As things go for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, it’s rare for two players who played the same position to be inducted into Canton in the same year. Running backs Ladanian Tomlinson and Terrell Davis bucked that trend a year ago, while two pairs of quarterbacks (Troy Aikman and Warren Moon, and Dan Marino and Steve Young) did in the mid-2000s.
But only once have a pair of linebackers been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the same year: 1990, when Jack Lambert and Ted Hendricks were enshrined (it's also not like there have been a lot of years with two elite linebackers up for election).
Could that spell bad news for Brian Urlacher (or Ray Lewis) on Saturday?
Urlacher and Lewis are both in their first year of Hall of Fame eligibility, and are joined as 2018 finalists by running back Edgerrin James, wide receivers Randy Moss, Isaac Bruce and Terrell Owens, center Kevin Mawae, guards Steve Hutchinson and Alan Faneca, tackles Tony Boselli and Joe Jacoby, cornerbacks Ty Law and Everson Walls and safeties Brian Dawkins and John Lynch.
Is that class deep enough to potentially pit Urlacher against Lewis in one of the Hall of Fame selection committee’s cut-downs (from 15 to 10 and 10 to five)? For the sake of this argument, let’s say it is, and compare the careers of the Bears’ and Ravens’ longtime, franchise-altering linebackers:
|Super Bowl titles||2||0|
|1st-team All-Pro years||7||4|
*A quick note on tackles: The NFL only began officially tracking tackle totals in 2001, so these are unofficial combined (which included assisted) career totals via ESPN.com. Beyond the odd nature of this country’s most popular sports league somehow not tracking its most basic defensive statistic until after the turn of the millennium, it may make both Urlacher and Lewis’ tackle numbers not 100 percent accurate. Either way, both players were productive on a per-game basis after 2001: Urlacher averaged 7.4 tackles per game, while Lewis averaged 8.8 tackles per game in the same time period.
Anyways, back to the main point: The statistical comparison above doesn’t favor Urlacher if it were to come down to him or Lewis making the Hall of Fame. Yes, they're equal on sacks, but on a per-game basis, Lewis tops Urlacher in every other category in both the regular season and playoffs.
But one of this year’s fellow finalists — Mawae, who played for the Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets and Tennessee Titans from 1994-2009 — offered this reasoning why he’d choose Urlacher over Lewis in a head-to-head battle for a Hall of Fame spot:
"I’ve got to view it in the lens of how I played against guys … not as if I was in the coach … I’ve got to do it in how I played against them,” Mawae said, via Talk of Fame Sports Network’s Clark Judge. “To me, Ray was all over the place — an athletic guy, but he was not a downhill hitter. He’s not taking on offensive linemen. He was a jump-around guy.
“Brian Urlacher, sideline to sideline … could do it all … just like Ray. But he was more of a physical player in the box against offensive linemen, and that’s just the way I view it. Half-one dozen, half the other. Both of them are going to get in. You know what I’m saying?”
Both Lewis and Urlacher will be enshrined in Canton. Whether they go in together or a year apart is the first question — and then if Lewis will get in before Urlacher seems to be the second question. We’ll find out Saturday.