The Pro Football Hall of Fame board of trustees will vote Friday on an amendment that would expand to 20 the number of inductees in the 2020 class as part of the NFL’s 100th anniversary celebration. The overarching goal would be to finally reward some former players who slipped through the cracks over the years.
Few were as slippery in his time as Frederick’s own Chuck Foreman — a man known for leaving defenders grasping at air with a brilliant spin move.
If everything proceeds and Foreman garners a long-awaited Hall of Fame nod next year, it would be more than celebratory for the 1969 Frederick High graduate. It would be the capstone to an outstanding eight-year NFL career that saw him pave the way — spinning this way and that — for today’s multi-purpose running backs as an offensive leader on Minnesota Vikings teams that were among the best of the 1970s.
To this point, Foreman’s résumé has fallen short of the ultimate recognition, and the senior committee has remained his only hope because he played more than 25 years ago.
Typically, the Hall of Fame’s senior committee alternates between submitting one or two names per year that get voted on by the greater 48-person delegation. However, the operating board voted to expand the 2020 class to induct 10 senior candidates.
The full board still must approve the alteration during Friday’s meeting — a foregone conclusion, according to senior committee member Rick Gosselin in a story Tuesday in the St. Paul (Minnesota) Pioneer Press. Gosselin also said Foreman is on the list of 80 senior candidates who would be under inspection.
As usual, Foreman, 68, seems unsure how to feel about the latest opportunity for his name to enter the Hall of Fame discussion. He heard about it earlier this month from his friend, Brandon Lawhead, but Foreman copped to not even knowing when the vote for the 2020 expansion would occur.
He mentions how this amendment “opens up another possibility.” He says it’s probably his best chance yet. But the odds remain steep. He’s not sitting on the edge of his seat every day, awaiting word on something he can’t control as he recovers from surgery to address an infection in his right big toe.
“It does not weigh on me,” Foreman said by phone Wednesday from his home in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, as certain in that as he is in his Canton credentials.
Still, he remains bewildered about what else he could’ve done to earn that coveted bronze bust in Ohio. The former Vikings workhorse earned the 1973 NFC Rookie of the Year Award, went to five straight Pro Bowls, was named an All-Pro in 1975 — the year he led the NFL in receptions with 73 — and helped his team reach three Super Bowls (all losses) in his eight-year career.
His talking points remain the same. They remain strong. And he makes them humbly, without trying to disparage anyone.
“The way I was able to play the game as a runner/receiver, it wasn’t done like that before I got there,” said Foreman, who was put to work by Vikings coordinator Jerry Burns in a system that eventually became known as the West Coast offense in San Francisco. “There’s nobody that played during my time that I couldn’t compete with, or [anyone that was] more important to their team than I was.
“It was always the going thing: ‘You shut Chuck Foreman down, you shut the Vikings down.’ ... When you got that game plan put together to totally stop you, and you’re still making plays, you gotta be doing something right.”
He urges voters to just put on his tape. He suggests they watch not for gains as much as impact. Watch him take handoffs to the house. Watch him line up as a flanker and snag a deep ball by Fran Tarkenton. Watch him catch a swing pass and torch a defense. Watch him embarrass a linebacker with the move that made him known as The Spin Doctor. Watch him take flight over the line and land in the end zone. Listen to a color commentator such as Hall of Famer Paul Hornung call Foreman “money” during an old broadcast.
For the bulk of his time with the Vikings, Foreman was an offensive fulcrum in a No. 44 jersey. Yes, the franchise was put on the map by The Purple People Eaters defense. But it’s hard to deny that the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Foreman was the primary playmaker on the other side of the ball for teams that won 69 games over seven 14-game seasons. He produced 9,106 yards from scrimmage and scored 76 touchdowns over eight regular seasons, including a final, inconsequential one in New England.
Foreman’s borderline Hall of Fame case has seemingly been granted fresh hope twice over the past decade, but his name has never been sent up as a finalist. In 2010, Foreman’s contemporary, Denver’s Floyd Little, was enshrined after falling 300-plus scrimmage yards and 24 touchdowns short of Foreman’s numbers. Not to mention, he never played in a playoff game, while Foreman played in 13.
In 2017, Denver’s Terrell Davis was inducted after a seven-season career. This made Foreman optimistic because Davis — while playing in a different era and also being a huge part of two Super Bowl champion Broncos teams — finished with fewer scrimmage yards and touchdowns (in 23 fewer games) than Foreman, too.
“People got behind Terrell Davis, Floyd Little to get ‘em in there,” Foreman said. “But there’s nothing they accomplished that I didn’t, and that’s the bottom line. It’s all about people getting behind you and pushing.”
The main arguments against Foreman are that he didn’t sustain his excellence for long enough. But he was dominant during a four- to five-year stretch in a period when offenses were built around running backs. And he out-caught many receivers, including some Hall of Famers, in an era when that simply was not being done.
Foreman points out how the career life-expectancy for NFL running backs has traditionally been brief, the window to perform in their prime even smaller. And Foreman says that fact is still being driven home today, as modern players such as Dallas’ Ezekiel Elliott and San Diego’s Melvin Gordon are holding out for big contracts even though they’ve only been in the league for a few years.
They don’t have long to cash in on their ability.
“After five years, that’s it,” Foreman said. “I think my time in the NFL was well spent. In my time, in my era and the way the game was played, you can’t say that I wasn’t one of the best of my era.”
He says people mention that he didn’t rush for 7,000 yards or that his teams didn’t win a Super Bowl.
“Well, listen,” he said, “I’ve got a whole lot of things a lot of guys in [the Hall of Fame] don’t have and they didn’t have the ability to do.”
There’s nothing slippery about that. And on Friday, if the Hall of Fame board approves the expansion of senior candidates for next year, maybe Foreman’s case can be pulled back through the cracks for closer consideration.
Follow Joshua R. Smith on Twitter: @JoshuaR_Smith