Mike Alstott for the NFL Hall of Fame
On Thursday of last week I opined on the Bucpower Forum that Mike Alstott’s jersey should be retired by the Buccaneers. I continue to stand by that. I further stated that I did not think Alstott would be worthy of enshrinement in the Professional Football Hall of Fame. Upon further review, I am overturning that call. Alstott deserves enshrinement.
For those of you that may believe my opinion is based on the emotion of seeing one of the all-time great Buccaneers retire, I say there could be some truth to that. I have watched Alstott’s press conference on the internet, looked at all of his memorable runs on Bucpower and re-watched the Super Bowl season DVD. For the past three days I have OD’d on A-Train. Like all of you, I am going to miss his running style and professionalism a great deal.
However, I have also taken some time to research other members of the Hall of Fame and have thought long and hard on Alstott’s place in NFL history. I slept on my thoughts for a couple of days and I feel secure in making a logical argument for a bust of Alstott being placed in Canton, Ohio based on two criteria: Statistics and Position Re-Definition.
The first criteria, statistics, I am sure will generate debate. But an objective look at the record book places Alstott among the greatest fullbacks in NFL history. Alstott’s career total of 5,088 yards rushing, 2,284 yards receiving and 71 total touchdowns are in the same range as other Hall of Fame fullbacks. I know, I know, a lot of the fullbacks in the Hall of Fame are from the early 20th century.
For that reason I didn’t bother to measure Alstott against fullbacks from the early days of the game. That would be unfair to him and to them. After all, Bronko Nagurski, one of the greatest players of all time has rather pedestrian statistics compared to today’s stars. Nagurski managed 2,778 yards rushing and 134 yards receiving with 25 total touchdowns in his 9-year NFL career.
Where I measured Alstott was against other fullbacks from the modern era, which most people define as after World War II. The following are the names and statistics of the enshrined fullbacks of the modern era:
One weakness for an Alstott candidacy is his career rushing record. Alstott’s career rushing yards are lower than all but Marion Motley’s. However check out the receptions and touchdowns by Alstott compared to the rest of the list. Alstott was a more productive receiver than Hall of Famers Csonka, Johnson, Motley, Perry and Taylor. As far as touchdowns, Alstott’s career total surpasses all but Brown and Taylor.
|Name||Rush Yards||Rec yards||Total TDs|
|Jim Brown||12,312|| 2,499|| 126|
|Larry Csonka || 8,081||820 ||68|
|John Henry Johnson||6,803 || 1,478|| 55|
|Marion Motley||4,720|| 1,107||38|
|Joe Perry ||8,378||1,796|| 61|
|Jim Taylor || 8,597||1,756 || 93|
Interestingly, the player Alstott was often compared to, John Riggins is listed as a running back by the Pro Football Hall of Fame. While Riggins’ rushing total and touchdown total far exceed Alstott’s, the A-Train had more career receiving yardage than Riggo. And it is that receiving yardage that provides the second reason for Alstott’s enshrinement. Alstott re-defined the role of the fullback in the NFL. Instead of just being a lead blocker/power runner, Alstott was the primary offensive weapon of a team as a runner, receiver and blocker.
Jim Brown, Jim Taylor and Larry Csonka, while fullbacks by position were truly their teams featured running backs. The Browns didn’t fully utilize Brown as a receiving threat until the latter part of his career, after they traded away Bobby Mitchell (a Hall of Fame halfback). The Packers didn’t get much in the way of production from Jim Taylor as a receiver; they threw the ball to Paul Hornung (another Hall of Fame halfback). The Dolphins didn’t throw the ball to Csonka; they threw it to Jim Kiick or Mercury Morris (not Hall of Famers, but very good halfbacks).
But Alstott was a primary receiving threat for the Buccaneers almost from the moment he first took the field. In fact Alstott led the Bucs in receptions (65) in his rookie year of 1996. After Warrick Dunn and Michael Pittman respectively joined the Bucs, Alstott’s receiving totals started to go down, but he would still get 2-3 passes a game aimed his way, pretty high numbers for a fullback wouldn’t you say?
That is less than Larry Centers; the longtime Arizona Cardinal fullback that many people say was overshadowed by Alstott but did just as much to change the position. Centers had almost 7,000 yards receiving in his career. Unlike Alstott though, Centers was a receiving specialist and had little in the way of rushing yards. Centers gained only 2,100 yards rushing and scored a total of 42 touchdowns in his 14-year career.
Some argue that because Alstott was never a devastating lead blocker, he was not a quality fullback. Really? Lorenzo Neal is arguably one of the best blockers ever at the fullback position and he is often thought of as an elite fullback. But Neal has just 782 career rushing yards, 1,051 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns. Looking at both players, which one would you argue was the more complete fullback? This is not intended to denigrate Neal, but to put Alstott’s mediocre blocking ability into the greater context of overall team contribution.
To truly comprehend how much Alstott has changed the position of fullback, teams no longer look for pure power blocking and running from the position. On draft day, teams are now on the look-out for the “next Alstott,” a player that can catch, run and also block.
Look around the NFL now and answer this question: How many teams have a 250-pound fullback that is the focal point of their offense? Not too many. A lot of fullbacks could block better than Alstott, but not run or catch like him. Some fullbacks could catch better than Alstott, but not run like him. Some fullbacks could run better than Alstott, but not catch like him. And when times got tough, the Bucs turned to Alstott. Not too many teams look for an offensive spark from a fullback.
It will be many years before the likes of an Alstott plays in the NFL again. For that reason, Mike Alstott should be enshrined in the Professional Football Hall of Fame.
Denis Crawford, January 2008