Other Raiders Worthy Of The HOF...

Angry Pope

All Raider
Feb 2, 2006
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Marcos Bretón: Other Raiders worthy of Canton

By Marcos Bretón

Published 12:01 am PDT Friday, July 7, 2006

The preparations are in full swing in Canton, Ohio, where in less than a month John Madden will be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
It's a long overdue acknowledgment of a transcendent football figure, but the shadow cast by the epic Raiders coach and broadcaster isn't his alone.

Madden has Raiders on his tail, lined up deservedly behind him for a bronze bust and a piece of football immortality.

Whether those Raiders will ever get to Canton and don the yellow blazers bestowed on Hall of Fame members is anyone's guess.

But they deserve to be there.

It would be justice to see Jim Plunkett's eyes grow moist on a Canton dais while recalling his roots as a prep star in 1960s San Jose.

Just as it would be fitting to hear Tom Flores recall his late father, Tomas Cervantes Flores -- an immigrant from Durango in Mexico -- who didn't know what football was when young Tom began playing it as a Fresno-area high schooler in the 1950s.

But by the time Flores was graduating from Sanger High School in 1954, bound for the quarterback position at the University of the Pacific, Tom Sr. was a football fanatic who lived to see his son win two Super Bowls as the Raiders coach in 1981 and 1984.

"He loved football, lived for football," Flores said by phone on Thursday, recalling the pivotal man in his life who lived to be 96.

By the time he died two years ago, Tom Sr. had seen Sanger High name its football stadium after his son, typifying the hope of America and the dreams achieved by the children of immigrants.

"He got to see everything," Flores said.

Almost everything.

If there ever is a Canton enshrinement for Tom Flores, papa will have to be there in spirit.

"I think about it every year about this time," Flores said. "I'd be lying if I didn't think I deserved it."

There are 21 coaches in the NFL Hall of Fame, from George Allen to Bill Walsh. Of those, only six have at least two Super Bowl rings to match Flores, including: Vince Lombardi and Walsh.

Some legends like George Halas coached before there were Super Bowls. But Hall of Famers in Allen, Bud Grant and Marv Levy were a combined 0-9 in Super Bowl games.

Naysayers will say Flores finished shy of 100 wins and that there wasn't a big gap between his total wins and losses at 97-87. Allen was 116-47-5, Grant was 158-96-5 and Levy was 154-120.

OK, fine. And no disrespect to Levy, but his Buffalo Bills teams got slaughtered in three out of four consecutive Super Bowls. Before one drubbing, Levy's star running back -- Thurman Thomas -- misplaced his helmet.

But if memory serves, Raiders helmets were all accounted for when they pasted the favored Philadelphia Eagles in 1981 and then crushed the favored -- and defending champion -- Washington Redskins in 1984.

In both games, Flores completely out-coached the celebrated Dick Vermeil and future Hall of Famer himself, Joe Gibbs.

Meanwhile, Plunkett was the Most Valuable Player of the 1981 Super Bowl and was the spiritual leader of the 1983 Raiders, their last Super Bowl winner.

Does Plunkett ever think about getting a bust in Canton?

"Other people bring it up more than I do," Plunkett said by phone Thursday. "I played well in the big games that I played in. Other guys had great seasons but they never won a Super Bowl."

Doubters point to Plunkett's completion rating of just more than 50 percent. Or that he threw more interceptions than touchdown passes and never played in the Pro Bowl.

But he was the NFL Rookie of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, Super Bowl MVP, 8-2 in postseason games.

"Of all the guys who are not in the Hall of Fame from coast to coast, Jim Plunkett is the one who most obviously belongs," said Bob Oates, who at 91 is the senior member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Board of Selectors, a 39-member panel comprised of NFL writers.

Still writing for the Los Angeles Times during the NFL season, Oates said antipathy toward Raiders owner Al Davis may work against Raiders Hall of Fame candidates such as Plunkett and Flores -- or Ray Guy and Cliff Branch, for that matter.

"I've always had that feeling," said Oates, who has voted for every single Hall of Fame class dating back to the first in 1963.

There are 32 NFL writers -- one for each NFL team -- on the selection committee with seven additional members, most of whom are based in the Midwest and East Coast.

That has to have an effect on the voting, given that a review of the 243 Hall of Fame inductees shows a strong slant toward men who toiled in the frozen trenches far from California.

Whatever. Madden's coming induction is an opportunity to rectify years of misguided omissions.

The Raiders are a polarizing franchise, have made many mistakes -- and enemies -- over the years.

But Plunkett and Flores were huge in the biggest games of their times. And that should count for a lot more than it has.
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