On The Outside Looking In…….Again

By David Haugh
Updated: February 8, 2010

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — After waiting eight rounds before the Bears drafted him out of Tennessee State in 1983, Richard Dent knows something about patience.

But it was tested again Saturday.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame denied Dent entry into the class of 2010, the sixth time in the last seven years he had been a finalist only to get familiar, deflating news.

“I’m disappointed that the Chicago party has been delayed again,” Dent said Saturday night. “You have to congratulate the guys who went in.

I’ll look for it next year.”

The class that will be enshrined August 7 in Canton, Ohio, will include 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice and Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith, both on the ballot for the first time, Redskins offensive lineman Russ Grimm, Vikings defensive tackle John Randle and Saints outside linebacker Rickey Jackson.

Lions defensive back Dick LeBeau and Broncos running back Floyd Little were elected as senior committee nominees.

The presence of the NFL’s all-time leading receiver (Rice) and rusher (Smith) makes the marquee on this class bright.

“We were rewarded on this day,” Smith said.

Added Rice: “It’s just like playing in that big game, this is something you think about, and it is happening.” If offensive linemen were as effective at keeping Dent at bay as the Hall of Fame’s 44-member selection board, this wouldn’t be so frustrating for the man they call “The Colonel.” But once again this year, nods went to defensive players with lesser credentials such as Jackson and Randle.

In 2008, pass-rushers Fred Dean and Andre Tippett surprisingly got the nod over Dent. Last year, the late Derrick Thomas, who finished with 11 fewer sacks (126 1/2) than Dent, was inducted.

Randle had as many career sacks as Dent — 137 1/2 — but never played in a Super Bowl or on a defense considered among the NFL’s all-time best as Dent did.

“It’s tough news for Richard and it’s tough news for me too because I really think he should be in there,” Mike Ditka said. “You can’t go and say the other guys don’t deserve it. They deserve it too. But Richard Dent had a Hall of Fame career, no ifs, ands or buts. I don’t know what the criteria is.” When Dent retired, he was third all-time in career sacks. Research by Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders revealed that in 150 starts, Dent averaged 0.92 sacks per start.

Only one defensive end in the modern era had a higher rate — Fred Dean with 1.14 sacks per start. Dent’s ratio was higher than top contemporary sack men Reggie White (0.87), Bruce Smith (0.75) and Michael Strahan (0.69).

There are only three Hall of Famers off the Bears Super Bowl XX champions: Walter Payton, Mike Singletary and Dan Hampton. Indications looked good that Dent, who made the cut to the final 10, would become the fourth. But, again, it’s wait till next year.

“How a guy makes a team better is all that should matter,” Ditka said.

“It shouldn’t matter if he had another Hall of Famer on the other side (Hampton) or if he had a running back on offense (Payton) that was the best-ever. It should be on what his contributions were, period, and Dent did enough to be in the Hall of Fame.”