When the “Greatest Show” St. Louis Rams were defeated by New England in a Super Bowl 36 upset, I wondered if the loss would damage the Pro Football Hall of Fame chances of individual players on the team’s offense.
Yes, the Rams won a Super Bowl and two NFC Championships over the three-season liftoff that began in 1999. Yes, we had the pleasure of watching one of the most dazzling and prolific offenses in NFL history. The Rams became the first team in league history to score 500-plus points in three consecutive seasons and averaged 33 points per game. And yes, the group generated a level of excitement that reverberated throughout the NFL.
But in a sporting culture that is obsessed with Super Bowls — media included — the 2001 Rams lost the biggest game of them all on a last-second field goal by Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri. That winning drive was conducted by a young quarterback named Tom Brady … before he was Tom Brady, G.O.A.T.
And by failing to win multiple Super Bowls, the members of the Rams’ offense missed out on a resume-enhancing factor in the Hall of Fame voting process. Translation: in Hall of Fame debates, winning two Super Bowls — instead of one — does a helluva lot more to strengthen the argument.
Well, I am happy to say that the “Greatest Show” cast has done well. These men haven’t been overlooked or forgotten. They haven’t slipped through the crevices of history. They haven’t faded away. They mattered. And their accomplishments still resonate.
Saturday in Miami, when wide receiver Isaac Bruce was chosen for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he became the fourth member of the “Greatest Show” offense to get the call to join the NFL immortals in Canton.
Bruce follows running back Marshall Faulk (2011), left offensive tackle Orlando Pace (2016) and quarterback Kurt Warner (2017.)
And wide receiver Torry Holt was a finalist (for the first time) in this year’s balloting. Holt was a long shot on Saturday. With Bruce becoming one of five modern-era players selected among 15 candidates, Holt didn’t have a chance. Understand that I’m not saying Holt is undeserving. He has a Hall of Fame case, and will eventually make it. But it’s crazy to believe that Bruce AND Holt would be voted in at the same time. That wasn’t going to happen.
And though I am focusing on offense here — because that formed the Rams’ identity and made a mark on NFL history — defensive back Aeneas Williams was voted into the Hall in 2014. But the great Aeneas didn’t join the Rams until 2001, after spending the first 10 years of his career in Arizona.
But for the 1999-01 Rams to have four representatives from the Greatest Show cast receive the league’s highest honor … It’s profound. It’s impressive.
I went back through history and reviewed some of the best-ever teams to see how many players, on offense, were enshrined in the Hall.
I’m not talking about all players from every era of football for that franchise; I’m referring to a specific period of greatness.
I don’t intend this to serve as an all-encompassing review of offense and the Hall of Fame. I’m trying to go with teams that you may be more familiar with, and I didn’t want to go through every era of NFL history.
The Cleveland Browns, for example, have a bunch of Hall of Famers from their offense during an extended stretch that started in the late 1940s and carried into the 1960s. Their Hall of Famers included RB Jim Brown and QB Otto Graham — and seven others. . It’s hard to do proper accounting because some Browns were part of the ‘50s but not the ‘60s … Some played in the ‘60s but not (or briefly) in the ‘50s. It isn’t one nucleus.
Again, the accounting only consists of players on offense… though I suppose I should at least mention a kicker or two.
Here are some examples of how the “Greatest Show” Rams have done in the Hall of Fame count. On a comparative basis, the Rams’ group of four offensive stars stands tall:
♦ Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers have five members of the ‘60s offense in Canton: QB Bart Starr, RBs Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor, guard Jerry Kramer and center Jim Ringo.
♦ The late-1950s, early-60s Baltimore Colts had four Hall of Famers, the same number as the Greatest Show Rams. The Colts were QB Johnny Unitas, RB Lenny Moore, WR Raymond Berry, and offensive lineman Jim Parker.
♦ The Tom Landry Dallas Cowboys of the late ‘60s and 1970s won two Super Bowls and played in three others. They had four future Hall of Famers: QB Roger Staubach, RB Tony Dorsett, WR Bob Hayes, and guard Rayfield Wright.
♦ The Jimmy Johnson Cowboys (three Super Bowl wins) also had four Hall of Famers in RB Emmitt Smith, WR Michael Irvin, QB Troy Aikman, and guard Larry Allen.
♦ The Minnesota Vikings of the late 1960s early ‘70s, a team that played in four Super Bowls, had three Canton-bound players on offense: QB Fran Tarkenton, center Mick Tingelhoff and offensive tackle Ron Yary.
♦ The Oakland Raiders of the (mostly) John Madden coaching era had four Hall Famers on the offensive side: QB Ken Stabler, WR Fred Biletnikoff, tight end Dave Casper, and guard Gene Upshaw. (And an ageless kicker and backup QB in George Blanda, played until age 48.) That team won three Super Bowls under Madden and Tom Flores.
♦ The 1970s Miami Dolphins of Don Shula won two Super Bowls and posted the only 17-0 season in NFL history back in ‘72. They had six Hall of Famers from the offense: QB Bob Griese, FB Larry Csonka, WR Paul Warfield, center Jim Langer and guard Larry Little. Shula lost two Super Bowls in the early 1980s with future Hall of Famer Dwight Stephenson at center in ‘82 and ‘84 and QB Dan Marino in ;84.
♦ The iconic Pittsburgh Steelers built by Chuck Noll won four Super Bowls in the 1970s. Five Hall of Famers on offense: QB Terry Bradshaw, RB Franco Harris, WRs Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, center Mike Webster.
♦ The Bill Walsh San Francisco 49ers won five Super Bowls — four in the 1980s, and their last to cap the 1994 season. Believe it or not those 49ers have only three wide receivers from their offensive unit: WR Jerry Rice and QBs Joe Montana and Steve Young.
♦ The Joe Gibbs Washington Redskins won two Super Bowls in the 1980s and a third in 1991. Only three Hall of Famers on offense: WR Art Monk, RB John Riggins, and guard Russ Grimm.
♦ The Denver Broncos won back-to-back Super Bowls in 1997-98 and had three offensive stars make it to Canton: QB John Elway, RB Terrell Davis and TE Shannon Sharpe.
♦ The Buffalo Bills made it to four consecutive Super Bowls from 1990 through ‘93. Four Hall of Famers from the “K Gun” offense are Hall of Famers: QB Jim Kelly, RB Thurman Thomas, WRs Andre Reed and James Lofton.
♦ The Indianapolis Colts of the Peyton Manning era won a Super Bowl and played in a second. Manning will be in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2021. When that happens the Colts will have three Hall of Famers from their offense: Manning, WR Marvin Harrison and RB Edgerrin James.
♦ Kicker Adam Vinatieri — who began his career with the Patriots before moving to Indy — is a lock for the Hall of Fame down the road. The same applies to New England QB Tom Brady. WR Randy Moss, already a Hall of Famer, had a huge 2007 season for the Patriots. And tight end Rob Gronkowski is a sure thing.
♦ The Hank Stram KC Chiefs of the late 1960s, and early ‘70s have two offensive Hall of Famers in QB Len Dawson and kicker Jan Stenerud. Another AFL power, the New York Jets, are represented in the Hall on offense by QB Joe Namath, WR Don Maynard and Riggins.
But think about it… the 1999-2001 Rams have more guys from offense in the Hall than the legendary 49ers … as many as the Landry-led Cowboys … as many as the Jimmy Johnson-era Cowboys … as many as the Johnny Unitas Colts … more than the ‘97-98 Broncos … as many as the Bills, who won four straight AFC titles … more than the Joe Gibbs Redskins.
And if Holt makes it one day, the Rams will have as many from their offense as the colossus-like Steelers and classic Raiders.
We the people — STL Rams fans — have nothing to complain about in the Hall of Fame voting.
That includes fans of the St. Louis football Cardinals, who were here for 28 seasons, through 1987, before heading to Arizona.
That team has four Hall of Famers: safety Larry Wilson, offensive tackle Dan Dierdorf, tight end Jackie Smith, and cornerback Roger Wehrli.
The St. Louis Rams were here for 21 seasons. Adding both franchises together, the Cardinals and Rams played a combined 49 NFL seasons in St. Louis.
Eight of the 49 teams made the playoffs. Only 16 of the 49 seasons ended with a winning record. And in nearly a half-century of NFL football, the Rams won six postseason games and a championship. (The Cardinals) never won a playoff game.
So that’s six postseason wins in 49 seasons.
And yet …
Those St. Louis NFL teams have NINE players enshrined in Canton … more Hall of Famers than postseason victories (six) over 49 seasons.
Those STL teams have as many Pro Football Hall of Famers as winning seasons.
That’s a good thing. And rather stunning.
Congratulations to Isaac Bruce, one of the finest men I’ve been privileged to know.
Thanks for reading …