First there was Vince McMahon announcing he wants to bring back the XFL. Now there’s another football league (AAF) in the works.
Here’s one reason why top college performers should skip secondary leagues — no matter how enticing it seems. It will hurt your chances of becoming a Hall of Famer.
The biggest star of the USFL (in operation from 1983-85) was Herschel Walker. Despite also having a good career in the NFL, Walker still hasn’t been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Note the name right there. It isn’t the NFL Hall of Fame. It is the Pro Football Hall. Built in 1970-71, it was named in such a way as to include guys who were playing in either the NFL or AFL. Some of the AFL players now in the Hall of Fame include Joe Namath, Len Dawson, Lance Alworth, Don Maynard and Nick Buoniconti.
Unfortunately, guys who played in the USFL just don’t get the same respect as the AFL — even though some huge names passed up the NFL for the big money being thrown at players. These included Walker, Steve Young, Jim Kelly, Reggie White and OT Gary Zimmerman.
Each of those guys — except Walker — is now in the Hall of Fame, but it’s based off their NFL stats.
When he was in the USFL, Walker was a workhorse. The league wanted star power, and his team completely overworked him. A huge season for a running back is 350 carries. Most teams try to limit a player to around 300 carries for fear of breaking down their bodies.
Walker had two seasons of more than 400 carries, topped 1,100 carries in three seasons and more than 7,000 yards from scrimmage.
If you take those USFL numbers and combine them with his NFL numbers, Walker would be ranked fifth all-time in rushing yards, fourth in yards from scrimmage and sixth in total touchdowns. That’s a sure Hall of Famer.
Heck, if you think the USFL was a weaker league, then give me a sliding scale or ratio. For example, what if you said that the USFL stats are 10-percent overinflated. I could subtract 10 percent from his three seasons, and Walker would still be in the top 10 on those categories.
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Here is an example that hits closer to home.
Sam Mills is not in the Hall of Fame. How is this possible?
Mills was a three-time all-league player in the USFL, then came over to the NFL and made the Pro Bowl five times.
LaDainian Tomlinson and Kellen Winslow only made five Pro Bowls, and they both made the Hall of Fame — without losing their three best seasons to another league.
Getting awarded eight times (regardless of league) is a sure-fire Hall nod. The only two players I see with more trips not to make the Hall are a linebacker from the 1960s named Maxie Baughan and guard Alan Faneca, with nine each. And Faneca is still newly eligible (2015) and is sure to make it in a year or two.
Let’s look at some of Sam’s achievements.
Because of his size he went to little Montclair State and racked up 501 tackles in four seasons.
In three seasons with the USFL Stars, Sam had nine interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown. He had 15 sacks in three years.
I couldn’t find Sam’s tackle numbers from the USFL, but NFL Network’s special on him “A Football Life” claimed he topped 200 total tackles in one season.
He had in the area of 500 tackles in three years.
In the NFL he tallied 1,142 solo tackles — assisted tackles weren’t even kept until he’d been in the league eight years. In his four years that these were counted, he had another 123 tackle assists.
For his entire career, it’s likely that he had 1,900 or more total tackles, which would be the most in pro football history.
Want to say USFL numbers are inflated? Let’s cut his tackles in half — say 250 in three years. That would still put him above 1,500 career tackles. That would put him fifth all-time, up in the area of Jessie Tuggle, Ray Lewis, Junior Seau and London Fletcher and ahead of Brian Urlacher, Zach Thomas or Derrick Brooks.
(Of course tackles aren’t an officially kept stat, so everybody’s numbers are a touch questionable.)
Remember, though, that Sam played in a 3-4 scheme, meaning he had one less lineman in front to eat up blockers, and he shared tackles with his fellow inside LB.
Over his career Sam had 35.5 sacks; that ranks behind Lewis and Urlacher with 41.5, but still impressive for an inside LB.
He also had 20 career interceptions, including two returned for TDs. One of those was off a shovel pass from the Jets’ Bubby Brister that led the Panthers to their first-ever win in 1995.
Urlacher had 22 INTs, Jack Lambert 28, and Ray Lewis 31.
In the NFL he had 23 fumble recoveries, including three returned for TDs. His recoveries rank eighth, close behind former teammate Kevin Greene at 26. His three TDs are tied for 10th, and with his interceptions, he had five defensive TDs for his career.
Speaking of Greene, the big hitter once said that the loudest hit he ever heard on a football field was Sam taking down “Ironhead” Heyward. A replay of that hit shows that Sam didn’t lead with his head or throw a shoulder forward. It was a picture-perfect form tackle with the head up and arms out to wrap up the fullback.
Per Scott Fowler’s book Panthers Rising, Lawrence Taylor himself once said of Mills, “Just once, I’d like to get a hit like he does. It has to be better than sex.”
Before the Panthers, Sam was part of a foursome of LBs with the Saints that was named the NFL Network’s top linebacking corps of all time. That team is the only one in history to have all four LBs make the Pro Bowl in the same year.
Despite his great achievements, it’s Sam’s personality that is remembered far and wide. Opponents say he never talked trash or even cursed during games. He would knock a runner on his butt, then help him to his feet, saying encouraging things like, “Nice try, young man.”
Isn’t that the kind of player, and person, you’d want to honor?
Jeff is the news editor and can be reached at 415-4692.