The out of sight gang: NFL special teams greats

The out of sight gang: NFL special teams greats
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The out of sight gang

The ‘Out of Sight gang’. Maybe that’s what we should call retired NFL special teams superstars? Not as in , wow, they were out of sight. More, as in out of sight, out of mind.

After all, who doesn’t love a good collective nickname for an older group of players. George Allen certainly did with his ‘Over the Hill Gang‘ in Washington back in the day.

But why the out of sight gang? What set me on this path? Oddly enough it was all to do with legendary dolphins Center Dwight Stephenson. He came up in a discussion of great players to wear the number 57. Which brought back a few memories. And took me the 1980’s NFL All-Decade team. Where something stood out. Every single first-team All Decade player on Offence and Defence are in the Hall of Fame.

But only one player, from a much smaller group, the special teamers, was in the Hall of Fame. I wondered was this a one off. Or would there be a pattern?

The Out of Sight Gang become an area of specialization

There was no point looking back to the days of two way football to look at this. It was a different game then. Plus, the idea of the specialists didn’t really exist.

From the inception of the league in the 1920s up to the early 1940s, most players were similar in size. Surely because substitutions were mostly prohibited. Players often played every down, often covering multiple positions on both sides of the ball. Kickers too played every down at other positions.

But due to the advent of the second World War, the NFL faced a player shortage. Player substitution was the answer. Kickers and punters for example could now specialize. It took a while, but the NFL never really looked back.

Then came Pete Gogolak and soccer style kicking. As the linked article says, “the soccer style of kicking improved distance, accuracy, and fluidity of motion” Which “caused a spike in field goals that led the NFL to move the goal posts from the goal line to the end line in 1974.”

With these historical factors to consider then, I decided to start from the 1970’s and see how special teams All-Decade players have fared against their contemporaries.

The out of sight gang and the Pro Football Hall of Fame

For our purposes there are two criteria for being in the NFL ‘Out of Sight Gang’. Firstly you must be in an All-Decade team from 1970-today. Secondly your career is defined by you as a special teams player.

1970’s All Decade teamThis team has sent every first team, and every second team offensive player to the Hall of Fame. As well as every first team Defensive player to the Hall. That is 100% of first team offensive and defensive players. As for special teams? Punter Ray Guy is in the Hall. But Kicker Garo Ypremian, and KR Rick Upchurch are not. So 2/3 of All-Decade special teams player are not in the Hall.

1980’s All Decade team – This team has every first team offensive player and every first team defensive player in the Hall. That is 100% of first team offensive and defensive players. As for special teams? Kicker Morten Andersen is in the Hall. But, Punter Sean Landeta, and KR Michael Bates, and PR Billy “White shoes” Johnson are not. So 3/4 of the All-Decade Special teams players are not in the Hall.

1990’s All decade team – once again, this team has every first team offensive player and every first team defensive player in the Hall. That is 100% of first team offensive and defensive players. As for special teams? Kicker Morten Andersen is in the Hall. (so he accounts for two separate All-Decade special teams spots). Punter Sean Landeta, and KR Mike Nelms are not. Listed as a Punt Returner, Deion Sanders is also in the Hall from this special teams group. Mind you he is in the Hall as a recognized CB and PR. Meaning he doesn’t qualify for our ‘Out of Sight Gang’ criteria. That being said 1/2 of these All-Decade special teams players are not in the Hall.

2000’s All Decade teamthis team is closer to now so there are gaps. Two players on offence are not in the Hall. FB Lorenzo Neal, and QB Tom Brady. (Who is definitely going in when he actually retires properly). So 10/12 players are in. 11/12 when Brady retires. On Defence only Dwight Freeney is missing and he’s not eligible until next year! So 100% of eligible defensive players are in. As for special teams? Neither Kicker Adam Vinatieri or Punter Shane Lechler are in – but then neither are eligible yet. However KR Josh Cribbs and PR Dante Hall are not in either. Although Hall has been a HOF finalist, that means that none of the eligible special teams player are in.

It is too early to look at the 2010’s list yet. Only one player is in in total!

Who is in the gang?

So after all that, who does that leave in the ‘Out of Sight Gang’? Players who are in an All-decade team a a special teams player only but not in the Hall of Fame. It’s a short but exclusive club:

Kicker Garo Ypremian: 2 x Super Bowl Champion (we may want to forget his contribution to perfection). 2 time first team All-Pro. 2 pro Bowls. 1970’s All-Decade team.

Kick Returner Rick Upchurch: 3 x first team All-Pro. 2 x second team All-Pro. 4 Pro Bowls. 1970’s and 1980’s All-Decade teams.

Punter Sean Landeta: 2 x USFL Champion, 2 x Super Bowl Champion. 3 x First team All-Pro, 3 Pro Bowls. 1980’s and 1990’s All-Decade team. New York Giants All-Time team, Philadelphia Eagles 75th anniversary team, and St Louis Rams 10th anniversary team! The only punter ever to average 50 yards per punt in a game in three different decades.

Kick Returner Mike Nelms: 1 x Super Bowl Champion, 3 Pro Bowls, 1980’s All-Decade team, and a CFL All-Star with the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1979.

Punt Returner: Billy “White Shoes” Johnson. 3 x First Team All-Pro, 3 pro Bowls, 1970’s and 1980’s All-Decade teams. named to the NFL 75th anniversary team and the NFL 100th anniversary team! Johnson is the only member of the NFL 75th anniversary team not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Punter Darren Bennett: 2 x All Pro, 2 Pro Bowls, the former Aussie Rules player and WLAF Amsterdam Admirals punter is a member of the San Diego Chargers 40th anniversary and 50th anniversary teams as well as a member of the Chargers Hall of Fame. 1990’s NFL All Decade team.

Kick Returner Michael Bates: 5 x All-Pro, 5 Pro Bowls. 1990’s All Decade team.

Kick Returner: Josh Cribbs: 1 x First team All-Pro, 1 x Second team All-Pro, 3 Pro Bowls, 2000’s All-Decade team.

Punt Returner Dante Hall: 1 x First team All-Pro, 1x Second team All-Pro. First team 2000’s All-Decade team as a punt returner and second team 2000’s All-Decade team as a kick returner.

So there we have 9 Out of Sight Gang special teams players.

A wildcard gang member

If you know your NFL, and you know your special teams, then you know there is a glaring omission here. That omission is because the NFL All-Decade teams do not have a spot marked ‘gunner.’ If they did, the Buffalo Bills legendary special teamer, Steve Tasker would be on the list.

The only special Teams player ever to be elected a Pro Bowl MVP, he was voted one of the All-Time Best players in the history of the game by the Hall of Fame in the early 2000’s. So let’s round out the list:

Gunner Steve Tasker: 7 x First team All-Pro, 7 Pro Bowls, Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame member. No NFL all-Decade team memberships. The case has been made for Tasker around here before too.

Now that we have our 9 ‘Out of Sight Gang’ members and one wildcard, who do you think out of this group most deserves to be in the Hall?

Banner Image: Out of Sight gang member Michael Bates returns a kick for Carolina. Image from si.com

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