Pick five and only five.
Seriously, pick five guys out of the following 15 finalists for consideration to the Pro Football Hall of Fame next month: Larry Allen, Jerome Bettis, Tim Brown, Cris Carter, Eddie DeBartolo Jr., Kevin Greene, Charles Haley, Art Modell, Jonathan Ogden, Bill Parcells, Andre Reed, Warren Sapp, Will Shields, Mike Strahan and Aeneas Williams.
Then, after you're done, submit your five selections to the general, NFL-loving public and see what other people think of your picks.
This year's group of 15 finalists (excluding the two senior nominees) is as difficult as any to sort through, including some who changed the game off the field (DeBartolo and Modell) to some who defined winning (Haley is the only man to ever play on five Super Bowl-winning teams) to a man who might be the greatest to ever play his position (Ogden) to a coach (Parcells) who has influenced the game for 30 years.
In short, when the 46 Hall of Fame selectors gather Feb. 2 in New Orleans to argue the merits of each man and ultimately decide which three to five are headed to Canton, Ohio., there is little doubt that whomever they select, there will be plenty of second-guessing.
With that in mind, thoughtful and funny Denver Post reporter Jeff Legwold suggested Friday via Twitter that all of the former players-turned-analysts should publicly say who their five would be before criticizing the selection committee.
Don't expect that to happen. But with that in mind, here's the ballot of one non-voting writer (me).
And yes, I know the second-guessing is coming:
OT Jonathan Ogden – Ogden was part of perhaps the last great era of left tackles, a time that featured Walter Jones, Orlando Pace, Tony Boselli, Gary Zimmerman and Willie Roaf. While all of them are either in the Hall or deserve to be there, it's also fair to argue that Ogden was the best of all of them, if not the greatest of all time. He was a prototype of what a left tackle should be both in terms of size and ability as both a run- and pass-blocker. In 12 seasons, he was named to the Pro Bowl 11 times, All-Pro six times, won a Super Bowl and blocked for a 2,000-yard runner (Jamal Lewis).
DE Charles Haley – Start off by acknowledging that Haley was driven to succeed to the point of personal detriment. The wild stories of Haley's antics are well known around the NFL and, sadly, he deals with depression to this day. Once you get past that, Haley was one of the most disruptive, talented football players ever. Bill Walsh called him the best pass rusher the 49ers had in his time … when Haley was a rookie. Former Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson traded for Haley and called him the "missing element" to a defense that helped the Cowboys win three titles in four years. Bottom line, Haley won more than any player ever and the most essential goal of the game is to win.
DT Warren Sapp – Sapp isn't the classiest human being alive and, as a player, generally treated people like dirt. But there's no denying his immense talent as a defensive tackle, both in terms of pass rush (96 ½ career sacks) and run-stopping ability. He made the Pro Bowl seven time, was named All-Pro four consecutive years, made both the All-Decade teams for the 1990s and 2000s and won the NFL Defensive Players of the Year in 1999. His combination of incredible quickness and sublime strength make him a touchstone of comparison for scouts to this day. Every team is looking for the next Sapp.
DE Michael Strahan – Some people like to view Strahan as simply a great pass rusher (he has 141 ½ career sacks, including a record 22 ½ in 2001) and that's just plain shortsighted. Strahan did much of his work while lining up at left defensive end, which is the run-stopper's side. Strahan combined great strength (he constantly faced much bigger right tackles) with his amazing speed and quickness. He was named to the Pro Bowl seven times, All-Pro five times and was the unanimous NFL Defensive Player of the year in 2001. He led the Giants to two Super Bowl appearances and was the leader of the defense that helped upset the previously undefeated New England in the '07 title game.
Owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. – This is where the ballot gets really tough because there are three men on the list (DeBartolo, Parcells and Modell) who qualify as "contributors" to the game because none of them played. All of them left an indelible mark on the game, such as Modell's work on developing the TV partnerships and the advertising side of the game. Parcells' legacy as one of only two men to lead two different teams to the Super Bowl (Mike Holmgren is the other) is accentuated by his reach around the league in developing coaches, including Bill Belichick. However, despite his eventual dismissal from the league over legal issues, DeBartolo set a standard for how the modern owner can operate. Unlike so many "silent" owners to that point, DeBartolo bought the 49ers in the 1970s and turned them into winners with a series of great moves. He hired Bill Walsh and pushed the team to greater and greater heights. The team won five Super Bowls in his time as he put pressure on other owners to keep pace.
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