All in Whose Family?

Fan commentator Aardvark, in the first of three columns about the Hall of Fame, discusses the criteria that the HOF uses to identify teams and players. Was Bobby Mitchell a Redskins Hall of Famer or a Brown? What about Joe D?<BR><BR><I>Opinions expressed by fan commentators may not neccessarily reflect those of Bernie Kosar or the staff of</I>

Look at the Browns' greats in the Hall of Fame, and you see a team that has supplied far more than its share to the National Football league: Otto Graham, Dante Lavelli and Marion Motley right on up through Jim Brown and Leroy Kelly, and finally Ozzie Newsome and Joe Delamielleure.  They're all in our family. 

Wait… Joe Delamielleure, the great Buffalo Bills guard?  Shouldn't he really be in the Bills' family?  What gives?

Canton and Cooperstown differ on one big point.  Cooperstown insists that a player be inducted not only as an individual, but as part of a team. 

Normally that's no problem:  Cal Ripken was an Oriole.  Duh.

But sometimes it is a little problem:  Dave Winfield was a Padre, then a Yankee, then played for about 27 teams over the past few years of his career. So whose hat does he don for photo ops?  Well, he was largely regarded as having made his mark with the Yankees.  And who would be caught dead wearing an old brown and yellow Padres cap?  The Yankees it is. 

And then sometimes it's a major problem.  Roger Clemens could have made the Hall had he retired when he left the Red Sox.  But the Rocket was so furious at the Red Sox front office for unloading him that he has already served notice that there will be an ugly mess.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame takes a far different tact.  They claim "an enshrinee is not asked to ‘declare,' nor does the Hall of Fame ‘choose' a team under which a new member is enshrined."  In fact the Hall gives credit to any and every team where the enshrinee played.   Perhaps this is done so as to not completely embarrass any one team.

Take the Denver Broncos.  They had many great teams as Browns fans know all too well:  five Super Bowls including two wins.  John Elway will join them soon enough.  But who is he joining?

Tony Dorsett.  He played his last year there.  And Willie Brown.  He languished with the bad old Broncos for three years in the ‘60's before going on to a great career with the Raiders.   That's it for the Broncos. 

Look at the Browns list, and what you see is testimony to Paul Brown's greatness for picking and developing talent… and also a reminder of Brown's uncanny knack for not knowing what he had and giving it away. 

Like Doug Atkins.  At 6' 8", he was a holy terror at defensive end… but for the Bears.  Paul Brown drafted him and had him for two years, but thought he was a bit too white trash for the clean cut, professional image he demanded for his players.  It was also two years and goodbye to a bunch of Browns who later starred in Super Bowl I:  Len Dawson, Willie Davis and Henry Jordan.  Think those guys could have filled a niche?

The surprises abound.  You didn't know that Tommy McDonald, the Eagles' fleet receiver who was the last player to go without a face mask, played with both the Falcons and the Browns.  George Blanda not only played for the Bears, but he played with them for nine years!  Johnny Unitas did a sad little closing stint with the Chargers while Joe Willie Namath did the same with the Rams.  And 20 years from now, we'll recall Emmitt Smith carrying on that unfortunate closing act tradition with the Arizona Cardinals.

The Hall of Fame doesn't want to appear to be going too far overboard in this spreading of the wealth.  It emphasizes that inductees "who made the major part of their primary contribution for any one club are listed in BOLD CAPS…"  "Those who spent only a minor portion of their career with any any club are listed under that club in lower case."

For example, under the Washington Redskins, a guy who coached them for all of one year before succumbing to cancer is listed as… 

Vince Lombardi.

But the guy who coached the Green Bay Packers to five titles is listed as…


Sounds pretty equitable.  But wait, there's more.

"In cases where a player contributed about equally and in a major way to two or more clubs- he is listed in BOLD CAPS under both clubs…"

An example cited by the Hall is middle linebacker Nick Buoniconti.  True enough, seven years for the then Boston Patriots and another seven years--  and a tad more visibility-- with the Miami Dolphins (if you forgot that Buoniconti played for the Pats, all is forgiven).  Another might be Ken Houston, who played for both the Houston Oilers and Washington Redskins, and Sonny Jurgensen (Eagles and Redskins).

Another example we can identify with is Paul Warfield.  He played his first six and final two years with the Browns.  In between was his departure to Miami in our football equivalent of the Colavito for Kuenn trade.  Warfield played five years for the Dolphins and one year in the WFL before returning home.  So while he played a majority of his career in Cleveland, fans nationwide may remember Warfield more from his days with the Fins.  Five of his eight Pro Bowls came as a Dolphin, including three consecutive Super Bowl appearances. 

For some fans around the country, it wouldn't be a stretch for them to regard Warfield as a Brown like Buoniconti as a Patriot.  If you don't believe me, check out his picture on the Hall of Fame web page.  Hint:  it's turquoise.

Still, Warfield is a good example of where two teams really did share in a player's greatness.

But the sharing thing can get out of hand. 

Now we have teams calling Hall of Famers one of their own, even when that player was best known for playing on another team.   .

Say hello to Joe Delamielleure and the Cleveland Browns.

Joe D. was best known as a Buffalo Bill, part of the "Electric Company" offensive line that sprung the Juice (aka OJ Simpson) to the league's first 2,000 yard season.  In his first seven years with the Bills, Joe D. went to five Pro Bowls and was a five time All-Pro.  In his five years with the Browns, he went to one Pro Bowl and was All-Pro once.  He also went back to Buffalo for his final year. 

Did Delamielleure contribute "about equally and in a major way" to the Bills and Browns?   He certainly helped protect Brian Sipe and allow him to put up big numbers. 

Contribute in a major way?  Maybe.  Contribute about equally?  Get serious.

It's almost like the Indians saying that one of their many Hall of Famers is Eddie Murray.

The Browns get the same sort of leeway from the Hall of Fame with Bobby Mitchell.

Mitchell was a real change of pace running back to Jim Brown and a fine receiver who made things happen after the catch (think of Eric Metcalf in Andre Davis' body).  Still, Mitchell's numbers with the Browns were hardly the heady stuff of Hall of Fame resumes.  In his four years with Cleveland, he averaged 574 yards rushing and 32 catches for 366 yards receiving a season.

Then came the infamous trade to the Redskins for Ernie Davis.  The Skins converted  Mitchell to wide receiver where he had what you might call… a breakthrough.  Over the next two years, Mitchell had 141 catches for an astounding 2,820 receiving yards.  And these were 14 game seasons. 

In other words, Mitchell averaged 5 catches for 100 yards a game for two seasons.

The rest is history.  Fans remember Mitchell for his seven years as the great Redskins receiver, not his four years of giving Jim Brown a periodic breather.  Did Mitchell contribute to the Browns in a major way?  Well, I'd liken him to Jamel White last year:  a solid contributor, but hardly a cornerstone.  Did Bobby Mitchell contribute about equally to the Browns and Redskins?  Not in this lifetime.

But look at those Browns listed in the Hall of Fame, and Mitchell is right there along with Graham, Gatski, Groza and all the rest.  Mitchell is also listed among those Redskins in the Hall of Fame.  One team has a far more legitimate claim on him than the other.

Other teams are guilty of the same thing.  The Bears lead the league in Hall of Fame inductees with 26 (the Browns list 15).  But their roll call includes George Blanda.

Excuse me? 

In his first nine years as a professional football player, Blanda was with the Bears.  He started about 20 games.  And he was virtually invisible otherwise: over six seasons he threw all of 30 passes, and in four of those seasons, he threw just two.  Yes, George Blanda is one of 25 Bears in the Hall of Fame, and to earn that right, they had him attempt two passes in four years of service.

Of course Blanda tired of rotting on the Bears bench, jumped to the AFL, and lit it up with the  Houston Oilers for many years before being the backup qb and game winning kicker for the Raiders.  And still, Canton regards Blanda as yet another Bears Hall of Famer.

It's analogous to Kelly Holcomb starting for the Browns and reeling off eight incredible years with a few MVP's and Super Bowls… a run so incredible that he'd eventually be inducted into the Hall… And then the Indianapolis Colts claim him as one of their own.  After all, he did play for them all those years.  Uh huh.

The Colts also claim Ted Hendricks as a Hall of Famer.  Ted played for Baltimore his first five years and the Raiders his final nine, with a year in Green Bay in between.

How many fans even remember that the Mad Stork played for anyone but the Raiders?

I suppose the Browns and other teams are merely taking advantage of the generous ground rules set forth by the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  Maybe Canton needs to rethink their rules.  Certainly the Browns have a rich enough history and more than its fair share of all-time greats that it doesn't need to pad its numbers with players who went on to real fame elsewhere, or came to them with their fame already secured.

Paul Warfield I can see.  He was equally great in both Cleveland and Miami.  Bobby Mitchell and Joe Delamielleure?  No.  Mitchell broke through with the Redskins while Delamielleure had secured his status by the time he came to Cleveland.  He also did not play nearly as well for the Browns as he did for the Bills.   Mitchell's rightful place is with Washington.  Joe D's place is with Buffalo.  Cleveland should not lay claim to them, nor should the Hall of Fame allow teams to pad their list of inductees.

Copyright 2003.  Questions?  Comments?  Post in the Fan Commentary forum or  write Aardvark at

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