Pat Tillman and the NFL Hall of Fame

As the NFL lockout comes tantalizingly close to ending, NFL fans everywhere hope that it is full steam ahead to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio on August 7th.

Sadly though, a noble but perhaps misguided movement is underfoot to get the late Pat Tillman elected to the Hall of Fame.

Like many, I love Pat Tillman. He is an American hero, and the fact that his death was shrouded in mystery does not tarnish his own heroism.

I have been to the Hall of Fame twice, and my first time in 2006 brought me to tears when I saw the Pat Tillman exhibit. It was part of an overall 9/11 exhibit. As usual, the NFL gets it. I was disappointed that I did not see the exhibit when I went back to the HOF in 2011, but perhaps they will break it out again come September. They are making some expansions.

Yet Pat Tillman was about integrity, and integrity says that election to the HOF must be about deeds on the football field, not political correctness.

Pat Tillman absolutely deserves his own exhibit. He does not deserve to be in Canton with a bust.

He very well could have been a Hall of Famer, but we cannot know that.

There are so many “coulda woulda shoulda beens” that for the most unfair reasons, didn’t.

Joe Delaney was a promising player for the Kansas City Chiefs who was drafted in 1981. His career was off to a very good start. He was a solid football player. Then on July 4th, 1983, he died a hero. Three children were drowning in a shallow amount of water. Joe Delaney could not swim, but he dove in anyway and rescued one of the three children before he and the other two kids died. Joe Delaney will forever be remembered as true greatness from a humanity standpoint. Football and non-football fans should forever learn about his legacy. That is why I love and blog about football. That does not mean he should be in the Hall.

Bo Jackson could have been one of the greatest athletes of all time, right up there with Jim Thorpe, Deion Sanders, Babe Ruth, and Michael Jordan. He made it to the baseball All Star Game and the NFL Pro Bowl. Yet after four years, a freak hip injury ended his football career. He was a human highlight reel for the Raiders and the Royals, but it was not enough. He will not get into Canton.

Art Shell was the first black head coach in the history of the modern era. He had a winning record coaching with the Raiders, and took the team to the AFC Title Game in his first full season as a head coach in 1990. The cultural significance of his hiring eventually led to Dennis Green, who then gave us Tony Dungy. Dungy and Mike Tomlin have Super Bowl rings as head coaches, and they stand on Art Shell’s shoulders. Yet based on football alone, Shell does not have the pedigree to be in the Hall as a head coach. Shell is in the Hall as a player, because he was one of the greatest left tackles in the history of the game. That supersedes race. There is an exhibit in the Hall showing Shell and other minority head coaches. Yet busts are about merit, and Shell merited it as one of the best players at his position. He was merely a better than average coach, a good one but not great.

The flip side is the case as well. Ty Cobb was a racist, but his baseball prowess got him in the Baseball HOF. There are some scoundrels in football. Michael Vick was convicted of dogfighting. Yet if he continues his pace from 2010, he could make it to the Hall.

Brett Favre was caught up in a sexting scandal. He will be a first ballot Hall of Famer for holding every record. Ben Roethlisbergrer got caught in a rape scandal but he owns two Super Bowl rings and nearly got a third one last year. It does not make him a good person. He is still a great football player. Ray Lewis was accused of double murder, but he will absolutely be a first ballot Hall of Famer as one of the very best middle linebackers in the history of the game, right up there with Butkus and Nitschke.

(Neither Favre, Roethlisbergrer, or Lewis were convicted of anything.)

(Pete Rose is not in the baseball Hall of Fame because gambling is considered the biggest sin in sports. However, he gambled while a manager. That should not take away his accomplishments as a player. His critics say he has never shown remorse. He doesn’t have to. It would be admirable, but this is not about being a good person. It is about being a great player.)

So as the NFL season prepares to have its opening Sunday on September 11th, 9/11/11, it is important not to confuse patriotism with football greatness.

Pat Tillman was not a Hall of Famer.

He was just a Hall of Fame human being who gave his life for his country.

For that, we should all be thankful. That is what we should teach our children.

That is how we should honor him when we see his exhibit in Canton.

A flyover of jets with an image of him should take place at the start of the Arizona Cardinals game.

Then we should spend that 9/11/11 Sunday by doing what the Jets and Giants did on the first games back after the Towers went down in 2001. The NYPD and FDNY clamored for it.

Fans everywhere want it. Tillman would want it.

The players should play football. They should play hard. They should play to win.

We should cheer them on, and just love the game of football…and America.

That is how we honor Pat Tillman.


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