Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Kudos to Bryant Gumbel

The Monk watched much of Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel last night, including the host's signoff commentary. Gumbel responded directly to Rich Gossage's public condemnation of the Baseball Writers of America, whose members vote for the baseball Hall of Fame and who elected to enshrine Bruce Sutter but not the Goose. Noting the caustic response Gossage made to the BBWA's snub, which Gumbel rightly noted as fully justified, Gumbel offered Gossage some useful advice in the form of two words: Harry Carson.

The repeated and completely unjustifiable snub of Carson by the pro football writers is one of the most narrow-minded and simply ridiculous failures by any Hall of Fame voting committee anywhere. Carson dominated his position of inside linebacker for more than a decade. He is a 9-time Pro Bowler (same as Jack Lambert, more than Jack Ham -- two Steelers in the Hall) and was the "quarterback" of the Giants' defense that finished in the top ten in total defense six times in seven years from '81-87. He was a perennial all-Pro and he is still not in the Hall of Fame despite being one of the two best non-outside linebackers of the 1980s (Mike Singletary, the middle linebacker of the Bears' top-notch defenses of the mid-80s, is the other; he's in the Hall). Maybe Carson is too intelligent, too handsome and too nice -- he never came across in interviews as a frightening, aggressive person such that one would associate him with the seek-and-destroy mindset of an inside linebacker. He is STILL a genial presence on Giants pregame and analysis shows, if less erudite tha he was in the '80s thanks to the innumerable concussions that eventually led to his retirement.

The primary justification for keeping Carson out of the Hall is that the Giants only became winners when Lawrence Taylor arrived in 1981. That's stupid. Taylor transformed the game as an outside linebacker and is probably the best defensive player ever (he couldn't head-slap offensive linemen, Deacon Jones). Carson's greatness complemented LT, it did not depend upon him: Carson was an all-Pro on a terrible team while LT ravaged ACC offenses for UNC.

Lambert was the most feared inside linebacker in football in the '70s (even by his teammates), yet Ham, Mel Blount, and Mean Joe Greene are in the Hall because they all deserve to be on their own merits. Similarly, Gene Upshaw and Art Shell are both Hall of Famers because each was the best at his position when they played, they were not debited by playing alongside each other. Unlike Singletary (Dan Hampton) and Lambert (Greene), Carson did not play behind Hall of Fame quality defensive linemen. It takes a Giants fan to remember that George Martin (not the fat author), Jim Burt and Leonard Marshall were the defensive line of the '86 champions.

Gumbel's sage advice to Gossage was to take solace and wisdom from Carson, who after one of the latest snubs a couple of years ago essentially said "forget it, I'm no longer going to concern myself with an honor bestowed by a bunch of writers who never played the game." Indeed, it would be more of an honor for Carson to sail through as a Veterans' Committee selection that would right the wrong done to a fine player and fine person.

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