If you’re a Denver Broncos fan, then the Pro Football Hall of Fame is likely a sore subject for you. This is because you know that despite having the 9th best record in the NFL as long as they’ve existed, and the 2nd best since the merger, the Broncos have only four players of significance in the Hall of Fame. In recent years, this hasn’t gotten any better. Last year in particular was the mother of all gutshots: Jerome Bettis and his 3.9 yards per average career compilation was inducted over Terrell Davis–and to add insult to injury, a Chief, Charger, and Raider all got inducted at the same time. This weekend, we will see another year in which Davis couldn’t get past the finalist round, and yet another Raider gets inducted.
So, as we approach Hall of Fame weekend, I figured it would be prudent to put this disrespect to the test: just how much more attention should the Broncos, and other teams, be getting from Canton? And which teams have gotten too much attention?
This study’s range will go from 1960 to the present, as this was the year nine of the current NFL teams were created (and the Vikings soon followed in 1961). The first step tallies up how many Hall of Famers each team had, grouped by each season. For example, this means that the Broncos do get credit for Tony Dorsett in 1988, but it pales in comparison to the 11 years the Cowboys had him. Coaches are only counted if they are the head coach, and executives are only counted if they are the general manager. (However, teams also get credit for incumbent Hall of Famers becoming head coach or GM; i.e., Mike Ditka for the Bears from 1982-1992, and Ozzie Newsome and John Elway as GMs for the Ravens and Broncos.) The team with the most Hall of Famers at any given time were the Steelers from 1974-1981, with 12. They had 11 in 1982, and the only other teams with double digit Hall of Famers were the Raiders from 1971-1978, and the Cowboys from 1971-1972.
Second, it should trend that teams with good records should also have higher numbers of Hall of Famers. So the next step takes the difference between the number of wins and Hall of Famers each team had in each season. Seasons before 1978 are adjusted to reflect a 16-game schedule, while strike-shortened seasons are not.
The third step takes an average of all these differences, while the fourth and final step normalizes the averages to get a sense of who is underrepresented and overrepresented. Positive numbers mean underrepresented, and negative numbers mean overrepresented.
Two time ranges are displayed here. The first one goes from 1960 to the present. However, this is somewhat misleading as there are obviously several active and recently retired players that will be Hall of Famers someday. This is most evident in seeing the Patriots #1 with a bullet on this list, but we all know that Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and Bob Kraft will have busts in Canton someday, with Rob Gronkowski building a good case as we speak. So, the second list cuts off the more recent end at 1997, which is the latest draft class that has had inductees to Canton thus far (Walter Jones, Orlando Pace).
In both lists, small sample sizes for franchises formed on or after 1995 mean they should also be taken with a grain of salt. That’s evident with the Jaguars and Panthers showing up high on both lists, and the Ravens being listed as underrepresented to the present (one of the best teams in the league recently), yet highly overrepresented up to 1997, as they had Newsome and Jonathan Ogden on the very poor 1996 and 1997 teams.
With those caveats in place, the Broncos certainly stick out like a sore thumb, coming up as the third most underrepresented in both lists. The Eagles, Dolphins, and Seahawks also show up on the top ten of both lists. On the other end…the Hall of Fame sure likes itself some Steelers and Raiders, doesn’t it? The Chiefs also get quite the Hall of Fame boost from their late 1960s glory despite being subpar in the 1970s and 1980s and slightly above average from 1990 to the present. It’s also interesting to see the Bills and Buccaneers heavy on the overrepresentation, with Tampa Bay in particular getting major props from Canton in recent years (Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, and Tony Dungy).
For a final observation, from 1960 to 1997 there is only team with 13 or more adjusted wins that does not have any person inducted in Canton. That team is the 1977 Denver Broncos. Convincing the Senior Committee to take up Randy Gradishar’s case would solve that anomaly.