2015 is Tim Brown’s Year for Hall of Fame Induction

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Jan 31, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; AFC squad player Torry Holt runs against the NFC squad during the Tazon Latino VII flag football game at Clinic Field inside the Ernest Morial Convention center. Super Bowl XLVII will take place between the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens on February 3, 2013 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

This Year’s Competition

The current crop of finalists includes a few big-name wide receivers, probably none bigger than the great Marvin Harrison. Harrison, who spent 13 years with the Indianapolis Colts, is a player who many think belongs in the conversation as the second-best wide receiver of all time, and ranks third behind only Jerry Rice and Tony Gonzalez in receptions and ninth all-time in touchdowns. Harrison, who entered the league in 1996, last played in 2008 and is in his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility, and many observers speculate that he could be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.  The stats certainly bear that out. But despite playing with one of the most prolific passers in NFL history for eleven of his thirteen seasons (he and Peyton Manning have combined for the most TD’s of any QB-WR duo in NFL history), and during an era of unprecedented expansion of passing offenses in the 2000’s, Harrison’s career totals are not significantly higher than Brown’s: he has only eight more receptions and actually has less receiving and all purpose yards. He scored 128 TD’s (103 more than Brown), mostly thanks to his status as Peyton Manning’s go-to guy in scoring situations.

Granted, Brown played four more seasons and 65 more games in his career than did Harrison, but Brown of course played many of those seasons with B-list quarterback talent on mediocre teams in an era where passing offenses hadn’t become quite as prolific as they were in Harrison’s prime. Harrison, like Brown, also does not have particularly impressive playoff numbers: in sixteen playoff appearances, Harrison caught 65 passes for 883 yards and only 2 TD’s – both of which were in the same game. Harrison was held scoreless 15 times in 16 postseason games.  In his lone Super Bowl appearance, he caught 5 passes for 59 yards. In his last two playoff appearances – both losses to the San Diego Chargers – he caught a combined 5 passes for 47 yards.  Much like his quarterback, Harrison excelled in good conditions, indoors, and on turf during the regular season, only to slip a few notches in more challenging postseason conditions. Brown, meanwhile, played most of his career on natural grass fields at the LA and Oakland Coliseums, once a year at Jack Murphy/Qualcomm, once a year at Arrowhead and once a year at Mile High.

Still, there are many arguments for Harrison over Brown: Marvin Harrison did manage to play for a Super Bowl Champion, and he was an All-Pro eight times to go along with eight career Pro Bowl selections.  Harrison is by far the strongest competition among this years’ finalists to keep Brown off the stage in Canton for another year.

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  • Another strong competitor in this years’ crop of finalists is former Ram and 49er Isaac Bruce. Bruce, like Brown, started his career in Los Angeles as a second round draft pick in 1994 with the Los Angeles Rams, and his career path was very similar to Brown’s. Bruce started his career with some mediocre quarterbacks on mediocre teams, and had a few solid seasons with a flash in the pan quarterback in a record-breaking offense surrounded by other great players.

    Bruce, who was roughly the same size as Tim Brown, played the position with a similar toughness and was a great third-down target. For eleven of Bruce’s sixteen seasons in the NFL, Tim Brown was also in the NFL, making Bruce more of a peer to Brown than the younger Harrison. Bruce, like Brown, was also a prolific pass-catcher: Isaac Bruce is eighth all-time in pass receptions, with just seventy fewer catches than Brown. Bruce sits slightly ahead of Brown in the all-time receiving yards totals (15,208 to 14,934) but trails Brown with nine fewer touchdown receptions and 14 fewer touchdowns overall. Remembered best for what he did with Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk and Torry Holt as the Greatest Show on Turf, Bruce did not always have that sort of talent around him: for his first five seasons, he caught passes from Chris Chandler and Tony Banks alongside Eddie Kennison and Todd Kinchen. He was not necessarily the primary target on the 1999-2001 teams, but he put up big numbers with those teams as well, and then continued to produce consistently as the Kurt Warner era gave way to the Marc Bulger era.

    Isaac Bruce, despite playing with the Greatest Show on Turf, only appeared in nine playoff games, including two Super Bowls, and put up solid numbers in those nine appearances: 44 receptions, 759 yards, 4 TD’s. He came up big in the Rams’ Super Bowl XXXIV win, racking up 162 yards on 6 catches, including the go-ahead touchdown on a 73 yard catch and run with 2:12 left in the game that ended up being the winning touchdown. Despite having the signature Super Bowl performance that Brown lacks, Bruce didn’t have the consistent production and was not as highly regarded in his era by peers and fans: he only made four Pro Bowls. During his time in the league, he was always well-respected but never regarded as one of the top three or even five wide receivers in the game, and some would say he wasn’t even the best receiver on his own team during their peak years.

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  • That honor might go to Torry Holt. Holt, who was drafted in 1999 and spent his rookie year with the eventual Super Bowl champs as the third option (behind Bruce and Marshall Faulk) in the Greatest Show on Turf, played eleven years in the NFL, ten of them with the Rams. While his numbers don’t stack up with Brown, or Bruce, he nonetheless had a great career: 920 receptions, 13,382 receiving yards, 74 TD’s. He led the NFL in receiving yardage twice and in receptions once, and put together eight consecutive seasons with at least 80 receptions, including six consecutive seasons with at least 90. Holt holds the NFL record for most consecutive seasons with at least 1,300 receiving yards with six, part of a string of eight consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 yards. On several very mediocre to bad Rams teams after Dick Vermiel’s departure and Kurt Warner’s regression, Holt was the primary target in Mike Martz’s offense as executed by Marc Bulger. While those teams didn’t win very many games, they put up astounding offensive numbers, especially in the passing game, much of it due to Torry Holt. If Isaac Bruce played the game with the type of toughness that Tim Brown had, Holt brought a similar athletic profile: he was not particularly big, but he was fast and athletic, could get deep behind defensive backs, and could make astounding catches with his big, gnarly-looking hands.

    Holt played in ten playoff games in his career, catching 47 passes for 630 yards and 4 TD’s. His signature playoff performance came in Super Bowl XXXIV as a rookie, where he led the Rams in receptions with 7 for 109 yards and a 3rd quarter TD that put the team ahead 16-0 before a late Titans rally. While he had his share of regular season and post-season success, he benefited greatly from a system he played in, and still didn’t manage to record the type of numbers that Brown managed in his career.