By Barry Wilner
NEW YORK: Anyone looking for an expert to discuss the candidacies of Marvin Harrison and Tony Dungy for the Pro Football Hall of Fame didn’t need to search very far during Super Bowl week.
Hey, Peyton, what do you think?
“Marvin Harrison had a tremendous impact on my career,” star quarterback Peyton Manning said before getting ready to lead the Denver Broncos into the NFL title game against the Seattle Seahawks. “My very first football game in the preseason, on the third play of the game, I threw my first pass. I threw him about a 4-yard pass, and he ran 48 yards for a touchdown. I said, ‘Boy, this NFL is pretty easy. All you do is throw it to Marvin Harrison and he runs for touchdowns.’
“That’s pretty much what he did throughout the time we played together.”
Harrison did it so well that he made 1,102 catches for 14,580 yards and 128 touchdowns in 13 seasons with the Colts, 11 years with Manning throwing to him. They set a record with 953 completions, 12,766 yards and 112 touchdowns together.
Dungy was Manning’s coach for seven seasons, winning a Super Bowl, and just as importantly initiating a franchise philosophy based on honesty, trust and never panicking.
“Coach Dungy’s influence on me and our entire team was very strong,” Manning said. “His calming presence — that face that you see on TV when he’s giving away all of our plays on the NBC halftime show — it’s that same calm face he always had which was peaceful for our players in a Super Bowl, in a championship game, in the preseason. It made players on his team play calm and play at a high level.
“I’m indebted to him for his help for me in my career, and of course, our teams there in Indianapolis. I was very honored to play for him for a number of years.”
Harrison and Dungy are among 17 finalists for the hall; the voting will take place today and be announced this evening, along with the AP NFL awards, at the NFL Honors show. They are first-time eligibles, along with Derrick Brooks and Walter Jones.
It’s an impressive list of new candidates — Brooks was perhaps the best outside linebacker of his era with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Jones was a practically unbeatable left tackle with the Seahawks.
And it gets added to an equally outstanding group previously up for election: placekicker Morten Andersen; running back Jerome Bettis; wide receivers Tim Brown and Andre Reed; defensive ends Claude Humphrey (a senior nominee), Michael Strahan, Charles Haley and Kevin Greene; punter Ray Guy (senior nominee); safeties John Lynch and Aeneas Williams, who also played cornerback; guard Will Shields; and former 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr.
Guy would become the first full-time punter in the hall, and Andersen, the career scoring leader with 2,544 points in 25 seasons, would join Jan Stenerud as the only kickers enshrined.
Jones and Brooks were regulars on the All-Pro list, with Jones making it four times and Brooks getting selected five times. Each got a Super Bowl, with Brooks getting the ring for the 2002 season and Jones losing with the Seahawks after the 2005 campaign.
“Anytime you can get that title of first ballot hall of famer that’s a great title, and just being a hall of famer is a great title,” Jones said. “Would it be a letdown [to not be elected]? Probably will.
“But I think it’s still a moment that will be exciting whenever it happens. If it happens this year it will be exciting, if it happens two years from now it will be exciting. For me to be on that list is amazing and to be on that list and been able to play with one team is amazing, too.”
Greene and Haley are in their 10th year of eligibility, the longest among non-senior finalists. Reed is in his ninth, followed by Brown and Williams (fifth), Bettis (fourth), Shields and DeBartolo (third), Anderson, Strahan and Lynch (second).