When Jerry Rice was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame a few years ago, the voter who presented his case simply stood up and said, “Jerry Rice,” then sat back down. That’s all that was said.
Such was the power of Rice that by only saying his name you knew his greatness. That’s a no doubt Hall of Fame player.
Now, during the Sunday Night Football game between the Denver Broncos and the Indianapolis Colts, both Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth referred to Reggie Wayne as a future Hall of Famer. This made me pause for a few moments because…well I’m not sure if he is one for starters.
You can’t just stand up, say his name, and then that’s your case. It’s not that simple with Reggie Wayne.
Let’s start off with what encompasses a Hall of Fame player. I’ve studied the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it’s voting patterns and processes, voter logic and even some of the voters themselves.
I’ve found there are three categories that you can put a Hall of Fame player into.
1. The Dominant Player: These players often have careers shortened by injury, but when they were healthy, there wasn’t anyone better. No one could debate that they were the best at their position at that time.
Perfect example is Gale Sayers. Sayers played only seven seasons, had less than 5,000 career rushing yards and only 56 touchdowns. Is that a Hall of Fame player? Certainly not if he was playing baseball.
But just YouTube him now. Don’t look at numbers, go onto YouTube right after you finish here and watch him play. If you are not amazed, I can understand that, but you have to at least see why others might find him so amazing.
Five-time First Team All-Pro and four Pro Bowls in seven years.
That’s dominance. He is a moving piece of art. A Mona Lisa or Statue of David in the football realm. Something so pure and fluid that he defies time and statistics. That’s why he’s in the Hall of Fame and one of the very few to pull it off in less than ten years of a career.
2. The Longevity Player: Football is a stat game. It isn’t as geeky as football yet, but too often guys decide to compare numbers when it comes to judging a player’s greatness. These players are not the most dominant players in the game. Sometimes they aren’t the best on their own team at their position.
Perfect example: Charlie Joiner
Charlie Joiner played 18 years. He was 39 years old when he retired. 18 years. Think about it. That’s a long time. How can we even comprehend 18 years when so many players can’t even play five? When Joiner retired, he had been a reliable consistent receiver. He was nothing close to dominant.
He was a one-time First Team All-Pro and made three Pro Bowls. All of them with a San Diego system that was helpful to wide receivers. Joiner was smart, knew his routes, did his work, but could you say he was a freak athlete capable of taking over a game?
But, when he retired, he had more catches and receiving yards than anyone who had played up to that point. How could anyone justify leaving him out when he’s done more than all the guys who came before? So Joiner was inducted.
3. The Hybrid Player: He’s both dominant and he’s been dominant for over a decade usually. He’s the guy you don’t have to make a case for. He’s automatic. He’s…
Perfect example: Jerry Rice
Rice holds all the major receiving record and played 20 years with 13 Pro Bowl and 10 First Team All-Pro seasons. He redefined the position. He isn’t gold, he’s solid platinum when it comes to receivers. No one touches him in any era. That’s why you only have to say his name when you present him.
Reggie Wayne is not Jerry Rice nor is he likely to be unless he discovers the fountain of youth and plays another 10 seasons with Andrew Luck.
However, Reggie Wayne has been a very good player up to this point. You have to be to be 35 and still playing wide receiver in the NFL. His accomplishments include:
Six Pro Bowls. One First Team All-Pro selection. Eighth on the all-time reception list and could be in top 5, top 3 range by end of the year. 11th on the all-time receiving yard list and could be in top 7 by end of the year. Once led the league in receiving yards.
That’s what stands out to me. In fact, Wayne only once led the league in anything and that was in 2007 when he led the league in receiving yards beating out Randy Moss in the last week. If he gets in, he’s another Charlie Joiner, who got in because of a lengthy career.
Except Wayne isn’t going to be the all-time leader in anything by the time he’s done.
Furthermore, when you judge a wide receiver, it’s very complex because wide receivers are guaranteed absolutely nothing in a game and statistics don’t tell you everything that film and a strong memory for games do.
Let’s be frank here. Reggie Wayne wasn’t the best player on his own team for the first six years of his careers. It wasn’t until 2007 that Marvin Harrison was so banged up that Reggie Wayne got the majority of Peyton Manning’s attention.
Reggie Wayne, for a good portion of his career, compiled numbers because he exploited teams that were more focused on Marvin Harrison than they were on him.
Plus, out of all the receivers in the top 20 in career receptions and receiving yards, only Reggie Wayne, Steve Smith, and Andre Johnson can say they played 11 seasons with the illegal contact penalty rule which results in a five-yard penalty and an automatic first down that has severely crippled defenses.
By 2004, Peyton Manning had broken Dan Marino’s single-season passing touchdown record and less than a decade later, three quarterbacks had thrown for over 5,000 yards in a season.
Receivers who have played in the 2000s have reaped the benefits of rules benefiting offenses. Throw in Peyton Manning throwing balls to him plus having Marvin Harrison taking the no. 1 defensive back off Wayne for at least four seasons, and Reggie Wayne has had everything going his way including the ball.
I’m not trying to discount Reggie Wayne’s accomplishments as much as I’m trying to clarify that he climbed a mountain that was a bit easier than the ones his peers had with more years in the golden age of passing the ball.
And he still wasn’t that amazing. Be honest with yourself. When we think of the top three-four receivers of the NFL in the 2000s, what names come up?
I think of Marvin Harrison, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Torry Holt, and Larry Fitzgerald.
The first four I named were the receivers chosen for the 2000s All Decades Team. Reggie Wayne was a top 10 receiver of that decade, but top five? No. So taking all that into consideration, is a top 6-10 player of a position a Hall of Famer? Not usually.
Wayne’s career isn’t over, but it’s winding up and around 2020, the voters will have to wonder about Reggie Wayne’s greatness.
Is he a Hall of Famer? I want to say yes because I like Reggie Wayne, but I’m more of in a “why not?” phase than anything else. I’m still not sure at this point because I never thought of him as this super elite weapon that terrifies defenses. He was just a very good receiver who had to be guarded.
What I do know is when his presenter stands up, he’ll definitely being saying more than a name.