Thursday, January 16, 2014

That (Pass-) Rush Moment We All Live For


Back before he was doing Chris Christie sendups on Jimmy Fallon, when his version of “Born To Run” contained precisely zero references to the George Washington Bridge[1], Bruce Springsteen described creating and performing music as “that rush moment we all live for.” 
I’m right there with him. The Pro Football Hall of Fame's unveiling of its list of finalist nominees is my rush moment, and I’m not talking about that band where Geddy Lee channels the voices and thoughts of squirrels. This is my chance to mash up football’s nominees with their rock-‘n’-roll counterparts and make some predictions on who’s in and who’s out.
I'll get to those predictions in around 3,000 words; be patient. Unless you're Jimmy Fallon and the Boss plays along, you can't mess with the rush moment. In the meantime, let me entertain you with ...
Morten Andersen/Yes: Think Euro and lightweight but absolutely unkillable (Yes is the MRSA of prog-rock bands), with a sly, aquavit-colored sense of humor. I’m not entirely fond of this comparison because I can’t find anything in Andersen’s history that aligns with Tales From Topographic Oceans, even this. A missed 30-yarder that let the Jaguars into the playoffs pales in comparison to a full two hours of mindless noodling and adenoidal yowping. I can’t believe that the footballers are going to spring for a second Scandinavian kicker in the Hall of Fame; frankly, Jan Stenerud checked all the boxes before Andersen, and played on more winning teams, and he’s a ski-jumper besides. Similarly, Genesis and Rush have the high-voiced prog-rock subcategory plumb filled up. Much as Andersen and Yes might be worthy trailblazers in an alternate universe, this is the only real universe we got, and neither Andersen nor Yes are making it over the bar. 
Jerome Bettis/Lionel Richie/Commodores: Several posts ago we introduced you to the list of the Billboard All-Time Top-100 Chart Artists. Well, both the Commodes – I mean, the Commodores – and Lionel Richie are on the list. Considering there are only 100 artists on this list over the whole history of rock ‘n’ roll, and a guy and his band both made it, that’s big stuff. If you crave perspective, three other person/band combinations made the list: Paul McCartney and the Beatles, Diana Ross and The Supremes, and Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5. So despite the mawkish, rhythmless nonsense that was the charting portion of Lionel Richie’s solo career, at some point his dual accomplishments have to be recognized, in the same way that we hold our nose when we regard Jerome Bettis’ career, characterized as it was by one big number – more than 13,000 rushing yards, good for sixth all-time – a bunch of middling numbers, and some awful numbers (yards per carry and receptions). The big number combined with Bettis’ memorable transportation-related nickname (which I shall not repeat because it’s so memorable) and generally pleasant personality should be enough to get him enshrined, though personally I am against any sort of advanced honor for anyone who ever appeared on the Rachael Ray show. Personal prejudice aside, Bettis paid his dues in 2011, 2012 and 2013, so we’ll say 2014 is his year.
Derrick Brooks/Whitney Houston: Statistically, Brooks is the slam-dunk in this class: more than 1,300 tackles, 11 Pro Bowl appearances, five All-Pro teams, 14th all-time on the career-value list (30 points higher than Strahan), and locked-in spots on the all-time Buccaneers team and the all-2000s team. Brooks is a sure thing much the same way that Whitney Houston has Cleveland cinched based on her bloodlines, chart success, influence, and tragic backstory. But the more I look at voters’ histories with these two halls, the less convinced I am that either Brooks or Houston will make it in the next round of voting. Brooks is a first-year-eligible player and Houston’s death is too fresh in voters’ minds. There’s not a ton of propriety among RnRHOF voters, but what there is manifests itself in situations like this. Michael Strahan is the first-ballot winner if we have to choose (and I don’t, but we do), even though Brooks is statistically, categorically, and obviously the better player, unless you live in New York. Whitney and Derrick will make it in sooner rather than later – just not now.
Tim Brown/Tommy James and the Shondells: We discussed Tommy James and the Shondells last time, so we won’t overdo the music comparisons. Instead, just decide who’s the better player based on this:

Years
Pro Bowls
All-Pro
Receptions
Yards
Return Yards
TD
AV
Player A
16
9
0
1,094
15,000
4,500
104
142
Player B
13
8
3
1,102
15,000
200
128
161

Player B is the better pass receiver, that’s for sure, though player A is probably the better all-around player, the career values notwithstanding (and if there’s one area where Pro Football Reference's Average Career Value shortchanges players, it’s in return ability).
Now, if I told you Player B’s quarterback was Peyton Manning and Player A’s quarterbacks were a whole bunch of players not named Peyton Manning (though some were named Jeff George and Todd Marinovich), how would you feel about the relative skills of the two players?
We’ll stop there, before we get to David Klingler. Tim Brown was probably better than Marvin Harrison, though he didn’t get as much of a chance to show it because he was operating in an inferior offense with inferior talent. (On the other hand, a team that lacks Reggie Wayne, Marshall Faulk, and Edgerrin James means more opportunity for the playmaker. On the other other hand, there were times in Brown’s career where he was routinely triple-teamed.) What do you do in a situation like this: Enshrine the better player or the more productive player?
You put in the more productive player, of course, because you can’t start playing the who-would-have-done-better-with-a-better-supporting-cast game. As we mentioned last time, the good player without the supporting cast is like a singles band, making Tim Brown the equivalent of the best of the uninducted singles bands, Tommy James and the Shondells. The Dave Clark 5 didn’t do anything the Shondells did, but the DC5 did it in England first, and that was enough.
The difference between Harrison and Brown is about the same as the difference between the DC5 and the Shondells. On that basis and not much else Harrison gets the nod over Brown … but not right away. We’ll get into that in a minute.
Edward DeBartolo/Colonel Tom Parker: The major difference here is that everyone openly hates Colonel Tom and only people with a death wish openly hate Eddie DeBartolo. Still, it’s better that Eddie made it to the semifinals and not Paul Tagliabue. That would have been too much. Paul Tagliabue making the Pro Football Hall of Fame would have been like Napoleon crowning himself Emperor Of The French, or actually more like Napoleon’s legal counsel crowning himself Emperor Of The Corporate Legal Counsels. Rips on Paul T. aside, DeBartolo was a tremendous owner who made possible the last true football dynasty. Like Robert Kraft and northeastern Wisconsin, DeBartolo’s a Hall of Fame owner, and we’ll say this is his year, seeing as it’s shaping up as a 49ers year all around.
Tony Dungy/Dire Straits: Classy, understated, enduring … meh. Dungy was nothing as a player, a good assistant coach (which also counts for nothing), a fine head coach with a couple of Super Bowl wins, and a mediocre broadcaster with the charisma of a classroom eraser. Adding up everything, Dungy was not appreciably better than Jim Lee Howell, George Seifert, Mike Holmgren, or Buck Shaw, and while he’ll get better treatment from voters than any of those, it still may not be enough. Similarly, Dire Straits and Head Strait Mark Knopfler, despite a string of great albums and memorable songs, may not have enough of a body of work to satisfy the voters (though if you want to split hairs, the Straits’ stuff stands up admirably to the work of Queen, Patti Smith, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, and other HOFers). Dungy’s reputation within the football community will eventually make him a Hall of Fame coach, maybe this year, maybe not; same with Knopfler and the Straits. But the line between Dungy and some other fine coaches is thinner than you may have thought.
Kevin Greene/Steve Miller Band: Time to play “Guess The Hall Of Famer” again! Guess which one of these four is the Hall of Famer:

Years
Pro Bowls
All-Pro
Sacks
Tackles
AV
Player A
12
4
1
137.5
671
121
Player B
15
5
2
160
669
121
Player C
13
5
2
100.5
485
100
Player D
15
7
4
141.5
667
160
Yeah, it’s not Player D, because that’s Michael Strahan, and while he’s going to be a HOFer in a couple months he’s not there yet, so neener neener neener on that. It’s also not Player C; that’s Charles Haley, and he’s really just an inferior version of Player A, Richard Dent, the Hall of Famer.
Since this is Kevin Greene’s space you’d have to conclude that Player B is Kevin Greene, and you’d be right, and if you’re like me, you’d then be slapping your forehead like Curly Howard and asking, “Why isn’t this guy in the Hall of Fame?”
The pat argument is that Kevin Greene’s not in the Hall of Fame because he’s a one-dimensional player, yet Richard Dent’s in the Hall of Fame – and, hey, not only does he have the same dimension as Kevin Greene but he’s not nearly as good. Greene was an exceptional conventional linebacker and one of the first pass-rushing linebacker/D-end hybrids. He’s also a fine assistant coach, which counts for zilch.
If the Hall is going to put in pass rushers based on their pass-rush ability – sounds logical to me – Greene deserves to go in. He should eventually. But the lack of love for Greene over the last couple of years, like the ongoing lack of love for the SMB, the preeminent singles band of the late ‘70s and ‘80s, makes me think it’s not going to happen this year. Hope I’m wrong.
Charles Haley/Chubby Checker: Do not draw any comparisons between Haley and the Chubster beyond this: Both were extremely successful in relatively narrow niches over a short time span, and both could dance. Neither was particularly original – Haley was far from being the ur-designated-pass-rusher and Checker borrowed his best song from Hank Ballard – but they played pivotal roles in popularizing what they did. Checker brought R&B into the ‘60s mainstream, making possible the success of Motown and Stax/Volt. They don’t get big if Checker doesn’t show record execs how big they can get. Haley made the pass rusher into a matinee idol. With that said, neither Haley nor Checker had enough staying power. They had moments of greatness; they weren’t true greats. It’s like what Ted Williams used to say: For a guy to be great, let’s see him do it five years in a row. Haley never did: He posted double-digit sack totals in 1988, 1990-92, and 1996-97. That’s not enough. I don’t see Haley or Checker making it into their respective halls ever, but that’s not to say they didn’t accomplish anything. They did, both of them.
Marvin Harrison/Chris Brown: Chris Brown has all the right moves, the chart success, and the artistic integrity (as much as it’s possible for an artist like Chris Brown to have artistic integrity). He also has an extra-long queen-sized rap sheet.
Similarly, Harrison has had enough bizarre brushes with the law to give voters pause. (In case you wonder how this works, it’s like this: Conventional brushes with the law – pot possession, OWI, disorderly conduct, maybe the occasional domestic-battery rap – are okay. Accessory-to-murder is okay if you’re Ray Lewis. Waving a gun in a nightclub is okay as long as you don’t shoot yourself in the leg. But waving a gun in a carwash is bad news. Just like the Super Bowl, it’s all in the choice of venue.) That’s enough to keep Harrison out for a year or two, but there’s no way he can be held out for long. He has the best AV of any nominee not named Derrick Brooks and enough smarts to quit when Peyton Manning switched teams. It wouldn’t surprise me if Harrison made it this year, just like it wouldn’t surprise me if Chris Brown made the RnRHOF in his first year of eligibility. I’m just betting against it.
Walter Jones/Pearl Jam: I don’t actively dislike Pearl Jam the way I actively dislike Ted Nugent. (If anyone makes a case for the Nuge being a HOFer in the absence of anything more accomplished than fake psychedelia and misogynistic lyrics mated to the sound of out-of-tune jackhammers routed through a Fender Twin, I am kicking them in the shins with my cross-country-ski boots.) However, Pearl Jam is prototypical RnRHOF material, and I have a problem with that. They’re like the artist who dresses provocatively, says outrageous things, storms out of press conferences, weds and quickly divorces a dewy-eyed starlet, drinks and drugs beyond the hilt, urinates in public at cocktail parties, gropes goats, and ultimately produces a line of designer bath towels sold exclusively through QVC, but never produces any, you know, art. Pearl Jam has never given any sign that they’re in rock ‘n’ roll to make music, especially music that people might want to listen to more than once. (They’re even more outré in this regard than Bob Mould and Hüsker Dü, who I think of as the naïf version of Pearl Jam, and therefore acquitted of all charges of premeditated artistic pretentiousness.) So while I get that this is a sign of true artistry, I really find the band tiresome. The same sorta applies to Walter Jones. I get that he was an excellent tackle for a very long time, but there’s nothing in his resume that suggests he was more than Ruben Brown moved out a space. Plus there's the whole Seattle thing. So while I can't divert the flood that's going to sweep Pearl Jam and Walter Jones through the gates of their respective Valhallas, I can't say it's going to stir anything inside of me other than a small amount of intestinal gas.
John Lynch/ELO: If Charlie Waters and Cliff Harris were one person – Chiffie Waters-Harris, maybe – he’d be in the Hall of Fame, and he’d be a whole lot better than John Lynch. He’d have nine Pro Bowl nods and three All-Pro awards, 70 interceptions and a mess of tackles. Lynch had 25 INTs in his career, and while interceptions are a poor measure of the worth of a modern safety, that’s still fewer interceptions than the component parts of Chiffie Waters-Harris had separately, and those guys were no slouches in the tackling department, either. Listen: I like John Lynch. I hated that he was a Buccaneer back in the Mike Alstott/Warren Sapp days when they were really good and I really hated the Bucs, because I really wanted to like John Lynch. John Lynch was an excellent player, but he’s not a HOFer, and that applies equally to the Electric Light Orchestra. They had chart success; they were innovative, after a fashion. They sounded like no one else. I like them. But they’re not going to get into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame because they were the wrong kind of successful, the wrong kind of innovative, and the wrong kind of unique. Just don’t ask me what that means.
I understand that some people would rather hear a cat puke than listen to “Telephone Line” one more time. That’s not the point; the RnRHOF is full of acts like that. The point is that after you look at these halls of fame long enough you can see who’s going in and who isn’t. ELO isn’t going in; neither is John Lynch.
Andre Reed/Toots and the Maytals: Here’s what happens when we add Reed to the Harrison/Brown chart:

Years
Pro Bowls
All-Pro
Receptions
Yards
Return Yards
TD
AV
Brown
16
9
0
1,094
15,000
4,500
104
142
Harrison
13
8
3
1,102
15,000
200
128
161
Reed
15
7
0
951
13,000
-
87
133

Nothing. If anything, Harrison and Brown look a little better. But it certainly doesn’t make the case for Andre Reed. Along those same lines, the RnRHOF has Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley, and it’s not going to throw open its arms to Peter Tosh, Lee “Scratch” Perry, or the best of the reggae acts not named Bob Marley and the Wailers, Toots and the Maytals. If Jimmy Cliff can get in based on The Harder They Come (an album where Cliff doesn’t even perform on all of the cuts), Toots and the Maytals should get in just on the basis of Funky Kingston, an album at least as seminal as The Harder They Come (or Horses or Rain Dogs or So)But it ain’t happening for a decade, maybe longer. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame likes reggae. But they like it a whole lot better when Bob Marley or white boys like the Police do it.
Will Shields/Judas Priest: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame may want to say, “We’ve put in Black Sabbath and Metallica; we’re done with heavy metal,” but it can’t get off that easily. Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and Anthrax at the very least have to be dealt with, and likely Motorhead, Queensryche, and Deep Purple as well. Based on a body of work within their genre these acts are absolutely HOF material; the problem is none of the voters like their genre. Similarly, the football HOF doesn’t like enshrining linemen. The publicity hot sauce doesn’t exactly flow when Canton brings in another left guard. Will Shields is absolutely the best of the nominated linemen, but he has the visibility of a lost contact lens in a cornfield. A lot of people who call themselves football fans would deny there was ever a football player named Will Shields (he sounds like a sidekick from a Grade-Q Marvel comic), much less a player who was a 12-time Pro Bowler and a two-time All-Pro, with a career value four points shy of Michael Strahan. Shields deserves to get in, and he will get in. But he’s not getting in this time.
Michael Strahan/Beyoncé: Here’s the real slam-dunk. Strahan has the third-highest career value (behind Harrison and Brooks), the all-time single-season sack record, a New York pedigree, a flock of cut-and-pasted Subway ads, and the chance every weekday to make Kelly Ripa appear to be a bichon frise with capped teeth. We’re talking pure greatness here. Similarly, is anything going to keep Sacha Fierce from walking the Cleveland runway the second she becomes eligible? The bigger issue is what to do with Destiny’s Child, Beyoncé’s group before she went solo. The precedents are mixed: the Supremes are in but Diana Ross isn’t; same with the Miracles and Smokey Robinson, and Ike and Tina Turner versus Tina alone. Still, despite their chart success and deeply heartfelt Super Bowl reunion, Destiny’s Child was really just a delivery mechanism for Beyoncé. All the other previously mentioned groups maintained at least a façade of group-ism. I say Destiny’s Child might have to wait a decade before being recognized, which ought to give Justin Tuck pause. But Strahan? Dude’s strolling through the gates as we speak.
Aeneas Williams/Joy Division: Similarly, the RnRHOF can’t dismiss the British New Wave by saying, “Oh, we’ve put in Elvis Costello, the Sex Pistols, and the Clash. We’re done now.” We need  more. Graham Parker could slot in this space, or Rockpile, or The Jam, Depeche Mode, the Smiths, or the Buzzcocks. We’re going with Joy Division because of their influence and progeny, and because I really want to hear a suicide-themed mass concert on their induction day.
Aeneas Williams shouldn’t be easily dismissed, either. I like his numbers: His AV trails only Rod Woodson and Champ Bailey among HOF-likely D-backs; he beats Charles Woodson, Troy Polamalu, Steve Atwater, and John Lynch; and he spent a lot of his career playing in a defense that consisted of Simeon Rice and Jamir Miller blindly rushing the passer and getting blown up on stretch plays.
I’ve always thought Aeneas Williams was a Hall of Famer; I’m just not sure the Hall agrees, or that it’s ready to line its halls with four Cardinals D-backs. It will; just not this year.
In addition to the finalists, 10 semifinalists were eliminated. I’ve included their rock-‘n’-roll counterparts for your enjoyment: Steve Atwater (Ry Cooder), Don Coryell (Lee “Scratch” Perry), Roger Craig (Chicago), Terrell Davis (Cars), Joe Jacoby (Doug Sahm), Jimmy Johnson (Marty Robbins), Karl Mecklenburg (David Lindley), Paul Tagliabue (Jann Wenner), Steve Wisniewski (Grand Funk Railroad), and George Young (Paul Anka). We remember their accomplishments with a moment of written silence lasting a week or two. They've earned it, and so have you. 
But before we get there, it's prediction time, and like most years, the outs have it all over the ins. My prediction on the ins is: Michael Strahan, Jerome Bettis, Eddie DeBartolo and either Derrick Brooks or Marvin Harrison. If I had my way the ins would be Harrison, Brooks, and Strahan, along with Tim Brown and Kevin Greene, but I'm not a voter (though I play one on Deadspin).
As for the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and what it might do next, I make no predictions. Your guess is as good as mine, but not as good as Dave Marsh's. And that's the way it's always been.


[1] I gotta be honest: While I get the iconicism of “Born To Run” and realize it lets Jimmy Fallon do his dead-on album-cover-Springsteen schtick, I’m not totally down with the song selection. I’m thinking better choices would have been “Promised Land,” anything from Badlands, or anything with random interjections of the word “mister.” 

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