Eventually, we are going to run out of superlatives for Peyton Manning. Phrases like "greatest ever" will wear out. We'll be forced to improvise.
What was the word Will Ferrell once created on "Saturday Night Live" – scrumtralecent? Well, let this be the latest proclamation of Manning's 2004 season. Indeed, we all find it to be a scrumtralecent one.
In a game or three (or possibly just driving to the next stadium parking lot), Manning will break Dan Marino's single-season record for passing touchdowns. We are seeing history in the making and watching a player likely to be talked about for decades, if not forever. But Manning isn't the only one. We're witnessing a wealth of history this season.
The New England Patriots set the mark for most consecutive wins in NFL history. Green Bay's Brett Favre started his mind-boggling 200th consecutive game for the Packers. The careers of arguably the greatest running back (Emmitt Smith) and wide receiver (Jerry Rice) in NFL history are well into their twilight. And all the while, we're just stepping onto the front porch of Ben Roethlisberger's future.
It's that kind of stuff that makes you consider where this era of players fit in the longer view of history. Certainly Favre, Rice and Smith have secured their place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It's just a matter of when they want to punch their ticket. But how many other future Hall of Famers are we watching?
Consider that 151 "modern era" (post-1946) players have been inducted into Canton. That means our assumption of who we believe is a worthy candidate is probably false. Priest Holmes – for all of his greatness in recent years, including the NFL's single-season rushing touchdown record – is in reality a long shot for Hall of Fame induction. The inevitable breaking of Marino's TD pass record doesn't make Manning a Hall of Fame lock, nor does Favre's 200 straight starts at quarterback.
So we gave it some thought, and tried to sift out which current players could fit into the Hall-of-Fame picture. The criteria are fairly simple. Players have to have at least five years in the NFL to be considered (meaning 2004 would be their sixth season). That's why you won't find New England's Tom Brady, Baltimore's Jamal Lewis or Chicago's Brian Urlacher on the list.
Postseason success and longevity are huge pluses, but they're not altogether necessary. Sustained dominance and big numbers are also factored in. As you would expect, most of our active roster Hall of Fame "locks" have a combination of numbers, dominance, postseason success and longevity.
Here's how I see it:
THE BUSTS ARE WAITING
(The Hall of Fame locks)
Larry Allen, offensive lineman. He's an eight-time Pro Bowler with one Super Bowl ring. His body of work at the guard position can only be described as dominant.
Marshall Faulk, running back. Surprised? Only Rice, Walter Payton and Emmitt Smith have racked up more total yards. Faulk's Super Bowl ring ices it.
Brett Favre, quarterback. He owns one Super Bowl ring and has a chance to finish his career with more passing yardage than anyone other than Dan Marino. His grit has made him one of the game's legends.
Curtis Martin, running back. He's only made four Pro Bowls and one Super Bowl, but he'll finish his career as one of the top four rushers of all time.
Jerry Rice, wide receiver. With 13 Pro Bowls, he's arguably the best football player in the history of the game. His 22,673 receiving yards and 205 total touchdowns are astronomical.
Deion Sanders, cornerback. Forget about the tackling. In his heyday, he might have been the best coverage cornerback in league history. Plus, he has two Super Bowl rings.
Warren Sapp, defensive tackle. He's a seven-time Pro Bowler with a Super Bowl ring, but his best days are probably behind him. Don't just look at the sacks. As a pure defensive lineman, he was a special player during the first eight years of his career.
Junior Seau, linebacker. The NFL doesn't recognize tackles as a stat, but he would rate near the top all time. He made 11 Pro Bowls in his first 13 seasons but lost in his lone Super Bowl appearance.
Emmitt Smith, running back. Eight Pro Bowls, three Super Bowl rings, No. 1 rusher of all time. Enough said.
Aeneas Williams, cornerback/safety. He's an eight-time Pro Bowler who was one of the most skilled players in the NFL during his prime. Had he played his first 10 seasons with the Dallas Cowboys rather than the Arizona Cardinals, we might be calling him the best ever.
(They need to play a few more years.)
Derrick Brooks, linebacker. A seven-time Pro Bowler with a Super Bowl ring. He only needs a few more years at his current production.
Isaac Bruce, wide receiver. He should finish among the top five in all-time receiving yardage. That hasn't gotten Henry Ellard in, but he didn't win a Super Bowl.
Peyton Manning, quarterback. He has no Super Bowl rings, but if his career ended after this season, he'd get voted in. His amazing accuracy and touchdown-to-interception rate (208 to 117) is as scary as Dan Marino in his prime.
Jonathan Ogden, offensive tackle. As long as he bounces back from this season's injury bug, he'll play another five or six years and coast into the Hall. A Pro Bowler in seven of his eight seasons, he's by far the NFL's best all-around tackle when healthy.
Willie Roaf, offensive tackle. He's made nine Pro Bowls in 11 years but might only have a few quality years left. A dominant tackle, Roaf had too many years wasted on bad teams.
Will Shields, offensive guard. With eight Pro Bowls in 11 seasons, he amazingly appears to have plenty left in the tank. Shields is arguably the NFL's best pass blocking guard, even at 33.
MAYBE, MAYBE NOT …
(They are still making their cases.)
Corey Dillon, running back. By the time it's all over, he could be Curtis Martin with a Super Bowl ring.
Priest Holmes, running back. He needs two or three more years at his current production. Right now, his body of work isn't enough.
Ray Lewis, linebacker. He's one of the league's special defensive players who just needs to maintain his level of play for a few more years in Baltimore.
Donovan McNabb, quarterback. Forget the three straight NFC championship games with the Eagles and let's talk after a Super Bowl appearance.
Terrell Owens, wide receiver. As physically sound as he is, all it should take is a Super Bowl and a few more productive seasons.
Orlando Pace, offensive tackle. He's an Ogden clone.
Rod Smith, wide receiver. If he didn't have those two Super Bowl rings with the Broncos, he'd be just another good receiver.
Michael Strahan, defensive end. Unlike other HOF ends, his dominance has been inconsistent at the position.
MISSING THE CUT
(They're too far away to make it.)
Drew Bledsoe, quarterback. Wasn't dominant long enough.
Eddie George, running back. Yards per carry and late fade hurt him.
Keyshawn Johnson, wide receiver. Just another decent receiver.
Keenan McCardell, wide receiver. See Johnson.
Steve McNair, quarterback. Dominance and longevity aren't up to par.
Vinny Testaverde, quarterback. Too many bad teams and interceptions.
Kurt Warner, quarterback. A flash in the pan with a Super Bowl ring.
- Dan Marino
- Super Bowl