Eisenberg: Derrick Mason Has Legitimate Case For Hall of Fame

But the election process makes it difficult for his name to ever be called.

Posted by John Eisenberg on Tuesday, June 12th, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Categories: John Eisenberg

Some athletes use the occasion of their exit from the playing fields to lobby for more individual glory. It can be tawdry.

Derrick Mason didn’t stoop to that Monday in Owings Mills. He took the high road, inflicting serious damage on his street cred as a diva receiver.

The subject of his possible induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame didn’t even come up until a reporter asked about it near the end of Mason’s retirement press conference.

“I don’t know, I really don’t,” Mason said.

Sitting at No. 11 on the NFL’s list of all-time pass catchers, ahead of a guy (Art Monk) who just got in, he certainly can make a legitimate case. His career totals of 943 catches and more than 12,000 receiving yards argue effectively for him, especially in tandem with his early-career success as a kick returner.

“As a special teams guy, (you) posted 5,000 return yards and 10,000 receiving yards – the only player in NFL history, ever, in the history of the game, to do that,” Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said Monday, raising his voice to emphasize that no one else had ever done it.

At that moment, when the true measure of Mason’s excellence was best exhibited, he easily could have stood from his seat on the dais and shouted, “Yeah. I’m special enough for Canton!” But he didn’t.

Oddly enough, if this were baseball, where career numbers are so heavily weighted that they can carry borderline candidates all the way to Cooperstown — I know, I’m a voter — Mason would stand an excellent chance. His career totals far exceed many of the receivers already enshrined.

But football’s Hall of Fame election process is different, seemingly more subjective (I’m not a voter), and raises major questions about whether Mason will ever hear his name called.

For some reason, as the game has become more and more pass happy, seemingly elevating the importance of players who can pluck the ball out of the air, fewer and fewer receivers are making it. The Hall currently contains just seven receivers whose careers began after 1970. The position lags far behind quarterbacks, running backs, offensive linemen, defensive linemen, linebackers and defensive backs on the Canton roll call.

And of those seven who have made it fairly recently, Michael Irvin and James Lofton were voted down twice, Monk and John Stallworth were voted down seven times and Lynn Swann was voted down 13 times before finally making it.

Mason has better career numbers than all of them, but for whatever reason, that simply isn’t going to matter. Cris Carter, perched at No. 4 on the all-time receptions list with far more catches, yardage and touchdowns than Mason, has been turned down for induction five times so far.

“I think the modern-day wide receiver, I would say that his skill level is not appreciated,” Carter said earlier this year. “It’s not just about the numbers. It’s the ability to catch the football and put your talent on display.”

For all Mason has going for him, he has this odd but powerful historical trend going against him. And ever savvy, he seemed to know it when he finally spoke on the subject Monday, offering what sounded a lot like a concession speech years before his name is even up for discussion.

“If you’re just looking at the numbers, I don’t know, there might be an argument. But if not, then hey, everybody can’t get in,” he said. “Everybody can’t, and you can’t hang your hat on that, whether you get in or not. I’m not going to do that. If one day they do indeed call, or my name comes up, and by the grace of God I’m in, I would cry. Seriously. But if not, hey, I’m a Hall of Famer to (his kids).”

His chances aren’t good, but not because he wasn’t a tough and ultra-superior football player for a decade and a half – “I’ve never seen a better route runner,” Harbaugh said.

It could be that high compliments like that are going to have to suffice for him, but listening to Mason Monday, about as realistic and self-satisfied as anyone who walked away, here’s guessing he will be fine no matter what happens.

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