The 2015 HOF class has been announced, and sadly, albeit not surprisingly, Terrell Davis was not included. That's Terrell Davis, Greatest Postseason Runner in NFL History, NFL MVP, Super Bowl MVP, 2,000-yard rusher, and best player on two SB-winning teams. Yes, that Terrell Davis, the one who for a period of time was as great a running back as the NFL has ever seen, but apparently wasn't good enough for these HOF voters.
And yet, some guy who played a really long time and averaged 3.9 yards per attempt is in. According to PFR, the player whose career was most similar to this new HOFer's career is one Corey Dillon. Does anyone think Corey Dillon was an NFL HOFer? Meaning, aside from in that one game we don't want to talk about?
Over the course of this guy's career, PFR's similarity scores turn up several now-fellow HOFers, including John RIggins, Larry Csonka, and Denver's Floyd Little. That's nice, but there's also 30 or 40 guys on there I've never even heard of. My point, though, isn't to denigrate the career of Jerome Bettis. He was a really good player, and he had a really good career.
But Terrell Davis? He was greatness exemplified. Sure, he didn't play all that long, and he was only great for three or four years, really. TD's similarity scores turn up a who's who of the NFL's great running backs: LaDainian Tomlinson, Jim Brown, Gale Sayers, Barry Sanders, Thurman Thomas, Emmitt Smith, Marcus Allen, Walter Payton, Leroy Kelly, Priest Holmes, O.J. Simpson.
And, you know what? With the exception of Tomlinson, Brown, Sanders, Smith, and Payton, most of these guys peaked for three or four years, and were just pretty good the rest of the time. And that's fine. No reasonable person is claiming that TD's career belongs up there with that Mount Rushmore of NFL running backs.
Yet, with their ballots, the HOF voters are telling us that what makes an all-time great isn't his greatness, or the heighth of his peak. Rather, it's how long he was really good, or very good, or even pretty good. Terrell Davis was great for three or four years (he was extremely productive as a rookie, but wasn't used nearly as heavily as he would be the next three years), was pretty good for another season, and was hurt the other two years. And that's it. There were no other years.
It's something less than ideal, to be sure. Obviously, we all wish TD had played longer, both for the Broncos' sake and his own. But here's guessing that Davis would swap careers with only a handful of names mentioned above, if given the chance. As TD has said many times over the years, he did it all, and it's hard to debate that. Unless, of course, being really good, very good, or even pretty good for several years is part of "doing it all."
The history of the NFL is incomplete without Terrell Davis. If one were to pen a year-by-year chronicle of the league while ignoring his contributions, two entire chapters would need to be omitted. Because the 1997 and 1998 NFL seasons might as well have never happened, if not for Terrell Davis.
Jerome Bettis? Well, one couldn't write a list of the NFL's greatest nicknames without him.