ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In the 19 days since former Denver Broncos running back Terrell Davis and six others were selected for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, there has been the usual banter about who did, and didn’t, get in.
Every organization in the NFL has five or six former players, coaches or owners who are thought to be slam dunks for the Hall.
Multiply that five or six by 32, and it adds up to a whole lot more than the five slots allowed each year for modern-era finalists to become Hall of Famers. The number of those making the Hall will never come close to the number of strong candidates. This year alone, seven all-decade players, the best of the best, didn’t make the cut after being among the 15 finalists.
This exclusiveness has directed some of the discussion toward Davis. In my mind, he had always been a Hall of Famer in waiting. But parts of the hot-take world believe that Davis has somehow compressed the window of what makes a player worthy of the Hall of Fame. The thinking is that Davis, who played just seven NFL seasons, has somehow “opened the door” for other players with seven or fewer years in the league.
The thing is, Davis hasn’t made it easier to be a Hall of Famer. No, he simply showed what it takes, and that bar won’t be reached by many.
Davis is a Hall of Famer because he was the rarest kind of player — one whose accomplishments will be difficult to repeat. The door to the Hall of Fame is exactly as narrow as it always has been. Davis earned his admission the same way everyone else with a gold jacket did — by being among the best the game has to offer.
So go ahead and believe a rush of players with shorter careers will commence marching toward Canton.
But when assessing each candidate, start by asking if the player was a league MVP.
Then check to see if the player was a Super Bowl MVP.
And be sure to determine whether the player was the driving force for not one, but two, Super Bowl wins for his team. (If you’re hesitant to call Davis the key player in the Broncos’ back-to-back Super Bowl wins in the 1997 and 1998 seasons, just ask John Elway. Or Mike Shanahan. Or anybody else who played alongside Davis and now has two Super Bowl rings.)
Top off your assessment by considering whether the player was the greatest postseason performer at his position. Davis’ playoff work was beyond question, as the Broncos were 7-0 in postseason games in which he rushed for 100 yards. His 142.5 yards rushing per game in the playoffs is the best total ever among backs with several playoff games on their resume.
A player like that, despite having played just seven years, deserves a spot in Canton. But the list of guys who can check all of those boxes has always been short, and it remains short now, even with Davis being honored. Nothing has changed, except a guy who deserves to be in the Hall of Fame has been recognized for that highest of football honors.
The Hall of Fame calls itself a place to honor the heroes of the game, to preserve the history of football and to celebrate excellence. That’s exactly why Davis is in.