John Lynch, who has missed as a finalist for four straight seasons, deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
Ronde Barber, who becomes eligible this year, deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
I’m not so sure.
Oh, Rice — the former Tampa Bay Buc who is currently banging his own drum for Hall entry, was a marvelous talent. He would turn the corner in a rush, and he would reach out with those incredibly long arms of his — I used to call him Inspector Gadget — and down would go another quarterback. At times, Rice could take over a football game, constantly embarrassing an offensive tackle, constantly harassing a quarterback. On those afternoons, Rice certainly looked like a Hall of Famer.
And, while he was in Tampa Bay Bay, Rice played the run better than most people suspect. That’s been a knock on him over the years, that he was a one-trick pony who didn’t care about the run, but it isn’t really accurate. Not while he was a member of the Bucs, anyway.
But the problem with Rice is that he worked so hard to give off the impression that he wasn’t working hard. Can you name another player who was sent home from the Pro Bowl? I can’t. And it can’t sit well when the voters gather, not when there are more deserving players on his own team.
Rice was also shipped home from San Francisco on a Bucs’ trip to the West Coast. I remember writing that day that Rice needed to be contrite, that he had let down his team and he needed to stand up and assure them that he cared as much about winning as any of them.
Instead, Rice came out with a huge smile, and he talked about how nice the flight was, and how comfy first class was, and how he had a men’s magazine just like the one he was flipping through at the moment. In other words, he wasn’t exactly repentant that he missed the game. He was Mr. Cool, and he let everyone know that.
For some reason, that’s a hard image to shake when you’re talking about the Hall of Fame.
Granted, Rice has some numbers. He had 122 sacks in his career with 28 forced fumbles. But his claim that he was the fastest to 100 sacks — he wasn’t; he was ninth — can’t help him when voters repeat his statistics. He’s 19th on the all-time sack list.
Rice was a very good football player, to be sure. He was a player that opponents had to game plan against.
Was he a Hall of Famer?