Joe Jacoby was coaching football — the offensive line coach in the second annual Medal of Honor college bowl game in Charleston, South Carolina — when he got the news that there would be no honor this year for perhaps the best offensive tackle of his time.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced the modern-era finalists for election to Canton, and the former Redskins offensive tackle was not on the list. Those finalists will be voted on by the selection committee the day before the Super Bowl.
Jacoby has been a semifinalist three consecutive years and five times overall. But he can’t make the finalist cut.
Who he failed to block during his career to fall short of a Hall of Famer, I don’t know.
“Am I disappointed? Yes, but life goes on,” Jacoby said. “It doesn’t define who I am. We are all very competitive in different things. I know what my career was, where I came from and where I ended up. They can’t take that away.”
No, they can’t. They can’t take away the four Super Bowl appearances — only one of three Redskins players to play in all four of the Joe Gibbs’ led Super Bowl.
They can’t take away the three Super Bowl rings, or the block that started it all – the one that allowed John Riggins to break out for the famous 43-yard run that sealed Washington’s first Super Bowl title, 27-17, over the Miami Dolphins in 1983.
They can’t take away the four Pro Bowl appearances — or, more importantly, the two first-time All-Pro selections.
They can’t take away from Jacoby’s place at left tackle on the NFL 1980s NFL All-Decade team — the very definition, it would seem, of a dominant player of his era.
They can’t take away all this from a player who was an undrafted free agent coming out of college.
But, as time passes, they can forget — which is what Jacoby fears.
“I am upset that we are missing out on not just me but the history of the NFL,” he said. “A lot of guys are getting overlooked. People think what they see now is the best, and not studying the history of the game. Younger voters coming in, they grew up with the guys who played after me.”
It baffles me that the Baseball Hall of Fame voting — which I am a part of — has become a hot-button issue, while the Pro Football Hall of Fame voting doesn’t generate nearly the same level of outrage and indignation. Maybe it is because the football voting is some kind of Vatican-like process behind closed doors, with about 10 percent of the number of voters who submit ballots for baseball. I’m sure the Pro Football Hall of Fame voters do their best and have every intention of doing the right thing.
But leaving Joe Jacoby off the finalist list is the wrong thing. Or has going up against Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White and Harvey Martin twice a year become less impressive?
Jacoby’s fears — the players that came after him — are legitimate. It appears that he was knocked off the finalist list by the St. Louis Rams’ Orlando Pace, another great left tackle, who was in his first year of eligibility.
Pace’s time came a generation after Jacoby’s.
Pace, like Jacoby, was a dominant right tackle of his era, named to the NFL 2000s All-Decade team. He was a five-time All-Pro and went to seven Pro Bowls. He played in one Super Bowl for the 1999 Rams. He is a Hall of Famer.
But he came out of Ohio State as one of the most heralded linemen of all time — drafted first overall by St. Louis in the 1997 draft — the polar opposite of the undrafted free agent Jacoby. Like Jacoby said, he knows where he came from and where he ended up — much farther than the road that Pace had to travel to be recognized as one of the dominant tackles of his time.
That road should lead to Canton for Jacoby before any other offensive tackle is enshrined.
There is no greater offensive line identity in the history of football than the Hogs — the Redskins line that blocked for three different quarterbacks and running backs on their way to three Super Bowls. It defined the franchise.
Two of the constants of those Hogs were Jacoby and his running buddy, guard Russ Grimm, who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010. Grimm was a finalist from 2005 to 2008 — then elected in 2010. Maybe Jacoby will follow the same path — but he shouldn’t have to wait, and he shouldn’t be leapfrogged.
“I hope if it happens, it happens when I am still alive and not when I’m dead,” he said. “I’d like to be part of it.”
• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 and espn980.com.
• Thom Loverro can be reached at email@example.com.
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