Prime time for Hall of Famers
CANTON, Ohio — Deion, Marshall and Shannon. Three players who could get by with only their first names, and soon to be known as Hall of Famers.
Deion Sanders, Marshall Faulk and Shannon Sharpe (of course) will be inducted into the Pro Football shrine Saturday night. Sanders and Faulk were slam dunks in their first year of eligibility.
Joining that trio will be Richard Dent, Chris Hanburger, Les Richter and Ed Sabol.
Sanders was one of football's most versatile and entertaining players, earning the nickname "Prime Time." According to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, he also was a phony.
"Deion was a fraud — a fraud, OK?" Jones said. "He wanted it to look easy, but he was a hard worker. He would give just enough at practice to be a team player in strength and conditioning, but when he went home he worked like a dog on his strength. He wanted everyone to think he was a natural. He was, but it wasn't only because he was born like that. He worked."
The teams Sanders played for generally worked their way into the playoffs. In 1994, he joined the 49ers and helped them win the Super Bowl. The next year, he was headed to Dallas, helping the Cowboys win their third title in four seasons.
"Deion was 'Prime Time,' 'Neon Deion,' always that flashy player that everybody wanted to be," said Mike Jenkins, the Cowboys cornerback who now wears 21. "He always stood out and he let it be known that he was one of the best. He definitely made it exotic to play cornerback."
Faulk wasn't quite so exotic. He was just as formidable, though, retiring with 12,279 yards and 100 touchdowns rushing, another 6,875 yards and 36 TDs as a receiver.
His dominance in an 12-season career, the first five with Indianapolis, the last seven in St. Louis, earned him election to the hall over two other running backs who became eligible for the first time in 2011. Both Curtis Martin and Jerome Bettis rushed for more yards than Faulk, yet fell short of enshrinement.
"People make a big thing about going in on the first ballot, but it's really more about getting in," Faulk said. "They don't give you a target to shoot at. In baseball, you know what you have to do to make the Hall of Fame. In football, you start off, you don't really know what you have to do to make it. There's no 'If you break these records as a tight end, you're going to get in' or Shannon Sharpe would have got in his first year. That's hard to do."
Sharpe retired in 2003 and missed out on making the hall in his first two years of eligibility. He compiled 10,060 yards receiving and 62 touchdowns, monstrous numbers for a tight end, and won three Super Bowls — two with Denver, one with Baltimore.
But tight end always has been a difficult position from which to gain hall entry; there are only eight tight ends in Canton.
Sharpe did it the hardest way, working his way from a seventh-round draft pick out of Savannah State to making eight Pro Bowls.
"Shannon was the best at what he did, no question," said Mike Shanahan, who coached him with the Broncos. "He dominated. His work ethic was at the top. He played his best in big games, and he did it all over a long period of time."
Dent also was a low draft choice who had a long career (15 seasons) — and an even longer wait to make the hall. He retired in 1997 after one season as an Eagle. Dent spent 12 seasons with the Bears and one each with the 49ers and Colts.
He was the main pass rusher on the overpowering Chicago defense that rampaged through the NFL in 1985, winning Super Bowl MVP honors for his performance in the 46-10 victory over New England. An eighth-round choice from Tennessee State, Dent had 10 or more sacks in eight seasons and twice had 4½-sack games. He also was adept at stopping the run.
"The thing about Richard was he really made himself what he became," said Mike Ditka, the Bears coach in '85.
Nicknamed "The Hangman," Hanburger stood out for one violent move he practically patented in 14 seasons with Washington: the clothesline tackle, which eventually was outlawed.
Chosen by the senior committee, Hanburger left the game in 1978, never winning a championship. That doesn't mean he wasn't a standout, with coach George Allen allowing the linebacker to call defenses. And Allen had some intricate schemes.
"It was a lot of fun to control the game right there on the field," Hanburger said. "We could audiblize at any time and we could audiblize to any defense we had, whether we had practiced it or not. When you have mature players, it takes a lot of pressure off the coach."
Richter, also chosen by the senior committee, died last year. He played linebacker for the Los Angeles Rams from 1954-62. They traded 11 players for him and waited two years while he was in the military before he suited up. He made the wait worthwhile, going to eight straight Pro Bowls. He also was a center and kicker.
Sabol is the founder of NFL Films, an organization that has changed the way the game has been viewed. Considered a pioneer in use of multiple cameras and slow motion to depict the intensity, speed and violence of the sport, Sabol began his association with the NFL in 1962 when he filmed the league's championship game.
There will be no Hall of Fame game this year because of the recently concluded lockout. The lack of a game has hurt ticket sales for the inductions, with about 12,000 fans expected. Last year, there were more than 19,000.