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My 2012 AFL HOF Finalist Ballot

Andy Lopusnak
Tuesday June 19, 2012


It's Hall of Fame selection time again in the Arena Football League. This Friday, the AFL will announce ten finalists selected by the Hall of Fame Advisory Board. Last year, I correctly predicted nine of the ten finalists (I took a player over an administrator but did mention him as a worthy finalist) and correctly predicted that all ten should be inducted that year (which happened). Here's my ten finalists and reasons why I selected these ten for consideration for the indoor game's holy of holies.

The Hall opens its doors now to all players that hung up their cleats after the 2008 season and thus never played a down in the revamped AFL that kicked off in 2010. This means that greats like James Baron, Sherdrick Bonner, Clint Dolezel, Omarr Smith and Clevan Thomas are in their first year of eligibility.
 
To be eligible, players need to have played at least three AFL seasons unless that player played in the league's first two seasons (1987-88 – this is only in the rules to allow Craig Walls into the Hall because no one else fits this and no one else who played only in those first two seasons is worthy of Hall consideration). In addition, players need to be retired two full seasons plus the current season (unlike the NFL that mandates five full seasons with induction prior to the sixth season after a player's last game). The 2009 non-season doesn't count, so a player's last game needed to be in the 2008 season. Coaches need at least five years of service and can be active.
 
The AFL has a higher percentage of non-players (31%) in its Hall than the Pro Football Hall of Fame (15%) and Baseball HOF (18%). This self love for non-players is likely to increase this season. I see Bill Niro getting a nod. I mentioned Niro as one of the few I considered in addition to the ten I selected last season. He should already be in the Hall because of his role in the founding of the AFL and his help in bringing the AFL back in 2010. However, since he’s a member of the HOF Advisory Board, he should recruse himself or not be considered as a candidate.
 
To review, there are now 33 individuals in the AFL’s Hall of Fame. Here’s a quick look at them.
 
23 players: 
George LaFrance, Stevie Thomas, Sylvester Bembery, Barry Wagner, Kurt Warner, Sam Hernandez, Hunkie Cooper, Eddie Brown, Dwayne Dixon, Gary Mullen, Tate Randle, Alvin Rettig, Craig Walls, Jay Gruden, Durwood Roquemore, Jon Roehlk, Ben Bennett, Carl Aikens, Herkie Walls, Joe March, John Corker, Fred Gayles and Reggie Smith
 
Four head coaches: 
 
Six contributors (administrations, executives and owners): 
Jim Foster, Mike Ilitch Jerry Kurz, Glenn Mazula, Gene Nudo and Gary Vitto
 
As far as other non-players, three head coaches can be considered as possible candidates: Mike Dailey, Jay Gruden and Mike Hohensee. The AFL mislabeled John Gregory as a HOFer when it named him to the Silver Anniversary Committee. Gregory’s name should never come up for Hall consideration. He was 12-34 in his final 46 regular season games as an AFL head coach. Yes, he was AFL Coach of the Year twice (more than Dailey, Gruden and Hohensee combined), but take away his three seasons with Kurt Warner out of his career and he won just one playoff game and had a combined 47-60 record. That’s not Hall worthy.
 
Gruden is already in as a player, but as a head coach he was one of the best. In his first three seasons, Gruden took Orlando to the ArenaBowl all three years and won twice. He never had a losing season in his nine years at the helm of the Predators (Dailey and Hohensee have a combined eight losing seasons). Dailey won an ArenaBowl with Albany and Colorado. Hohensee has been involved with the league since the inaugural game in 1987. Looking at his overall numbers, Hohensee was pretty good, not great. Yes, he did win an ArenaBowl, but that 2006 team is by far the worst champion in league history – only team with losing record to win the ArenaBowl. Just sticking around and being pretty good shouldn’t be a qualification for the Hall of Fame. You need to be great to be in the Hall. A winning percentage of 53.2 shouldn’t.  
 
CATEGORY
 
DAILEY
 
GRUDEN
HOHENSEE
Overall Record
115-83 (58%)
93-61 (60.4%)
151-133 (53.2%)
Reg. Season Record
104-76
82-54
139-121
Playoff Record
11-7
11-7
12-12
ArenaBowl App.
2
4
1
ArenaBowl Wins
2
2
1
Total Seasons
12
9
18
Non-Losing Seasons
9
9
12
10-win seasons
5
4
6
 
Looking at the members of the HOF Advisory Board, I see them putting Dailey and Hohensee in as finalists (along with Niro). I just can’t. If you cannot win 60% of your games as a head coach, you shouldn’t be considered Hall worthy. It’s a slap in the face to Arbet, Marcum, Moss and White who were great year in and year out. That cannot be said for Dailey (was 6-10 in his final season) and Hohensee (10-20 in his last 30 games – that's not very HOF worthy). Gruden, on the other hand, never had a losing regular season and since the only thing that truly matters is winning he should get in before way before the other two.
 
With all this, my fictitious ballot will all be about players this season – as it should be. With 31 percent of the AFL HOFers being non-players, it’s time to focus more on the people in the pads and not the ones in polos or suits. That being said, I think the HOF Advisory Board will put Niro, Hohensee and Dailey in the ten. If Hohensee is in there, it shouldn’t be as a coach but as a contributor. He’s been in the AFL since tossing the first touchdown in league history. Longevity is important to a contributor, but longevity with a record barely over .500 is not Hall worthy. The four head coaches in the HOF are again Arbet, Marcum, Moss and White. Those four are the head coaching yardstick and had fewer losing seasons combined than Hohensee has had in his career. I like Coach Ho and respect him a lot. He should eventually be in the AFL HOF (as should Dailey and Gruden as a coach), but just not this year.
 
Now let’s look at the best of the best eligible players.
 
As I mentioned last year (click here for more), any eligible player from the 20 Greatest Players list that the league issued in 2006 to celebrate it's first 20 seasons that's eligible should be the first to get a shot at the ten finalists even though I didn’t agree with the list then or the league’s flawed 25 Greatest Players list this year. If you were considered the greatest of the first 20 years, how can you not be put in as a finalist when you're eligible?
 
There are six eligible players on that list including #6 James Baron, #8 Sherdrick Bonner, #14 Greg Hopkins, #14 Corey Fleming, #17 Randy Gatewood and #20 Bob McMillen. ­
 
Bonner is a no-brainer. He’s not only a finalist, but easily gets into the Hall this season. Bonner was ArenaBowl VIII MVP and took Arizona to three other ArenaBowls (he didn’t play in the Rattlers ArenaBowl XI victory due to an injury). In AFL history, he ranks fourth in passing touchdowns, fifth in passing yards and third in wins (behind Aaron Garcia and Mark Grieb).
 
Baron was one of the most dominating nose tackles in AFL history. The ArenaBowl XIV Ironman still ranks second all-time in sacks. He was named All-Arena six times (first team five times), earned AFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1999 and was named AFL Lineman of the Year in 1998 and 2001.  In 2006, the league said he was the sixth greatest player in the AFL’s first 20 years. However, I have a strange feeling that Baron will not be included in the finalists because of his involvement in the AFL Players Union as executive president that resulted in the Week One Pittsburgh-Orlando debacle and the Pittsburgh-Cleveland forfeit. Now that the league has labor peace (Baron was key to that), maybe it will honor Baron. With HOF ballots due to the league at the same time the new CBA will be signed on Wednesday, it may be too late as the seven Advisory Board members may already have selected their ten. As a player, Baron was a beast and because of that, he’d get one of my mythical votes for the HOF. It’s about history and his playing career was historic.   
 
Hopkins, Gatewood and Fleming were all very similar so much so that the three were named Ironman of the Year in back-to-back-to-back seasons from 2002-04. In 2006, the AFL named Hopkins and Fleming as the 14th greatest and Gatewood as #17. That was before Gatewood was named Ironman of the Year for the second time later that season. Gatewood was named All-Arena six times. Only Barry Wagner (nine) and Kenny McEntyre (eight) have more All-Arena selections (James Baron, Sylvester Bembery and Hunkie Cooper also had six). Additionally, only HOFers Eddie Brown (31.9) and George LaFrance (31.4) had higher touchdown percentages than Gatewood (among non-active players with at least 5,000 career receiving yards). Looking at the careers of all three, it’s hard not to select this trio.
 
CATEGORY
 
HOPKINS
 
GATEWOOD
FLEMING
Games Played
145
149
124
Receptions
833
690
846
Receiving Yards
10,206
9,029
10,221
Receiving TD
196
214
235
Tackles
373.0
427.0
181.5
Forced Fumbles
13
8
2
Fumble Recoveries
17
13
4
Interceptions
26
36
20
INT Yards
316
313
279
INT TD
10
2
4
Ironman of the Year
1
2
1
All-Arena Selections
4
6
5
ArenaBowl wins
1
1
0
 
The AFL loves Bob McMillen. Statistically, there’s no reason for him to be #20 in the 2006 AFL Greatest Players and #17 in the 2012 25 Greatest Players; but he’s there (would anyone really take him over Mark Grieb on any day? Apparently the Silver Anniversary Committee would). Yes, McMillen is Hall worthy; but when you put him up head-to-head with someone like Andre Bowden, it amazes me that McMillen would be considered better.
 
In 43 fewer games, Bowden had more rushing touchdowns (still the most ever by a FB/LB) and over double the number of sacks (also most ever by a FB/LB). If you have the most rushing touchdowns, most sacks and most All-Arena First Team selections along with three ArenaBowl wins as a FB/LB; you deserve to not only be in the Hall of Fame, but should be considered the greatest FB/LB to play the game. I’d put Bowden in way before McMillen, which the numbers below clearly show. I know that HOF board will put McMillen in as a finalist this season and likely will ignore Bowden. Take a look for yourself.
 
CATEGORY
 
 
McMILLEN
BOWDEN
Games Played
156
113
Rushing Yards
1,514
1,247
Rush Yards/Game
9.7
11.0
Rushing Touchdowns
85
92
Sacks
13.0
30.0
Forced Fumbles
6
7
Fumble Recoveries
12
13
Blocked Kicks
2
5
Interceptions
5
1
ArenaBowl wins
3
3
All-Arena First team
1
3
 
FB/LB Bo Kelly is the league’s all-time leader in rushing yards and Les Barley was the first to reach 1,000 yards on the ground. Kelly never was named to the All-Arena team and once again had a long career and thus his numbers were inflated more by longevity than dominance. Barley was the first AFL player to reach 1,000 rushing yards and along with Bowden were two of the most complete FB/LB to play the game (and they were teammates for most of their careers).
 
Now that the 25 Greatest Players list is slowly being released, there are some players on the new list that weren’t mentioned five seasons ago. Defensive specialist Clevan Thomas was named the 24th Greatest Player and is eligible for the first time. Thomas’ career began with a bang earning Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, then went on to record the second most interceptions in league history (50), five All-Arena selections and three ArenaBowl wins. In an offensive game, Thomas was one of the best defensive players.
 
Other notable first-year eligible players include QBs Clint Dolezel & Matt D'Orazio, DBs Omarr Smith & Rashad Floyd, lineman Kyle Moore-Brown and receiver Mike Horacek.
 
Dolezel finished his AFL career as the league’s all-time leader in all passing categories (Garcia is now the leader in all those categories). The three-time All-Arena gunslinger’s 280.2 passing yards per game and 5.85 touchdowns per game still rank as the best in league history. He won an ArenaBowl in 2001 with the Grand Rapids Rampage. D'Orazio, a two-time ArenaBowl MVP, played just four seasons and did win two titles. His regular season numbers were pretty good, but his postseason numbers were stellar. I think he gets a nod in the future but just not this year. As far as him as a HOFer, I don't know. That's a tough one. He had a short stellar career. 
 
Some might think Andy Kelly should be considered, but compare him to Vinny Testeverde, who only put up big career numbers because of longevity not greatest. Not once did his peers feel that Kelly was an All-Arena performer in his 14 seasons. He never led the league in passing yards either. Mike Pawlawski put a string of four really good seasons, was named to the 15th Anniversary Team and led Albany to an ArenaBowl win in 1999, but I don’t think you can put him into the category of a Gruden, Bonner, Grieb, Garcia or Dolezel. Pawlawski is by far better than Kelly, but Hall worthy? Maybe eventually, but not in this year’s class. Dolezel and Bonner should be the only QBs to get inducted into the Hall until Garcia and Grieb are eligible. AGAIN, HALL OF FAME, NOT HALL OF BETTER THAN AVERAGE.
 
Omarr Smith won four ArenaBowl titles (three with San Jose, one with Tampa Bay) and was named All-Arena twice. He earned ArenaBowl XVI Ironman and ArenaBowl XXI Defensive Player of the Game honors. Another defensive specialist eligible is Rashad Floyd, who was a tackling machine in his five seasons with Colorado. From 2004-08, he had more tackles than any player in the league. In fact, he had the most of any player during any five-year period in league history to go along with 42 interceptions and three Second Team All-Arena selections. Smith didn’t have as many tackles or interceptions, but his outstanding performances in the playoffs were instrumental to all four of his championship rings.
 
Looking at the 25 Greatest Players list, an obvious choice would be Darryl Hammond. I say the three-time All-Arena selection is an eventual Hall of Famer, but looking at his career I cannot justify it this season. He played a long time and his career numbers are based more on longevity than dominance (look at his numbers). He was a really good two-way player and it baffles me how he was selected as the #19 Greatest Player ahead of legends like Chris Jackson and Clevan Thomas.
 
If I had to select my ultimate fantasy team of WR/LBs that played in the AFL, Hammond wouldn’t crack my top five. Here’s a list of some WR/LB that had similar or better numbers and accomplishments: Stevie Thomas, Hunkie Cooper, Lawrence Samuels, James Roe, Cory Fleming, Dwayne Dixon, Greg Hopkins, DeJuan Alfonzo, Gary Compton, Fred Gayles, Mike Horacek and Chris Jackson (though Jackson and Horacek were WR/LBs for just a few years). Looking at the league’s 25 Greatest list; Thomas, Dixon and Hammond have been the only WR/LB listed. It’s safe to say Hunkie Cooper will be on the list but likely no other WR/LB. At the position, I’d easily take Gatewood, Roe, Fleming and Hopkins ahead of Hammond. The numbers and actual history of those players show why those four were far superior to Hammond.
 
As a receiver, Hammond had over 900 yards just twice (1995, 2003) and only one 20+ touchdown season (2003). Yes, he had 30 career interceptions, but five were in his rookie season and four in another, but no more than two in any other year.
 
Another eligible WR/LB to consider is Gary Compton, also a three-time All-Arena selection. Compton played 62 fewer games than Hammond but had a lot better offensive numbers. Defensively, he still managed to have 15 interceptions with five returned for touchdowns (Hammond had six pick sixes). 
 
Four great receivers are eligible in Calvin Schexnayder, Kevin Swayne, Marcus Nash and Mike Horacek. Schexnayder, Nash and Horacek are past AFL Offensive Player of the Year winners, while Swayne was a go-to receiver for Aaron Garcia in Iowa/New York but left the AFL for three seasons to play in the NFL. All four will eventually be finalists for the HOF, but just not this season. I think of the four; Horacek, Nash and Swayne get nods before Schexnayder. The three were dominant their entire AFL careers. That’s not the case for Schexnayder, who had an amazing 1998 season and really good 1996 and 1997 years, but never topped 1,000 yards again. Most of his numbers are from those three seasons.
 
Horacek posted six seasons with 30 or more receiving touchdowns and over 1,200 yards receiving yards. He had five seasons with over 100 catches (as well as another with 93). Horacek switched from offensive specialist to WR/LB to just WR. Defensively, he had five interceptions (three returned for scores) and five fumble recoveries. Swayne was a stud when he did play in the AFL with six 1,000 seasons and five with at least 90 catches. Nash posted 1,000-yard seasons in his final five AFL seasons with at least 20 TD in all six years.
 
OL/DLs Willie Wyatt and Kyle Moore-Brown were perhaps the best two centers to play the game before the elimination of the ironman rules in 2007. Both decent at best defensively. Moore-Brown played a long time in the AFL and won two ArenaBowls. He finally got recognized as by the AFL in his final two seasons garnering All-Arena status after the ironman rule was gone and he could play only center. Wyatt, also a two-time ArenaBowl winner, was named All-Arena four times and to the 15th Anniversary Team essentially because of his offensive dominance. On special teams, Wyatt was a beast blocking nine kicks (second most in AFL history).
 
Other OL/DL than were primarily defensive players eligible include Tom Briggs, B.J. Cohen, Ernest Allen, John Moyer and Colston Weatherington. With Sam Hernandez and Sylvester Bembery getting in last year, I don't see another OL/DL getting in this season from the offensive or defensive side. If so, I see the Advisory Board leaning toward Moore-Brown. My choice of the OL/DL would be Wyatt.  
 
Offensive specialist Steve Papin’s 70 game career was one of the most electrifying. His 220.4 all-purpose yards per game average still ranks as the highest in league history. In comparison, P.J. Berry is leading the league this year with an average of a pedestrian 193.2 per game. Berry only wishes he could be as dominate as the AFL's original Superman. The league created an award because of Papin – the Don’t Blink Player of the Year and he received it the first two years of its existence. After Papin retired from the AFL, the AFL retired the Don't Blink award.
 
I know I didn't mention kickers. They never get any credit or acknowledgement. One day the Hall will open the doors to kickers, but I just don't see than happening anytime soon. Mike Black, Remy Hamilton (not eligible), Steve Videtich and Clay Rush are the best kickers in league history with seven AFL Kicker of the Year awards between them.
 
With so many great stars to choose from it’s hard to narrow down to just ten. Like last season, all ten finalists should just be grandfathered in because of the nearly decade absence of HOF selections has created a logjam. The five that don't get into the HOF this year will just be finalists next season anyway. With every player that didn't play in the 2010 reboot of the league eligible, there's a plethora of more than worthy sure-fire Hall of Famers. Every player and coach I named in this article (aside from Any Kelly and John Gregory) should get into the Hall, but it'll be a long time with just ten finalists and five inductees.
 
Here’s my top ten based on their outstanding AFL playing careers.
 
James Baron
Sherdrick Bonner
Andre Bowden
Clint Dolezel
Cory Fleming
Randy Gatewood
Greg Hopkins
Bob McMillen
Omarr Smith
Clevan Thomas
 
I know that my ten will not match the actual one from the Advisory Board because they’ll probably have Niro, Hammond, Dailey and Hohensee and in (Niro is the most deserving of the four and should already be in the HOF, but again since he's part of the Advisory Board that disqualifies him for me). The league’s finalist likely won’t include Baron and sadly not Bowden.
 
Here's my best guess of the actual ten that the Advisory Board will select.
 
Sherdrick Bonner
Mike Dailey
Clint Dolezel
Randy Gatewood
Darryl Hammond
Mike Hohensee
Greg Hopkins
Bob McMillen
Bill Niro
Clevan Thomas
 
If they only chose one head coach, I think it'll be Hohensee. This means that Dailey would be out and I think Mike Horacek or Kyle Moore-Brown would be the replacement selected by the HOF Advisory Board. The league will announce the ten finalists this Friday.
 
Looking ahead to 2013, Lawrence Samuels and two-time AFL Ironman of the Year Will Pettis, who both played last in 2010, are eligible for the first time.


 
Andy Lopusnak is an 11-year AFL front office veteran, spending time with the Tampa Bay Storm, San Diego Riptide and Grand Rapids Rampage. He works as a statistician for NFL and college sports for CBS Sports and is a freelance photographer. Lopusnak received two Bachelor of Arts degrees from the University of South Florida and has been a fan of ArenaBall since its inception.
The opinions expressed in the article above are only those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, opinions, or official stance of ArenaFan Online or its staff, or the Arena Football League, or any AFL or af2 teams.
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