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My 2013 AFL HOF Finalists Ballot

Andy Lopusnak
Friday June 21, 2013


This week, the Arena Football League will announce its ten finalists for the AFL Hall of Fame. Over the past two seasons, I’ve correctly picked 19 of the possible 20 finalists and all 17 individuals that were selected. Sadly, the league stripped Clevan Thomas his 2013 induction when he decided to come back and play this season.

 
Once again, I will pick the ten that actually should be selected as finalists and the ten that the league will pick (because there’s some politics against certain former players that absolutely deserve HOF induction, but won’t be allowed in).  
 
If you want to read my previous stories on the AFL Hall of Fame, please click here for 2011 and here for 2012.
 
To be eligible, players need to have played at least three AFL seasons unless that player played in the league's first three seasons, which only two seasons is needed (1987-89 – this is only in the rules to allow Craig Walls, who played two seasons, into the Hall because no one else fits this and no one else who played only in those first three seasons is worthy of Hall consideration). In addition, players need to be retired two full seasons plus the current season. A new stupid rule apparently was added this season that if a player is inducted and decides to play the following year, then that player doesn’t get into the HOF until an additional three seasons after said player retires again. This applies to Clevan Thomas, so let’s assume he plays out his two-year contact and retires after 2014. Then he’d automatically be inducted in 2017. Lame, I know. Coaches need at least five years of service and can be active.
 
To review, there are now 39 individuals in the AFL’s Hall of Fame (40 if you include Clevan Thomas). Here’s a quick look at them.
 
26 players: 
Sherdrick Bonner, Clint Dolezel, Randy Gatewood, 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
 
Six head coaches: 
 
Seven contributors (administrations, executives and owners): 
Jim Foster, Mike Ilitch Jerry Kurz, Glenn Mazula, Bill Niro, Gene Nudo and Gary Vitto
 
The AFL has a higher percentage of non-players (33%) in its Hall than the Pro Football Hall of Fame (14%) and Baseball HOF (17%) COMBINED. This self-love for non-players could increase with two non-players being considered among the league’s 28 “official” candidates (David Baker and Jay Gruden as a coach). I made the case last year that Gruden was a better coach overall than Mike Dailey and Mike Hohensee and the league inducted the two Mikes; so Gruden should be a shoe-in for selection. Gruden coached nine seasons and his teams never had a losing season and appeared in more ArenaBowls than Dailey and Hohensee combined (though Gruden’s two AB losses were against the Mikes). Gruden would be the first person to be inducted in the AFL HOF as both a player and a coach if he gets (as he should) inducted. He’d join a very short list of athletes turned coaches to earn the honor in major sports (three in Naismith Basketball HOF: Bill Sharman, Lenny Wilkens and John Wooden; and none in the Hockey HOF, Pro Football HOF or National Baseball HOF).
 
 
CATEGORY
 
 
DAILEY
 
GRUDEN
 
HOHENSEE
Overall Record
115-83 (58%)
93-61 (60.4%)
159-142 (52.7%)
Reg. Season Record
104-76
82-54
147-130
Playoff Record
11-7
11-7
12-12
ArenaBowl App.
2
4
1
ArenaBowl Wins
2
2
1
Total Seasons
12
9
20
Non-Losing Seasons
9
9
12
10-win seasons
5
4
6
 
As for Baker, the league’s greatest successes came under his 12 years as commissioner. However, the league folded just months after Baker suddenly quit just days before ArenaBowl XXI. Should Baker be in the HOF? Absolutely eventually, but I just don’t see it anytime soon since the league is just three and a half years removed from the rubble.
 
Looking at the 28 individuals the league put out as candidates, I was a little shocked not seeing Carl Paganelli, Sr. who was once an AFL game official, a 1995 Founder’s Award winner and currently is the AFL’s Coordinator of Officials. Almost 40 current NFL refs came from the AFL and many (perhaps most) got guidance from Paganelli, who was AFL supervisor of officials from 1993-2001 after he put the whistle away. Some other long-time officials should eventually be considered: Jim Lapetina, Ed Manning and Buddy Ward.
 
With that let’s discuss some of the greats that played this game and deserve induction into the HOF.
 
Let’s go ahead and pencil in the three 2012 finalists that didn’t get inducted last season (WR/DB Greg Hopkins, WR/LB Darryl Hammond and FB/LB Bob McMillen). That leaves seven spots in the league’s top ten. For me, it’ll leave six as I’m not selecting Hammond as I don’t feel he’s one of the top ten players at his position all-time or among the ten in my fictitious ballot. Eventually after a lot of greats get in, then Hammond should get his shot; but look at his numbers as well as the team accomplishments and it’s obvious he shouldn’t be a finalist for many years to come. REMEMBER – the HOF is from greatest not very goodness. 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. Longevity is great, but in reality he had just a few really good seasons (and he never won an ArenaBowl, which isn’t a must for HOF consideration, but goes a long way).
 
Last year, I made two ballots. One of the individuals I felt should be finalists and the actual ten the league would select. I correctly picked what the league would choose because Nixonian politics removed the league’s greatest two-way lineman (James Baron) because of his involvement in the players’ union; as well as lack of true historical references for the committee that left off Andre Bowden, Cory Fleming and Omarr Smith in favor for Hammond and three non-players (which I predicted). That being said, the league will finally realize the greatness of Bowden, Fleming and Smith and put them on their list this year. And you already know I’ll have this trio on mine. Again, I feel the league will once again shaft Baron.
 
So thus far that makes seven for my ballot and the one the league will actually choose.
 
AFL actual list: Bowden, Fleming, Gruden, Hammond, Hopkins, McMillen and Smith
Andy’s true list: Baron, Bowden, Fleming, Gruden, Hopkins, McMillen and Smith
 
This marks the first year that players that last played in 2010, which was the first year that the league returned after the no-play season of 2009. There are a few first-ballot players to look at with WR/LBs Will Pettis and Lawrence Samuels headlining the group.
 
Pettis, ranked the #3 Ironman of all-time by the AFL last year, is a two-time Ironman of the Year winner, though he did win both after free substitution water downed and now has eliminated the award. His numbers were very Ironman worthy even in the free-substitution era. Look at his numbers and he should be greatly considered. Pettis played six full seasons and then played a handful of games at the end of the 2010 season. He posted 20+ touchdowns and over 1,000 all-purpose yards his first six years and ended with 572 grabs for 6,567 yards with 143 TD catches; along with 14 rushing touchdowns, 15 kickoff returns for TDs, 22 interceptions, 45 pass breakups and nearly 300 tackles.
 
Samuels, ranked #4 Ironman of all-time last season, was the first player in AFL history to record 1,000 receptions and the first to earn MVP and Ironman honors in the same ArenaBowl (XVII in 2003). He played most of his early career splitting time with two of the league’s greatest players in George LaFrance and Stevie Thomas. Still in the league’s record book, Samuels ranks second all-time in receptions (1,035), fifth in receiving yards (11,820), fourth in forced fumbles (20), first in fumble recoveries (34) and fourth in interception returns for touchdowns (eight).
 
Interestingly, the league last year listed Hammond as the eighth greatest Ironman, but on their greatest players list put him as #19 stating it was for his Ironman qualities even though it deemed Pettis and Samuels weren’t as great as players but were better Ironmen than Hammond. It doesn’t add up and I don’t get it. Seems like the committee obviously didn’t know the history of the league when making either list. The inconsistency in the AFL Historical Committee is just laughable. None of their lists of players (QBs, Ironmen, Players) add up – go look at them and it’s ridiculously off). Jay Gruden was a better player than Sherdrick Bonner (which is obvious) in the Greatest Players List, but apparently Bonner was a better QB on the Greatest Quarterbacks List. What a joke!
 
Speaking of QBs, there are two eligible for the first time this season: Chris Greisen and Brett Dietz. Neither won an ArenaBowl and to be inducted in the HOF as a QB, in my opinion you must win an ArenaBowl. This is a QB-driven league and if you cannot hoist the trophy then you shouldn’t be considered, also Greisen and Dietz were starters in just three seasons each. Yes, Kurt Warner was inducted in 2011 without any AFL rings and was just a three-year starter but he made it more as a contributor than as a player. There’s a case for Matt D’Orazio, who won two ArenaBowls within three seasons with two different teams; but his playing career was just too short for me. However, his numbers were pretty impressive in his four-plus year career: 69.1 completion percentage, 257 pass TDs to just 26 INTs, 123.33 passer rating and 41 rushing touchdowns. For me, there only two quarterbacks that should be in the HOF anytime in the near future; Mark Grieb, who will be eligible in 2015, and Aaron Garcia, who is still playing. Grieb and Garcia are legends of this game and each played over double the amount of games of D’Orazio. I put D’Orazio in the same category as Jim Plunkett, who won two Super Bowls with the Raiders; but will likely never be inducted unless the Senor Committee gets him in.
 
There’s one other first-ballot possibility in FB/LB Dan Alexander, who shattered the AFL single-season record for rushing touchdowns in 2007 (first year of free substitution) with 41 ground scores (previous record was 26). He added another 26 in 2010, but played with crappy teams when recording those numbers and was a never a threat on defense (never recorded a sack or an interception).
 
Put Pettis and Samuels on both lists, which puts both lists at nine. So who gets the elusive last spot?
 
The other players on the “official” candidates list are: FB/LBs Les Barley and Bo Kelly; WR/LBs Gary Compton and Mike Horacek; OL/DL Silas Demary, Kyle Moore-Brown and Willie Wyatt; defensive specialists Rashad Floyd and Cedric Walker; offensive specialists Marcus Nash, Steve Papin, Calvin Shexnayder and Kevin Swayne; and QB Andy Kelly.
 
Let’s start with Kelly. No rings, no entry. Also never was All-Arena First or Second Team.
 
Next the FB/LBs. Barley posted perhaps the greatest season by a FB/LB in 1998 when the league shafted him for Ironman after posting eight sacks, 232 rushing yards and 15 ground scores. His numbers would have been even better from in 1993 and from 1997-99 if he wasn’t sharing time with Andre Bowden. Also, Barley was the first player to record 1,000 career rushing yards. Kelly was the league’s all-time leading rusher until last week when Philadelphia’s Derrick Ross surpassed him, but was a marginal at best defender. Barley was a much better Ironman than Kelly and has a great chance to make it this year, but I already have two great FB/LBs on my list and don’t think either makes it this year. Barley will get in eventually.
 
Not sure how Cedric Walker is on this list over some other more worthy defensive specialists. Walker never earned All-Arena status (though the league candidates list said he was a 3-time All-Arena, but he wasn’t) and never intercepted more than four passes in a season. Floyd, on the other hand, was statistical stud in his five seasons with Colorado and during that timeframe no other player had as many tackles, pass breakups or interceptions. Floyd was outstanding and will be on my ballot in future years, but just not this one.
 
Look at Compton’s career numbers and they look impressive (750 catches for 10,368 yards with 176 TD as well as 15 INTs with five returned for TDs and four kickoff returns for scores). He played 13 seasons, most of which were with bad teams. Though he got a ring with the Storm in 2003, Compton wasn’t a factor playing in five games and not the ArenaBowl. Look season-by-season and he doesn’t look like a HOFer though. Unlike Compton, Horacek is a future HOFer. Yes, he did player both ways but mostly was an offensive specialist with five seasons of 100+ catches, six seasons with 1,200+ yards and six seasons with 30+ receiving TDs.
 
Nash, Papin, Shexnayder and Swayne all had stellar careers and all will eventually be finalists in coming years and possibly all four will one day get into the HOF. Shexnayder was part of one of the greatest receiving corps in league history teamed with HOF QB Sherdrick Bonner and receivers Randy Gatewood and Hunkie Cooper. However, Shexnayder’s path to the HOF will be a lot tougher than those two because he had three super stud seasons from 1996-98, then a bunch of decent ones in his career. Compared to Horacek, it’s no contest that Shexnayder is not Hall worthy today.
 
Nash did more in his six seasons statistically than Shexnayder’s eleven years. However, Nash never won or even came close to appearing an ArenaBowl, while Shexnayder has multiple rings.
 
Swayne put up big numbers even with Horacek on his team. This has a lot to do with Aaron Garcia being the QB. During those years in Iowa and New York, Garcia’s teams with among the very best in passing, but defensively sucked thus Horacek and Swayne never sniffed the ArenaBowl. Swayne posted 1,000+ yards in all of his six full seasons and has the more career receiving TDs than Shexnayder and Nash.
 
As for Steve Papin. Superman was a thrill to watch during his seven-year career. He still has the highest all-purpose yards per game average in league history. If injuries didn’t sideline his career in 2003, Papin would likely be the league’s all-time leader in all return categories and all-purpose yards. Still, he’s second all-time in combined return TDs and third in kickoff return TDs, MFG return yards and combined return yards. I compare Papin to Gayle Sayers, who also played just seven years. Of the bunch, I’d put Horacek and Papin at the very top. Next year, both should will easily be finalists; but I didn’t put either in this year.
 
Finally there’s offensive/defensive lineman.
 
Demary had a great 2005 season recording 13.5 sacks while earning Defensive Player of the Year and Lineman of the Year. He never won ArenaBowl championship team like the other two. In fact, I’d put Tom Briggs over Demary. Briggs also earned Lineman of the Year but had a far superior career. Plus, he was a pretty good blocker and caught nine touchdowns.
 
Moore-Brown and Wyatt were without question the best two centers to play the game before the elimination of the ironman rules in 2007. 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). Also, Wyatt was never on a losing team.
 
Thus, Willie Wyatt gets my final vote because he was the greatest center in league history as well as a great kick blocker. Moore-Brown deserves to be in as well and will be there soon.
 
Choosing the last one for the league is tough. They should put in Wyatt, but wouldn’t be surprised if it were Horacek, Floyd or Moore-Brown. Barley or Papin could get in as well. I’d love if they’d put in Baron since he’s more worthy of induction, not just consideration, than anyone eligible. That said, I say the league’s tenth finalist is Rashad Floyd.
 
 

MY TEN AFL HOF FINALISTS
 

James Baron (write-in ballot since not on 28 candidates)
Andre Bowden
Cory Fleming
Jay Gruden (as coach)
Greg Hopkins
Bob McMillen
Will Pettis
Lawrence Samuels
Omarr Smith
Willie Wyatt
 
 

THE TEN THE LEAGUE WILL CHOOSE
 

Andre Bowden
Cory Fleming
Rashad Floyd
Jay Gruden (coach)
Darryl Hammond
Greg Hopkins
Bob McMillen
Will Pettis
Lawrence Samuels
Omarr Smith


 
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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