by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist
On February 4, Hall of Fame voters will once again have the opportunity to right a wrong.
Question is, will they?
For the fifth time Bob Kuechenberg waits, patiently, to go from finalist to immortality. Once again he faces a formidable list of worthy candidates, some of whom have been waiting longer than he.
No wonder Kooch takes an almost apathetic public stance on the matter. After all, how many times can a man be disappointed before he begins to lose hope?
Guarding Alan Page was easier!
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Those of you that remember his playing days fondly recall one of the most dominating and versatile offensive linemen in NFL history. He was so good he earned Pro Bowl honors at both Guard and Left Tackle, the toughest position to play on the line. Towards the end of his career he even took on long-snapping chores.
For the record, Kooch earned SIX Pro Bowl berths (1974, 1975, 1977, 1978, 1982, 1983), THREE first or second-team All-Pro honors(1975, 1977, and 1978), and was a THREE time all-AFC selection (1974, 1975, 1978). He also played on FOUR Super Bowl teams.
His work in Super Bowl VIII against the best defensive tackle in the game (Page), endures as one of the greatest performances by an offensive lineman in Super Bowl history. The neutralization of Page was pivotal in the Dolphins racking up 196 yards on the ground while yielding only one sack against the vaunted Purple People Eaters defense.
Greatness also demands longevity and durability, and Kooch had both. His career spanned 15 seasons with only one spent on injured reserve. He appeared in an impressive 196 regular season games, with starting streaks of 53, 42, and 49 games.
Even now, Kuechenberg stands as one of the most honored and respected offensive lineman in NFL history. Yet he still remains outside of the one place where he should already be: the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
This year, he will be competing against Troy Aikman, Harry Carson, L.C. Greenwood, Russ Grimm, Claude Humphrey, Michael Irvin, John Madden, Art Monk, Warren Moon, Derrick Thomas, Thurman Thomas, Reggie White, Rayfield Wright, and Gary Zimmerman.
At least three men must be selected but not more than six in any given year.
Madden and Wright were selected by the Hall’s Seniors Committee and, as such, are pretty much locks as the committee’s recommendations have been pretty much given a free pass. Still, both men are deserving and have certainly waited long enough.
Reggie White will be voted in posthumously. He is a first ballot Hall of Famer if ever there was one.
That leaves three slots and a deep field of worthy men to choose from.
As for the other first year candidates (Aikman, Moon, and T. Thomas), Aikman has the strongest case for first year election.
With regards to the remaining offensive line
finalists, Kuechenberg has been kept waiting the longest (17 years). Grimm (10
years) and Zimmerman (4 years) are certainly
Irvin’s off-field reputation continues to remain fresh in voters’ minds, haunting him still. A recent run-in with the law doesn’t help his case. As such, I believe the voters will pass on Irvin this year.
Thus, Kooch’s primary competition for the remaining
three slots should be Aikman,
As Aikman is the only quarterback in this grouping, he probably stands the best chance of election. His abbreviated career and absence from the top of the league’s passing records should be offset by the three Super Bowl rings his Cowboy teams earned during his tenure.
After some debate, I believe Aikman will get the nod.
With the remaining two slots, things become more difficult to foresee.
My gut tells me that Kuechenberg should have a clear edge over Monk, Humphrey, and D. Thomas though I could easily be wrong. It all depends what each voter demands of an enshrinee.
Presuming that the voters are personally committed to filling all six slots (which they should strive to do given the wave of great players coming eligible in 2007), the final two slots could come down to a vigorous debate on the merits of Carson, Greenwood, and Kooch.
I won’t get into a complicated analysis of their respected credentials, especially as they played different positions. Rather, I will simply pose ONE QUESTION.
How can any offensive lineman have better credentials than Bob Kuechenberg?
The voters have precedent in finding the answer to this question: Joe DeLamielleure.
If Joe DeLamielleure is in (and he is), Bob Kuechenberg has to be admitted as well. In fact, one would argue that Kooch’s credentials are even better than DeLamielleure’s (which they are).
In the end, it will be up to venerable Miami Herald columnist Edwin Pope to once again stand and make a vigorous case for Kuechenberg. Lord knows he’s been down this old road before with the committee, some of it easy (Marino and Shula) and some of it hard (Kooch).
On February 4, Pope will have it again. He’ll faithfully present the credentials: the awards, the nominations, the battles won, the testimony from men like Don Shula, the durability, and the longevity of one Bob Kuechenberg.
17 years is long enough. It’s time for the voters to do the right thing. It’s time for Kooch to get in.