Paul Tagliabue, ex-Giants GM George Young headed to Hall of Fame
Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue made the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his fifth attempt.
Tagliabue, 79, George Young, the late former New York Giants general manager who turned the woeful franchise into a two-time Super Bowl winner, and NFL Films pioneer Steve Sabol made it as contributors.
Ex-Dallas Cowboys safety Cliff Harris and former Cleveland receiver Mac Speedie were among the 10 players in the centennial class announced Wednesday. The class of 10 senior candidates, three contributors and two coaches — Jimmy Johnson and Bill Cowher were named over the weekend — are part of the Hall’s celebration of the NFL’s 100th season.
Tagliabue replaced Pete Rozelle as league commissioner in 1989 and served 17 years, during which there was labor peace, expansion to 32 teams and widespread upgrades in stadiums. The NFL’s television revenues under Tagliabue skyrocketed, and he helped establish a pension system for former players.
The issue that seemed to keep him from earlier selection to the Hall was how the NFL dealt with concussions and head trauma.
“Deep appreciation to the Hall of Fame and just as much to all the people who worked with me for almost 50 years in the NFL,” Tagliabue said. “Football is the ultimate team sport, we were not playing the game on the field … the team was people who worked for me at the NFL and the teams and our partners.”
Some notes on the players selected:
• Harris was one of the hardest-hitting defensive backs in the NFL, a major part of the Dallas defenses of the 1970s who made three All-Pro teams and six Pro Bowls. He played in seven conference title games and five Super Bowls, winning two.
• Speedie was part of the Browns’ high-powered offense in the AAFC and then in the NFL. As one of two primary targets, along with Dante Lavelli, for quarterback Otto Graham — both already are in the Hall — Speedie averaged 16.1 yards on 349 receptions and scored 32 touchdowns. Twice he gained more than 1,000 yards receiving in a season.
• Safety Donnie Shell is the 10th man from the Pittsburgh dynasty of the 1970s to be elected, and the fifth from the Steel Curtain defense that dominated the NFL.
• Bobby Dillon was a superb player on a bad team. He was with the Packers from 1952 through ’59, retiring after Vince Lombardi’s first year as head coach in Green Bay. Despite a childhood accident in which he lost an eye, Dillon thrived in the NFL. He made nine interceptions in a season three times and seven picks twice. Dillon picked off four passes against Detroit on Thanksgiving Day 1953 and led the NFL in interception return yardage (244) in 1956.
• Alex Karras, who became well known off the field as an actor and also was suspended for one year by Rozelle for gambling, was an immovable defensive tackle for the Lions. A three-time All-Pro in 12 seasons, Karras unofficially had 97½ sacks — it was not an NFL statistic in the 1950s and ’60s — and was considered by Lombardi the one Detroit player who could single-handedly disrupt the Packers.
• Duke Slater played 10 seasons in the early NFL, from 1922 through ’31, mostly for the Chicago Cardinals, making four all-NFL squads at tackle when players went two ways. He was the longest-tenured African American player during that era and was the main blocker for Ernie Nevers when Nevers scored 40 points in one game.
• Ed Sprinkle was called “the greatest pass rusher” that longtime Chicago head coach George Halas ever saw. In his 12 pro seasons as a linebacker, defensive end and end on offense — yes, other two-way player who once was dubbed “the meanest man in football” — he made four Pro Bowls and the 1940s All-Decade team.
• At 6-foot-8, 225 pounds, Harold Carmichael was onething new to pro football. He used his height, long arms and strong hands to dominate smaller defenders — which meant just about everyone — from 1971 through ’84. He made 590 catches for 8,985 yards and a 15.2 average, and had 79 TD receptions in a mostly run-oriented league.
• Winston Hill was the powerhouse blocker for the New York Jets who stunned Baltimore in the third Super Bowl, considered the biggest upset in league history. Behind Hill, who played 15 seasons, the Jets used their running game to keep the Colts off-balance. Joe Namath has called Hill “one of the biggest reasons we won that game.”
• Jim Covert spent eight seasons in Chicago and was the top offensive lineman on the great 1985 Bears team that won the Super Bowl. Against pass rushers already in the Canton, Ohio, shrine such as Lee Roy Selmon and Lawrence Taylor, Covert allowed a mere 4½ sacks. He was voted a captain in his second season with the Bears.
Barry Wilner is an Associated Press writer.