Saturday, February 04, 2006

Tom Brady Elected to Hall of Fame

Among those selected today for induction into the pro football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, the happiest of all must be New England Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady. For a man who's been a starter for just five years and is still an active player, such an enormous honor must have been unexpected for the 28-year-old.

You see, Hall of Fame eligibility normally requires a wait of five years after retiring from the NFL. And many players, such as another of today's inductees, Rayfield Wright, have been gone from the game for decades before being selected for induction. Brady is just entering the prime of his career and his ticket to Canton already has been stamped. His bronze likeness is being forged and his yellow member blazer is on order.

What's that you say? Tom Brady wasn't selected for HOF induction today?

Well, you do have a point there. Technically, I suppose, he wasn't actually named to the 2006 class of inductees. But he might as well have been. With the actual selection of former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman today, it all but ensures that Brady will be enshrined in Canton in the not-so-distant future. Sure, he's got a bunch more years to play in the NFL, but he's HOF-bound. Guaranteed!

Why am I so certain of that? Namely, because of Aikman.

Quite simply, Aikman was able to turn a decent, 12-year NFL run into a Hall of Fame calibre career by doing something that Brady already has accomplished in just six seasons: leading his team to three Super Bowl titles in a four-year span. Aikman did it with the Cowboys during the 1992, 1993 and 1995 seasons. Brady did it with the Patriots during the 2001, 2003 and 2004 seasons.

Okay, so Brady's won a few Super Bowls. Why should that qualify him for the HOF when he's only been in the league since 2000? Shouldn't a player have to prove his worthiness over a longer period than just five or six seasons?

Well, former Chicago Bears running back Gale Sayers, who was inducted in the HOF in 1977, played essentially five seasons in a career shortened by injury. But even though he played in only 68 games from 1965 to 1971, his undeniable talent and spectacular performance on the field over that short time period made him a no-brainer choice for induction in his first year of eligibility. And he never even played in a league championship game, let alone won one.

But perhaps the strongest case for Brady's eventual induction is Aikman, also selected for induction in his first year of eligibility. In spite of Aikman's three Super Bowl victories, his career statistics were relatively pedestrian compared to most HOF quarterbacks. Over his twelve seasons, Aikman threw for 20 or more touchdowns in a season just once and averaged exactly one touchdown pass per game, throwing for 165 TDs in 165 games. Brady, meanwhile, already has thrown 123 TD passes in just 80 games.

In addition, Aikman and Brady have similar career numbers in completion percentage (61.5% and 61.9%, respectively) and yards per passing attempt (7.0 and 7.1, respectively). Aikman finished his career with only 24 more TD passes than interceptions thrown, while Brady is already a plus-57 on that statistic. And unless Brady's arm falls off, he will continue to widen that gap.

There was some concern before today's selection results were announced that Troy Aikman's career statistics didn't warrant HOF status. But the three Super Bowl wins combined with a stellar reputation as a team player and an all-around good guy clearly were enough to satisfy the voters that Aikman was a no-brainer choice in his first year of eligibility.

When Aikman is officially enshrined in Canton this summer, Brady will get a nice sneak peak at his own future. And whatever else he accomplishes during his playing career will be nothing but gravy. Not bad for a sixth round draft pick (#199 overall) out of Michigan who was only the seventh quarterback taken in what was a down year for quarterback prospects.

Yes, Tom Brady must be a very happy young man today. After just six seasons in the NFL, he's already secured his place in history. In fact, he might as well start composing his induction speech and putting together his invitation list right now. He may have been a late bloomer coming out of college, but he won't waste any time getting to the HOF dance. It's really just a matter of time.


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