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The gridiron's greatest will congregate in Canton this weekend to initiate six members into their football fraternity. Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith and four others will soon be inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the sport's institution that captures the history and lore of America's game. Weeklong festivities commemorating this event include parades, concerts, fireworks, and dinners, all centering around the enshrinement ceremony for the inductees.
While the celebrations are splendid, the grand finale of the weekend has always left much to be desired. I'm, of course, referring to the commencement of the NFL Preseason, which ranks with the BCS and NIT as one of the most frivolous things in sports. Most football aficionados are universal in their abhorrence against the preseason, with the overriding sentiment of, "The league charges fans too much for too many games in which 3rd-stringers play too often." Yet my personal vendetta is against the opening of the preseason itself, or rather, the location of it.
When one envisions the Hall of Fame, the usual apparitions center on the eloquence of Gale Sayers, the artistry of Johnny U, and the stoic nature of Lombardi. What DOESN'T correlate to this aura is the scene of Jon Kitna overthrowing a free-agent rookie wideout, which is what exactly will transpire this week when the Cowboys take on the Bengals in the annual Hall of Fame Game.
Club CantonThe American Professional Football Association was founded in Canton, Ohio in 1920
Canton demands a contest more apropos to its historic setting, which is why we have assembled two rosters of football legends in an AFC versus NFC Hall of Fame matchup. Each roster was entered into the Whatifsports.com NFL simulation engine and "played" 1,001 times. Here is what we constructed.
Dan Marino's resume is quite formidable. A 9x Pro Bowler. The 1984 NFL MVP. Second in career passing yards (61,000), touchdowns (420), and completions (4,967). A cameo in the movies "Bad Boys II" and "Ace Ventura." Yet earning the starting spot over John Elway and Johnny Unitas for the WhatIfSports AFC squad might be the paramount achievement of Marino's career.
Marino routinely turned in remarkable seasons despite the absence of an all-star receiver. That won't be an issue for Dan the Man in our simulation, as he gets the pleasure of throwing to Fred Biletnikoff, Steve Largent, and Ozzie Newsome. Jim Brown and Earl Campbell will work out of the backfield for the AFC, with the Cleveland's 1960 offensive line rounding out the lineup.
As accomplished as Marino was, he will always have the stigma of never winning a Super Bowl. That's a sentiment that the NFC's starting signal caller does not share; in fact, this QB has four championship rings to go along with two MVPs and 8 Pro Bowl appearances. Known as "Joe Cool" for his collected nature in intense atmospheres, Joe Montana gets the nod as our starting NFC quarterback.
Football might be a brutal, barbaric sport, yet the grace of the NFC's Walter Payton and Barry Sanders seem to contradict this sensibility. Montana is reunited with his favorite target Jerry Rice, and given a "Playmaker" opposite #80 in Michael Irvin. "Iron Mike" Ditka fills in at TE, and the infamous Washington "Hogs" are chosen as the NFC's offensive line.
Both rosters employ doomsday defenses, with the AFC running out the '76 Pittsburgh Steelers as the NFC counters with the '85 Chicago Bears. Lou "The Toe" Groza and Paul Hornung are selected for kicking duties for the AFC and NFC, and Ray Guy and Sammy Baugh are settled on as the punters. (True, Gay is not a member of the Hall of Fame, but is undoubtedly the best punter to ever play the game, so we thought we'd show him some love.) To complete the rosters, the '89 Steelers and '54 Lions are named the special team units for their respective squads.
|AFC Hall of Famers|
|QB||Dan Marino||Miami Dolphins||1984|
|RB||Jim Brown||Cleveland Browns||1963|
|RB||Earl Campbell||Houston Oilers||1980|
|WR||Fred Biletnikoff||Oakland Raiders||1968|
|WR||Steve Largent||Seattle Seahawks||1985|
|TE||Ozzie Newsome||Cleveland Browns||1984|
|K||Lou Groza||Cleveland Browns||1953|
The AFC's starting quarterback, Dan Marino, won the NFL MVP award in 1984 and finished his career with 61,000 passing yards.
Fun Fact: Steve Largent made a name for himself on the football field as a 7-time Pro Bowl selection before tossing his hat into politics as a U.S. Congressman for 8 years.
"The Wizard of Oz" was taken in the first round of the 1978 Draft by the Cleveland Browns. He finished his career as the Browns all-time leader in receptions (662) and receiving yards (7980).
|NFC Hall of Famers|
|QB||Joe Montana||San Francisco 49ers||1983|
|RB||Walter Payton||Chicago Bears||1977|
|RB||Barry Sanders||Detroit Lions||1997|
|WR||Jerry Rice||San Francisco 49ers||1995|
|WR||Michael Irvin||Dallas Cowboys||1995|
|TE||Mike Ditka||Chicago Bears||1964|
|K||Paul Hornung||Green Bay Packers||1961|
"Joe Cool" finished his career with 273 touchdown passes, 40,551 passing yards and a QB rating of 92.3. The 4-time Super Bowl champ joined the boys in Canton in 2000.
Fun Fact: There was an outside chance Mike Ditka would have run against Barack Obama for the vacant Illinois Senate seat in 2004 had he wanted to deal with the "rigors of a campaign."
"The Playmaker" was a major reason why the Dallas Cowboys won 3 Super Bowl titles in the 1990s. Irvin finished with 750 career receptions and 65 touchdowns.
Hall of Fame Game
|Matchup||Win%||Avg Score||WIS Interactive|
|2010 AFC Hall of Famers||65.0||31.8||HOF Box Score|
|@ 2010 NFC Hall of Famers||34.8||26.4||Simulate Game|
Marino might have finished his career without a ring, but a victory in the Whatifsports.com Hall of Fame game is just as fulfilling right? Fueled by their balanced air and ground attack, the AFC conquered the NFC by an average score of 32 to 26 in our 1,001 simulations.
In our simulation link located in the table above, the AFC jumped out to a fast start. They returned the opening kickoff all the way back to the NFC six yard line. One play later, Marino hooked up with Lance Alworth and the AFC was out on top 7-0 before 30 seconds had ticked off the clock. The rest of the quarter remained scoreless until Lou "The Toe" Groza booted a 50 yard field goal for the AFC with under a minute to go in the first.
The AFC would add another field goal in the second quarter and lead 13-3 heading into halftime. But the NFC was up for the challenge in the second half.
Down ten at the start of the third, the NFC's Joe Montana and James Lofton started clicking. The wide-out caught a 19-yard pass to set up a field goal, cutting the AFC's lead to seven. On the next possession, Montana found his favorite target for all those years in San Francisco, Jerry Rice, and the newest Hall of Famer rumbled down the sidelines for a 69 yard gain down at the AFC ten yard line. Next play, Montana found Lofton in the end zone for six. The PAT was good and just like that the Hall of Fame game was tied at 13.
Browns TownJim Brown won the game for the AFC in the final seconds of the 4th quarter
The AFC wasted little time answering the call; two plays into their ensuing possession, Jim Brown broke free. The running back great found 58-yards of green pasture in front of him and quickly handed back the lead to his AFC team. The AFC would lead by seven, 20-13, after the third.
The fourth quarter was an offensive coordinators' dream, a defensive coordinators' nightmare. At the 9:28 mark, Marino found Ozzie Newsome for what some would have believed to be the dagger in the NFC's coffin. The AFC led 27-13 with the clock tick, tick, ticking away. But on back-to-back possessions that followed, the NFC found the zone. Montana hit Lofton for his second touchdown reception of the game to cut it to 27-20. Then in "Joe Cool" fashion found Tommy McDonald for the equalizer. With a little over one minute remaining the NFC and AFC were tied at 27.
The AFC started with solid field possession after the kickoff. On the opening play, Jim Brown took the ball from his own 37 and broke out a 28 yard gallop.
Timeout AFC. Forty-nine seconds left on the clock.
Brown would pick up 8 yards on the next two plays as the AFC ran the hurry up offense. With 14 seconds remaining and the ball sitting on the NFC's 27-yard line, Brown toted the rock once more. He found some space, then some more space and he was gone. The third down draw play proved to be the game winner as the former Brownie found the zone and gave the AFC the lead and the win, 34-27.
Joel Beall is a Senior Writer for Whatifsports.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ryan Fowler is the Content Manager for Whatifsports.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.