the 1950s. They played in four championship games in a six-year span (1952-57) and won the title three times – 1952, '53 and '57.

The Lions and Browns were the only teams to win three championships from 1950-59. The Colts won two, and the Rams and Giants one each.

The Lions became pure gold at the box office, too. Playing at old Briggs Stadium (later renamed Tiger Stadium), attendance and sales of season tickets soared. As detailed in the Lions' media guides, season ticket sales increased from 10,094 in 1951 to 39,844 in 1957, the last championship season.

Overall, home attendance for the regular season rose from an average of 33,880 in 1951 to 55,746 in 1957.

3. Game changing numbers:

Stanfel becomes the Lions' 15th Hall of Famer who is considered by the Pro Football Hall of Fame to have spent "the major part" of their careers in Detroit. Some players, such as quarterback Bobby Layne (Detroit and Pittsburgh) are divided between two teams.

Players were smaller in Stanfel's era. So were rosters.

At 6-2 and 240 pounds, Stanfel was the biggest guard on the Lions' 1953 championship team. By comparison, the Lions' projected starting guards for 2016 are Laken Tomlinson (322 pounds) and Larry Warford (332).

Roster limits were 33 active players per team from 1951-56, and 35 in 1956-57, Stanfel's last two seasons.

The roster limit in 2016 is 53 players, with 46 active on gameday and a practice squad of 10.

At the end of the 2015 season, the Lions had 53 active players, 12 on injured reserve and eight on the practice squad – a total of 73 players under contract.

4. Contract hassle: According to media reports of his era, Stanfel had to use a bargaining chip to get a hefty – for that era – raise from the Lions.

Before the 1954 season – Stanfel's fourth season in Detroit – he had an offer from a Canadian Football League team.

According to the reports, Stanfel was due to make $7,000, and the CFL offer would have boosted him to $8,400.

Stanfel got a new deal from the Lions – for a reported $8,500.

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