FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Saturday was an interesting one for NFC North fans. We got defensive lineman John Randle into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but were stymied on two other fronts: Receiver Cris Carter was among the first cuts from the Round of 15, while defensive end Richard Dent made it one step further before falling short.
I won’t spend too much time discussing the players who didn’t make it. Today is John Randle’s day. But three quick points before we move on to him:
Many of you are already asking why Randle made it over Dent. After all, they finished their careers with the same number of sacks (137.5). Discussion among the 44 voters is confidential, but the vibe I got Saturday was this: Randle’s total was deemed more impressive because he played much of his career at defensive tackle -- traditionally a harder position from which to pile up sack totals.
Carter actually regressed in the voting this year after making it all the way to the final cut in 2008. As we discussed Saturday, I can only attribute that result to Jerry Rice’s surefire presence in this class and the relatively small number of receivers who are enshrined on a yearly basis. Entering Saturday’s vote, there were 20 receivers in the Hall of Fame, a total less than running backs (25), quarterbacks (23), offensive linemen (34) and defensive linemen (27).
I know that Dick LeBeau played extensively for Detroit. But for coverage purposes, ESPN.com is considering him AFC North property. Check out this post from colleague James Walker.
Now, on to Randle. Mark Craig of the Star Tribune got ahold of him before Randle’s cell phone died.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling because of where I came from and what it took to just make it in the NFL," Randle said. "Words can’t describe what it means. I'm in the Hall of Fame!"
Without exaggeration, I would say Randle ranks among the all-time success stories in recent Hall of Fame memory. He played college football at a Division II school (Texas A&I) that is no longer in existence under its current name. He went undrafted and was signed as a rookie free agent in 1990 by Minnesota scout Frank Gilliam, a player who was lucky if he weighed in at the 287 pounds he was typically listed at.
I spoke Saturday night with one of Randle’s best friends, former Vikings linebacker Ed McDaniel.
“People always told Johnny that he wasn’t big enough and wasn’t good enough,” McDaniel said. “So I know that every day he went out there, he wanted to show the other 30 teams that they made a mistake. He wanted to beat your guy every play. He wasn’t a prototypical player, but he knew that when it was all over, he would be judged among the best players ever to play his position. That’s what he was fighting for all those years.”
There are all kinds of stories I could tell about Randle’s whacky personality, and I’ll get to a few in a moment. From a football perspective, however, I think Randle fundamentally changed the way defensive linemen are perceived.
In many ways, Randle was the first modern-day “three-technique” defensive tackle, the kind of interior disruptor you now see throughout the NFL. Before Randle, the NFL’s top pass rushers always were defensive ends or linebackers. But Randle used his rare quickness to get a step on centers and guards, putting together nine seasons of 10 or more sacks.
As they say, the quickest point to the quarterback is up the middle. During the heart of his career from 1991-2002, Randle collected more sacks than anyone in the NFL.
“He revolutionized the game,” McDaniel said.
Along the way, he proved to be one of the most colorful personalities in the game. Occasionally, Randle’s eye makeup and non-stop trash talking overshadowed how good of a player he was.
To be sure, he always made sure he had fun playing the game. But Randle also believed he could get in the heads of opponents with some well-timed barbs -- so much so that he studied media guides for personal information he could banter with.
“Everyone has seen the NFL Films stuff from Johnny,” McDaniel said. “That was the nice stuff. When he wasn’t miked up, that’s when the X-rated stuff would come. He would say stuff about guy’s mothers, about their wives, about their children. He wanted to hit a guy at his weakest point. It was filthy, but it worked.”
McDaniel told a story about playing in a game against Miami in the mid-1990s. Randle and fellow Vikings linebacker Jack Del Rio tackled a Dolphins running back. At the bottom of the pile, Del Rio was twisting one of the running back’s ankles. Randle had the other and was yelling, according to McDaniel, “Harder, Jack, harder! Twist it off! Twist it off!”
“I said, ‘Oh my God,’ McDaniel said. “This is a level of football I’ve never seen.”
I covered Randle during the latter stages of his career, and I rarely saw him stand in one place for more than a moment. He had a barb ready for everyone in the room, and considering how he dashed from place to place in the Vikings’ locker room, I was always surprised how observant he was.
At the time, I was 26 and apparently looked younger. (The gray hair is a recent turn of events.) As he ran toward his locker one day, Randle stopped, looked at me and said: “Hey, does your mom know you’re here?”
I looked around. Was he talking to me?
“I said, does your mom know you’re here?”
“I don’t know. Why?”
“Because,” Randle said, “you’re too young to be away from home by yourself.”
I’m betting his enshrinement speech will be a knee-slapper.