Five Hall-worthy Steelers will get their shots soon

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The Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2008 was announced yesterday, and, for the sixth year in a row no Steeler was on the list. The franchise hasn't been shut out of the Hall for so long a period since it went 17 years, from 1969 (Ernie Stautner) to 1987 (Joe Greene and John Henry Johnson), without an inductee.

Those were the glory days, as Steelers fans dominated the ceremonies to the point that the Hall finally had to stop inducting alphabetically and put the Steeler of the day last on the program so the fans would stay until the end.

That era, a 16-year tribute to the Steelers' dynasty, ended with Stallworth's induction in 2002, a year after Swann. But a return to those days might not be far off.

There won't be the same kind of crush of Steelers inductions, but, if the Hall of Fame voters get it right -- and they don't always do so, there's reason to believe the next decade will be the second-richest in terms of Hall of Fame inductees in franchise history.

There could be -- should be -- five Steelers inducted in the next 10 years.

This second era definitely should begin next year when Rod Woodson, in his first year of eligibility, will be a virtual lock for induction. Woodson isn't just a Hall of Famer, he's an all-time great, and it's hard to imagine him not being enshrined the first year possible as a member of the class of 2009.

Two years later, there's reason to believe Jerome Bettis will be enshrined in his first year of eligibility. His career doesn't quite match Woodson's, but because of his place on the all-time rushing list (fifth) and the immense popularity he enjoyed with fans and the media, it's hard to see Bettis not being in the class of 2011.

The other three aren't as certain, although not because they lack the credentials, but because sometimes the selectors don't make much sense. It's pretty hard to fathom, for example, the way they've disrespected the career of Dermontti Dawson, the great Steelers center of the 1990s. Many expected Dawson to be in the Hall of Fame by now, eight years after the end of his playing career. Not only has he not been inducted, but he's never even been a finalist.

He was the best at his position for almost a decade. How does that not rate enshrinement?

But, if the Hall could overlook Art Monk, which it did for seven years, it can overlook anyone. Monk was voted in yesterday, an honor that was long overdue. He retired as the NFL's all-time leading receiver with 940 catches. He had five 1,000-yard seasons and played on two Super Bowl champions.

A thoughtful veteran voter, not from Pittsburgh, once was asked about Monk. His response was that Monk, unlike, say, Swann, "lacked a signature catch." Say what?

The guess here -- and it's only a guess -- is one of the selectors lobbied hard against Monk. It's the only explanation for his exclusion for so long.

There's no such personal bias against Dawson, an ultra-classy guy. But there's definitely a Steelers bias among selectors, and it has grown stronger with the relatively late inductions of Swann and Stallworth.

One of these years the voters will come to their senses on Dawson.

Alan Faneca will bring credentials similar to Dawson's. He has been the best or among the best among NFL guards for the better part of a decade and has several more good years remaining. He's already made seven Pro Bowls and easily could add two or three. When he's finished, he'll be Hall-worthy.

Hines Ward is the fifth Steeler who should be an early 21st century inductee. Ward has 719 receptions -- more than twice as many as Swann -- and, like Faneca, still has several good years remaining. There's no reason to believe he won't have more than 900 catches when he retires. His Super Bowl MVP award, his reputation as the best blocking wide receiver in the league and his great popularity make him a near-certain selection.

But as Dawson has shown, the best credentials don't always open the door. Still, with these five, sooner or later, the selectors will get it right.


Bob Smizik can be reached at bsmizik@post-gazette.com .


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