Running debate


A new "For Pete's Sake" blog appears each Thursday.

I've said it before and I'll repeat it again. I strongly feel that the Pro Football Hall of Fame has the best selection process of any sports hall of fame. The reason for this is the scrutiny that each nominee receives in the long process that results in a new class.

Last Sunday, the list of nominees for our Class of 2011 was trimmed to 17 finalists that include 15 modern-era nominees plus the two senior candidates who were announced last August. Our 44-member Selection Committee has its work cut out for sure. Bylaws state that no more than five of the 15 modern-era nominees can be elected. That means there will be many great and deserving candidates who will have to wait for another year. A line I use often about the finalists is that it's not a case of "if" but "when."

The debate among media and fans has begun and will continue even after the class is elected on the day before Super Bowl XLV. One of the hot topics with the Class of 2011 will be running backs. I've been preparing for this one for several years knowing that this is the year that three great running backs became eligible for the first time.

The reality is that the odds of Jerome Bettis, Marshall Faulk, and Curtis Martin taking up three of the five spots are a long shot for sure. Not counting our inaugural Class of 1963 that included 17 enshrinees, only one class has included three running backs. That was in 1968 when Cliff Battles, Marion Motley, and Charley Trippi (who also spent a couple of seasons at quarterback) all earned election at the same time.

So, the burning question is which of these three are most deserving of election this year? I won't even begin to answer that one. That'll be left to our selectors.

But, I do offer a rundown of some fascinating (from many) facts about these three finalists.

Jerome Bettis
In 1993 he became just the eighth rookie to rush for 200 yards in a game. He accomplished the feat when he gained a career-high 212 yards against the New Orleans Saints (he had his first career 100-yard game against the Saints earlier in the year) on Dec. 12. He carried the ball four straight times to begin the game but was stripped of the ball and the Saints returned the fumble for a TD. He made up for the miscue as he took control of the game and racked up 125 yards in the first half. That total included a 71-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter that was the longest run of his 13-season career. Los Angeles won the game, 23-20.

The rookie backs with 200-yard games before Bettis include: Tom Wilson (Los Angeles Rams, 1956), Jim Brown (Cleveland Browns, 1957), Tony Dorsett (Dallas Cowboys, 1977), Terry Miller (Buffalo Bills, 1978), Curt Warner (Seattle Seahawks, 1983), Greg Bell (Buffalo Bills, 1984), and Bo Jackson (Los Angeles Raiders, 1987).

Marshall Faulk
After rushing for 1,000 yards four times in five seasons and setting the Indianapolis Colts record with 2,227 total yards from scrimmage in 1998, the team dealt him to the St. Louis Rams. How fortunate for the Rams it was.

He recorded the first of many memorable seasons for the Rams that first year in St. Louis. He was a huge part of the Rams' high-powered offense that helped lead them to their first-ever Super Bowl championship. Faulk set the NFL record for most total yards from scrimmage (2,429) in a season that year when he became just the second player in NFL history to have 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same year (Roger Craig was the first with San Francisco in 1985). For the record, Faulk's single-season mark for yards from scrimmage lasted until 2009 when Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans racked up 2,509 yards

Curtis Martin
When I hear the name Curtis Martin, I think of a player who quietly went about his business. But the fact is that only three men in history – Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, and Barry Sanders – gained more rushing yards in a career than Martin. And it was Sanders who Martin joined to become the only players to begin a career with 10 straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons.

It was the last of those ten seasons that seems most remarkable to me. That's because he had the very best season of his career after nine great ones. In 2004, Martin claimed his lone rushing title when he ran for a career-high 1,697 yards. He started and ended that season with a bang when he rushed for 196 yards against the Bengals in Kickoff Weekend and 153 in the season finale versus the Rams. In between he added seven other 100-yard games that year.

Whether or not they make it to Canton this year as a member of the Class of 2011, one thing is for certain and that is Bettis, Faulk, and Martin have left their imprint on this game.

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