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Super play not enough for the Hall of Fame
By MARC TOPKIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 27, 2001
TAMPA -- Rod Woodson is about as sure of a thing as there is. Selected to nine Pro Bowls, included on the team of the 1990s, named to the NFL's 75th Anniversary Team.
If there is one player from the teams in this Super Bowl destined to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it is going to be Woodson, Baltimore's star safety.
"His place in history is set," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "He's one of the all-time best."
There has been some talk that this is a Super Bowl without superstars. True, there may be no singular star, no charismatic hero, no sentimental favorite. But are there no players for the ages?
On the day the Pro Football Hall of Fame is set to announce its Class of 2001, we wonder who from the players in this game might be elected in the Class of 2006? Or 2010? Or 2020?
"I hope I live long enough to see how many come out of it," Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi said. "And I hope plenty will."
Woodson, according to past and present players, coaches, and media experts, is an automatic pick, even if he never plays another game. He has been too good for too long for it to be any other way.
"Obviously he's one of the greatest of all-time," Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis said. "I'd guess he'd be a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. He's just an excellent person and player. Everything about him is so first class. Words don't describe him."
Next would probably be Baltimore's Shannon Sharpe, who by the middle of next season will have the most catches and yardage of any tight end. "Shannon Sharpe has got to go," said retired linebacker and ESPN analyst Tom Jackson.
But those two could be the only ones.
There is a group of players, led by Baltimore's Ray Lewis and including Jonathan Ogden and Jessie Armstead, who have a chance if they keep doing what they're doing. And then there is Giants offensive tackle Lomas Brown, the old warhorse playing in his first Super Bowl in his 16th season.
The loquacious Sharpe, already a unanimous selection to the Interview Hall of Fame, finished this season, his 11th, with 619 catches for 7,793 yards. With another 44 catches and 188 yards, he'll eclipse Ozzie Newsome's impressive records.
Sharpe's greatest attribute?
"Consistency," Woodson said. "One-year wonders -- there's a whole bunch of those. But to be consistent over the years, playing good football week in and week out, year after year, making the catches, making the plays, that's what makes a great player. And that's why he's a great player."
Lewis, off-field troubles notwithstanding, has started his career in memorable fashion. He has been voted to the Pro Bowl four times in five seasons and followed up a stellar 1999 performance by being named the league's top defensive player this season.
"Ray Lewis has been brilliant for a couple of years but he has a long way to go," ESPN's Chris Berman said. "Maybe if he plays like that for eight more years, but that's a very big if. You're comparing him to some of the biggest names to ever play middle linebacker."
"Way down on the list," added ESPN's Mike Golic, a former defensive star.
Armstead has been nearly as impressive as Lewis, leading the Giants in tackles five straight seasons and earning four consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl while starting 80 consecutive games and serving as a team leader.
Maintaining that level of play for another four or five years could be enough to boost him into consideration for enshrinement.
But Armstead said he'll probably need something else, something he just might be able to add Sunday.
"You've got to win some championships," he said. "I feel like you have to have some championships to get in. It's very hard without it."
Brown, 37, could have the same problem.
"If I win this ... excuse me, when we win ... I always felt to be considered for the Hall of Fame or something like that you had to win something," Brown said. "You had to get to a Super Bowl and win it. Once we do this, that's when I feel I'll at least have a shot at it."
In Brown's case, even that might not be enough. There is no debating how long he has played, or how hard he has played, or how well-liked and well-respected he is.
But it's difficult to quantify the play of an offensive lineman, which may be a primary reason some of the game's best, such as Ron Yary and Mike Munchak, who are nominated this year, have not been enshrined.
"Lomas has had a nice career, but, no," Berman said. "It's hard to get into the Hall of Fame."
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