Josh Cribbs helped redefine what it meant to have a valuable return man in the NFL, and that should be enough to get the former Browns great into Canton.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2020 will be announced in the coming days. Surprisingly no Cleveland Browns made the final selection of nominees. Before you scoff and say “why would one be on the list” remember that the Browns had two of the best players at their position during the decade-plus of suck that has been the Browns in the modern era; Joe Thomas and Josh Cribbs.
Cribbs and Devin Hester are arguably the two greatest return men of all time. For that, both men deserve to be enshrined forever in Canton. Both men will probably be kept out despite their credentials. That’s in part due to the NFL and those that protect its hallowed halls will only ever justify two-thirds of the game of football. Offense and defense are always heralded while those on the special teams often get overlooked. To paraphrase a line from Remember the Titans, “… Now, I have never seen a special team’s players name in the newspaper for winning a game.”
Not exactly an accurate statement but fans know that those that play exclusively on the special teams are rarely given the credit they deserve. While in Cleveland Cribbs got that respect, we’re not talking about Cleveland though. The city loves him and sees him for the legend that he is. We’re talking about the folks in Canton, Ohio. Cleveland’s less classy, and a bit more angry sister.
The folks in the Football Hall of Fame don’t live up to their expectations. Every facet of the game should be celebrated and heralded. Not just the glamor positions. It’s time the league recognizes kickers, punters, and yes; returners. Cribbs was iconic in his role and position as a return specialist. The way players, in general, are evaluated needs to change.
If a running back rushes for 1,000 yards for 8 years most would argue he’s a Hall of Famer. Yet, if he only averaged 1,200 yards from scrimmage a year is that somehow more impressive than a player that averaged 1,600 yards from scrimmage but did so with 800 yards rushing and receiving? I’d argue no because it shouldn’t be about singular specific stats. It should be about the totality in yards gained, no matter how. Credit to guys like Lamar Jackson for challenging perception on how talent is evaluated. Jackson can’t hit the broadside of a barn with a howitzer but he moves the ball and scores. Isn’t that the point of the sport?
Cribbs has eight seasons of 1,000 yards gained across punt returns, kick returns, rushing and receiving. He has 15,453 yards in his career. If he lined up in the backfield, he’d be about 3,000 yards shy of Barry Sanders career yards-from-scrimmage-total (18,190). The only reason why that stat isn’t more impressive is because the Hall of Fame simplified what constitutes a valuable position on a team.
If what Cribbs did was so easy, everyone would be able to do it. Yet, there are plenty of full-time starters who were in Cribbs spot and failed completely throughout the history of the NFL. When talent like Cribbs and Hester reinvent positions they need to be celebrated. Same for all positions. It’s time the Hall of Fame started acknowledging everyone who played great.
Not just the generically accepted positions.