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Portis and the Hall of Fame

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The Boss wants a blog on Clinton Portis’ Hall of Fame prospects –- and what the Boss wants, the Boss gets. So here goes:

As things stand now, with Portis at 9,696 yards and showing signs of winding down, I think he’s going to have a hard time making it. Don’t get me wrong. He’s had six good-to-outstanding seasons and has been one of the better running backs of his generation. But unless he has a Second Act in him -– he’ll be 29 next year -– the doors to Canton probably won’t open for him.

Sure, he could get in down the road as a Veterans Committee candidate. Leroy Kelly (7,274 yards) and John Henry Johnson (6,803) were the last two backs to go that route. But they played in a different era, and there’s been an inflation in offensive statistics since then. (Example: In the first seven decades of the NFL, there were seven 10,000 yard rushers; in the two decades since, there have been 17.)

That ups the ante for anybody hoping to get elected to the Hall. You just need more volume on your resume nowadays, more quantity. Nobody is going to be much swayed by the argument that “Clinton gained more yards than Leroy Kelly and John Henry Johnson.”

I don’t have any formula for who should make the Hall and who shouldn’t, but let’s try to go about this systematically:

1. In the last 20 years, the following backs have gone in (not counting Veterans candidates): Franco Harris, Earl Campbell, John Riggins, Walter Payton, Tony Dorsett, Eric Dickerson, Marcus Allen, Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas. Has Portis had a better career than any of them? I would say no. (Remember, we’re talking about Total Body of Work here, not how glistening some of your individual seasons were.)

2. Here are some of the backs who will be up for induction in the next 20 years: Marshall Faulk, Jerome Bettis, Curtis Martin, LaDainian Tomlinson, Corey Dillon, Edgerrin James, Tiki Barber, Eddie George, Shaun Alexander, Fred Taylor, Warrick Dunn and Jamal Lewis. (Notice I haven’t even mentioned Adrian Peterson or Chris Johnson, who are just getting started but have shown Serious Stuff. I also haven’t mentioned Terrell Davis, an absolute stud who will have trouble cracking Canton because he got waylaid by injuries.) Anyway, how many guys in that group would you rank below Portis? My take: Certainly none of the first eight. Then you could start splitting hairs.

3. A list of the things Portis has done: Made two Pro Bowls, rushed for 1,500 yards in a season (three times), averaged 100 yards rushing per game in a season (2003 with Denver) and strung together five 120-yard rushing games (’03-04 and again in ’08 -– a rare feat). At some point, he’ll probably top 10,000 rushing yards. How much farther he goes beyond that, only his body knows for sure.

4. A list of the things Portis hasn’t done: Made first-team All-Pro, led the league in rushing (top finish: fourth, three times), led the league in touchdowns or rushing touchdowns, gained 2,000 yards from scrimmage in a season, caught 50 passes in a season, set a significant record, had One of Those Games People Spend the Rest of Their Lives Talking About, played in the Super Bowl (much less won one), played in a conference title game (much less won one).

That’s a fairly lengthy list.

I understand the attachment many Redskins fans feel toward Clinton. He’s got talent, he’s got personality (heck, he’s got multiple personalities) and he’s been a workhorse. He just isn’t — at this stage, at least — a Hall of Famer.

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About the Author
Dan Daly

Dan Daly

Dan Daly has been writing about sports for the Washington Times since 1982. He has won numerous national and local awards, appears regularly in NFL Films’ historical features and is the co-author of "The Pro Football Chronicle,” a decade-by-decade history of the game. Follow Dan on Twitter at @dandalyonsports –- or e-mail him at ddaly@washingtontimes.com.

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