Chuck Foreman is diplomatic. He hands out the requisite compliments and avoids selfishly pounding his chest on social media.
In the preface of every related quote, the legendary star from Frederick repeats over and over that anyone who gains entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame deserves the lofty distinction — even though it’s “mind-boggling” to him that his accolade-rich eight-year career hasn’t also been commemorated with a bronze bust in Canton, Ohio.
He shakes off the slight year after year.
It’s gone on for about three decades.
“I’m not mad,” he’ll insist in a laid-back delivery.
“Man, it is what it is,” he’ll conclude.
Still, hidden behind those statements is a disappointment that’s hard to mask. And for the first time in a long time — maybe since his playing days ended in 1980 with a forgettable season in New England — Foreman’s frustration just might be tinged with fresh hope.
That’s because Terrell Davis — the Denver Broncos’ offensive stud of the late 1990s — was voted into the Hall of Fame on Saturday as part of the 2017 class. Davis, like Foreman, glittered at running back for a relatively short spell in the NFL. Davis played just seven seasons, including three (1996 to 1998) in which he was virtually peerless as the workhorse who helped end Denver’s Super Bowl drought. Then, a 1999 knee injury rendered him ineffective, and he retired in 2001.
When he quit, some wondered if he’d done enough to reach the Hall of Fame: 7,607 rushing yards, 169 receptions, 65 total touchdowns, two Super Bowl wins.
But he got in 16 years later, perhaps signaling a more open mind among voters when it comes to the career length of a player who sustains a measure of dominance, however brief. When matching Davis’ credentials against Foreman’s, The Spin Doctor — as Foreman became known with the Minnesota Vikings — appears to have a comparable case, ignoring the fact that the two had different styles and played in different eras.
Davis was a traditional running back who used his vision and strength to damage defenses with precise cuts. The Broncos essentially rode “TD” to the glory that put a finishing polish on John Elway’s Hall of Fame career (Davis averaged 142.5 yards rushing in eight playoff games). Then, he was suddenly done after a total of 86 games.
“I think his talent got him in, even though he played a short period of time,” Foreman, 66, said of Davis in a phone interview Monday from Minnesota. “When he was on the field, he was great. His career was just [seven] years. ... I heard somebody [say], ‘Oh, you only played so many years.’ I don’t care. If you play great when you’re in the league, what’s the difference?”
Foreman played in 109 regular-season games (during the days of 14-game schedules), gaining 9,106 yards from scrimmage (219 more than Davis) with 76 touchdowns. He rushed for 5,950 yards with an average rush of 3.8 yards — figures that likely seem too low for the palates of number-hungry hall voters who would be deliberating the credentials of a back who played when power running, and lots of it, was the league staple. But that would miss a huge point: Foreman added 3,156 receiving yards on 350 catches (he even led the league in receptions in 1975, when he was an All-Pro).
And backs weren’t doing that before Foreman.
After arriving in Minnesota from the University of Miami as the 12th pick in the 1973 draft, Foreman became the Vikings’ backfield knife-block. A 6-foot-2, 210-pound former hurdling champion at Frederick High, he could cut a defense any number of ways. During his time with the Vikings, he was responsible for 24.6 percent of the yards by their “Purple offense” — made more famous as the “West Coast Offense” when 49ers coaching savant Bill Walsh used a similar system to win Super Bowls in the 1980s.
With Foreman, “you have it all in one package,” he said. He could get tough yards in the middle. He could soar over the line into the end zone. He could run full speed, jab his foot in the turf and vanish with a breathtaking spin move. Most impressively, he could split out wide and run routes, looking every bit the part of a wide receiver.
Keep in mind, this was decades before guys like Marshall Faulk, Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson or recent Super Bowl star James White were routinely making catches out of the slot.
“I’m not gonna say I deserve this,” Foreman said like a reluctant salesman. “Hey, listen, it’s all on black and white. If you take a look at it, see what you think.”
It sounds strange, but Foreman wonders if maybe all of his versatility is why he’s been cast aside by voters for so many years. As if his numbers — and his Hall of Fame quest — almost suffer because he was a runner and a receiver.
“Like I said, everybody that’s in there deserves it,” Foreman said (again), “but the multi-purpose player isn’t respected — and I don’t understand.”
On one seemingly crucial level, though, his relegation might be obvious: He never won a Super Bowl. That’s where Davis trumps Foreman, 2-0.
When Foreman hears that, he has a cogent, go-to response.
“That took a team to win the Super Bowl. [Davis] was on the Super Bowl team,” said Foreman, whose Vikings went 0-for-3 in Super Bowls against some of the great franchises (Miami, Pittsburgh and Oakland) of the 1970s. “I was on three Super Bowl teams, for that matter. As you see, it ain’t an easy game to get to.”
Not to mention, six of his Vikings teammates — and coach Bud Grant — are already in the Hall of Fame. Do voters simply think they’ve reached their limit for 1970s Vikings?
While Davis’ selection this year could bring Foreman out of the shadows, the 2010 Hall of Fame induction of another Broncos running back, Floyd Little, also bolsters the argument for Frederick’s finest. Frankly, any argument against Foreman’s credentials should be countered by Little’s induction. Little played 117 games from 1967 to 1975, gaining 8,741 yards from scrimmage and 54 touchdowns with a career average of 3.9 yards per carry. He achieved those numbers while playing one year longer than Foreman (who always admired Little).
And Little’s teams never made the playoffs.
Foreman played in 122 games, including 13 in the playoffs — where he averaged 100.5 yards from scrimmage per game.
At this point, Foreman’s curious case is in the hands of the Hall of Fame’s nine-man Seniors Committee. Each year, five committee members consider nominating players whose careers ended at least 25 years ago.
Did you know:
— Foreman is No. 1 among his Hall of Fame peers in points per start (5.429) and, at the time the group gathered data, he was second all-time only to the legendary Jim Brown (6.407).
— Between 1973 and 1978, Foreman’s 317 catches were the second most of any back or receiver in the league, including Hall of Fame wideouts Charley Taylor, Lynn Swann and Fred Biletnikoff.
There were 50 pages of nuggets like that. But the effort to publicize Foreman hasn’t gained traction.
The battle, all these years removed from his career, is uphill. Each new year brings additional deserving names that threaten to clog the list of nominees and keep guys like Foreman forever spinning in the distant past. “Out of sight, out of mind,” he frequently laments.
But maybe now that Davis — a similar comp — has gained entry, Foreman’s chances might increase. Maybe his name might cross the lips of the decision-makers.
“Maybe,” Foreman said, “they’ll say, ‘Maybe this guy’s been on the shelf too long.’”
Or maybe not.
“The only time I think about it is when they make the announcement [about the yearly inductees] and my phone blows up and my Facebook blows up with people who are upset,” he said. “There’s no need to be upset about it.
“I just know when I played the game, when I stepped on that field, 99 percent of the time I was the best on that field. That’s all I know. When I played in my time, gameplans were to shut me down — and most of the time they couldn’t.
“That’s all I can say.”
Follow Joshua R. Smith on Twitter: @jray5k.