Shields Belongs in the Hall
Husker fans had to be at least a little disappointed that former Outland winner, 12-time Pro Bowler, and NFL Man of the Year Will Shields was not selected to join this year's Hall of Fame class. OL stands for offensive lineman but could also be shorthand for "overlooked". The rule that allows only five members per year (beyond those selected by the veteran's committee) has created a huge logjam. It's not that he wasn't worthy, it's just they could pick only five and the number of worthy candidates went well beyond that.
It didn't help his case that two other very deserving linemen went in. Dallas/San Francisco guard Larry Allen made 11 Pro Bowls, was a six-time all-pro and was part of a Super Bowl champion. Jonathan Ogden was also an 11-time Pro-Bowler and four-time all-pro. He also won a Super Bowl. Shields never was part of a team that won it all and was an all-pro just twice in his career.
Next year may be very important for him. The big names added will be wide receiver Marvin Harrison and head coach Tony Dungy. Still, there are five to nine other names to keep an eye on. Owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., who was around for the glory days of San Francisco 49ers is on the ballot as is deceased Ravens owner Art Modell. Receivers Tim Brown and Andre Reed are also on the ballot. Linebackers Kevin Greene, Charles Haley and defensive end Michael Strahan are in the mix. So to is running back Jerome Bettis and cornerback Aeneas Williams.
Pro Football Reference has something called a fan ELO rater which allows people to sort players all-time based on faceoffs. If the Hall of Fame voting resembled these rankings, then Shields would be a shoo-in next year. Among eligible players next year, only Marvin Harrison and Tim Brown are rated higher. It seems unlikely that DeBartolo, Modell, and Dungy would all crowd out players, so that would give him a great chance of getting in.
Sadly, the small number of selectors are likely to bring their own biases, particularly big-market ones. Michael Strahan played in New York and is regularly on television. Greene managed to garner a lot of attention in his playing days. If "the ring's the thing" then Haley might sneak in ahead of Shields or even Bettis. Reed didn't win a Super Bowl but he did play in four of them (though he never managed to get in the end zone). Playing in Kansas City for a team that didn't get to a Super Bowl doesn't help Shields there.
In 2015, a bunch of big names (e.g. Junior Seau, Kurt Warner, Edgerrin James, Isaac Bruce) join the ballot including a trio of standout linemen (Walter Jones, Kevin Mawae, and Orlando Pace). Then Brett Favre and Terrell Owens join the ballot in 2016. So next year may be pretty important for Shields. Hopefully, the voters in Canton get it right and put a consistently outstanding player (and person) into the Hall. The former Husker certainly earned it.