It was Nov. 12, 1984, and the cover of Volume XVIII, Issue 15 of Pro Football Weekly featured photos of Mark Gastineau and James Lofton and a headline that blared "PFW's Midseason All-Pro selections, see Page 4." The introduction to the story explained, "But who are the top position players in the league right now, the guys who are making things happen for their teams today?" Readers (and the ever-increasing number of fantasy football freaks) have made that one of the most frequently asked questions here at Pro Football Weekly.
"So, to help all those amateur general managers obtain their bearings at this point in the season, PFW is announcing its first-ever Midseason All-Pro team."
As I've pointed out in this space more than a few times in the past, we've been innovators and experts here at PFW in covering the NFL a lot longer than anybody else. Twenty-six years ago, we were catering to the fantasy football crowd and creating the idea of a halfway all-star team at least a decade and a half before any of our media brethren decided to join the party.
That '84 PFW team wasn't a bad group at all. It featured 11 eventual Pro Football Hall of Fame players in Lofton, Russ Grimm, Dwight Stephenson, Dan Marino, Walter Payton, Eric Dickerson, Randy White, Dan Hampton, Lawrence Taylor, Mike Singletary and Mike Haynes and a Hall of Fame-worthy coach in Dan Reeves. A 12th member of the Hall, John Stallworth, was our Midseason Comeback Player of the Year, and the other cornerback alongside Haynes, Lester Hayes, has been knocking on the Hall's door the last few years.
Looking back got me to wondering, how many future Hall of Famers might there be among this year's group? What makes this fun to contemplate is today we can see how great the '84 group was, but back at the halfway point of that 1984 season, only Payton, White, Haynes and Stallworth had done any considerable work on their résumés for Canton, and Payton was the only lock, having broken Jim Brown's NFL career rushing record just a few weeks before the team was selected.
The PFW 2010 Midseason All-Pro team actually has a head start on the '84 group with three mortal locks for the Hall: Peyton Manning, Ray Lewis and Bill Belichick. From there it gets a lot hazier, though. Antonio Gates is right on the cusp, probably one or two more All-Pro seasons away from having his ticket punched. If Adrian Peterson stays healthy, it's hard to imagine him not making it to Canton, but he's at least four more completely healthy seasons away from having the numbers to start the conversation. And at his size and with his style, it's almost impossible for me to imagine Chris Johnson being durable enough to accomplish a Hall of Fame career.
Shane Lechler is close already to being Canton-ready, but Ray Guy should have been in the Hall years ago, and if the doors aren't open to him, what's going to make Lechler the punter to bust them down? Troy Polamalu, Calvin Johnson, Ndamukong Suh and Nnamdi Asomugha all look and feel like potential Hall of Famers to me, but they all still have much work to do. Devin Hester is a fascinating case because he's probably going to demolish every return record there is, like no record has ever been blown away before. Yet he's a bust as a position player, so how much mojo can he really generate among the voters?
As for the rest of this year's honorees, congratulations on your great seasons — and, in some cases, great careers so far — and there is absolutely nothing that says you won't eventually cobble together a Hall of Fame résumé. But you just don't feel Canton-likely to me right now.
I'm going to guess that in addition to Belichick, Manning and Lewis, A.P., Gates and Polamalu end up in Canton, as well. I'd like to add Suh, but projecting a rookie off just eight games is unreasonable at best. I'd love to hear from any of you who disagree with me and what you think I might be missing, but keep in mind, all we're doing is guessing for fun here, and all this really shows us is what a hell of a team that first group in '84 actually was.
This column was originally published in the current print edition of Pro Football Weekly (cover date: Nov. 14, 2010), the midseason awards issue, which features reports on all 32 teams, as well as Week 10 game previews and timely fantasy football and handicapping info. The print edition is on sale at retail outlets, or you can purchase a copy (print or electronic) at PFWstore.com.