Orange Watch: A look at Syracuse nominees to the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Syracuse legend Donovan McNabb has his No. 5 jersey honored. Mandatory Photo Credit Kicia Sears, The Juice Online.

Item: The list of modern-era players to be nominated for the Class of 2022 was announced last week, and the names of two ex-Syracuse players are included in the total of 122 players.

It’s always been impressive that a school of Syracuse’s size is represented by eight members of the Pro Football Hall in Canton, Ohio, the same number as Alabama. In fact, among the 14 ACC schools, SU is just behind Miami and Pittsburgh who have nine enshrined in the Hall, and only Notre Dame (13), Southern California (13), Michigan (11), and Ohio State (10) have more inductees.

Two of the five ex-Orange players who we think should one day be inducted to the Hall and add to the Syracuse total, are among the 2022 nominees:

Gary Anderson (1978-1981) – Anderson had a rather inauspicious start to his Syracuse career, by booting in his first two kickoffs out of bounds at Archbold Stadium receiving late-season 1978 game experience as a freshman behind Dave Jacobs. A South African native, Anderson blossomed into a first team All American, even making an appearance on the televised Bob Hope Christmas special, which in that era annually saluted the nation’s top college football players.

Drafted by Buffalo but cut before the 1982 season and signed by Pittsburgh, all Anderson did in a stellar 23-year career with four other teams was retire in 2004 as the NFL’s all-time scoring leader. That mark was first broken by Morton Andersen, who was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2017, then by Adam Vinatieri who will one day be elected to the Hall after his eligibility commences in 2025.

There are only three other kickers besides Andersen enshrined in Canton. Lou Groza, who was also a full-time defensive tackle, George Blanda, who also was a full-time quarterback and is 7th all-time on the scoring list, and Jan Stenerud who is now in 19th place among all-time scorers.

There’s a sense of urgency to Anderson’s rightful selection as a Hall of Famer because there’s going to be other post-2000 kickers besides Vinatieri enshrined over the next decade. They include Jason Hanson (4th all-time scorer), Stephen Gostkowski (11th all-time scorer) who last played with Tennessee in 2020, but earned his status replacing Vinatieri on several New England Super Bowl teams, and Baltimore’s Justin Tucker who’s the most accurate kicker in NFL history and just shattered the record for the longest field goal with a 66-yard game-winner this past Sunday against Detroit.

Conclusion: Gary Anderson is a Hall of Fame player, end of story. He deserves to be voted into the Class of 2022.

Donovan McNabb (1995-98) – We all know the glory years during the 14-year Paul Pasqualoni era, with four-year starter McNabb leading SU to the big stages of the 1997 Fiesta and 1998 Orange Bowl seasons. The quarterback has the distinction of being the second-highest drafted NFL player in ‘Cuse history by Philadelphia as the No. 2 overall pick in 1999, behind only the great Ernie Davis as the top draft choice of Cleveland in 1962.

But McNabb’s Pro Football Hall of Fame candidacy is tricky. With 37,276 all-time passing yards over 11 seasons, McNabb is only 25th on the all-time list, 871-yards behind Dave Krieg and 644-yards behind Boomer Esiason who are both also on the 2022 Hall ballot. There’s also the matter of not winning a Super Bowl title, even with leading Philadelphia to the NFC Championship game over four consecutive seasons, but losing in Super Bowl XXXIX to New England.

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Another obstacle, similar with Anderson’s status, there’s soon going to be many post-2000 quarterbacks gaining Hall eligibility including Tom Brady, Phillip Rivers, Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, and Aaron Rodgers.

We often compared McNabb’s career to that of Hall of Famer Warren Moon who also did not win a Super Bowl. But in the analysis Moon played 17-seasons to McNabb’s 11, and is 12th all-time passing a whopping 12,049 yards better numerically.

Conclusion: It is going to be a tough road to Canton for Donovan McNabb. The four straight NFC championship game appearances should mean something, although he might have to wait awhile with so many other quarterbacks ahead in line.

By the way, besides Anderson and McNabb, the other three ex-Syracuse players who we feel should be future Pro Football Hall of Famers are pass rusher extraordinaire Dwight Freeney, two-time Super Bowl winning coach Tom Coughlin, and current Arizona Cardinal sack master Chandler Jones. That would bump the Syracuse total up to a remarkable 13 Hall members.

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About Brad Bierman 848 Articles
Now in his sixth decade of covering SU sports, Brad was sports director of WSYR radio for eight years into the early 1990s, then wrote the Orange Watch column for The Big Orange/The Juice print publication for 18 years. A Syracuse University graduate, Brad currently runs his own media consulting business in the Philadelphia suburbs. Follow him on Twitter @BradBierman.