Former Texas A&M place-kicker Tony Franklin deserves to be in the College Football Hall of Fame. So does punter Shane Lechler. And while you’re at it, add linebacker Johnny Holland and cornerback Pat Thomas.
All were two-time All-Americans, making them more than qualified. But only 0.02% of all players make it, which is why there are a lot of great players on the outside looking in.
Franklin has flirted with making the College Football Hall of Fame for almost two decades. He’s on the 2021 ballot, the seventh time his fate will be determined by more than 12,000 National Football Foundation members and current Hall of Famers. Their results are then sent to the National Football Foundation’s Honors Courts, who select the class.
You can bet Franklin’s resume has been dissected several times.
Franklin was one of college football’s first big kickers, booting field goals of 64 and 65 yards against Baylor on Oct. 16, 1976. He also kicked a 62-yarder the following season against Florida. During his career, Franklin set seven NCAA records, including most 50-yard field goals (15) and points (291) for a kicker. He was a consensus All-American in 1976 and earned first-team honors in 1978, his senior season.
Franklin should be in the Hall, but you could say that about so many of the other 77 players on the ballot, led by Southern Cal quarterback Carson Palmer and Colorado running back Rashaan Salaam, a pair of Heisman Trophy winners. Then there’s Oklahoma defensive back Roy Williams, who won the Bronco Nagurski and Jim Thorpe Awards. North Carolina defensive end Julius Peppers won the Chuck Bednarik and Lombardi Awards in 2001. Texas defensive tackle Kenneth Sims won the 1981 Lombardi Award. Florida State linebacker Marvin Jones won the Butkus and Lombardi Awards in ’92, and in 2000, Miami linebacker Dan Morgan became the first to win the Butkus, Bednarik and Nagurski Awards in the same year. The list goes on and on. It’s not too hard to find 20 resumes that on paper are sure Hall of Famers.
Franklin and many others have been victims of sheer numbers. There are more players on the outside looking in than ever before.
Players are eligible for the Hall if they were a first-team pick on any of the five major All-American teams — the Associated Press, American Football Coaches Association, Football Writers Association of America, The Sporting News and Walter Camp Football Foundation. There were 39 players on those organization’s first team last season, with only four repeaters. More and more players are leaving college after three seasons, thus the two- and three-time All-Americans have dwindled. A one-time All-American such as LSU quarterback Joe Burrow is much more common.
Franklin is also a victim of position. There also are only four kicking specialists in the Hall of Fame. The place-kickers are Georgia’s Kevin Butler and Washington State’s Jason Hanson who was part of last year’s 17-player class. Butler made 77 of 98 field goals. He connected on 54.2% of field goals beyond 50 yards in his four years at Georgia, a big reason he was named to the all-century teams by Sports Illustrated and the Walter Camp Foundation. Hanson made 39 field goals of at least 40 yards and 20 of at least 50 yards, both NCAA records. He made 57.1% of field goals 50 yards or longer, which remains a Pac-12 record.
The punters are Southern Miss’ Ray Guy and UNLV’s Randall Cunningham. Yep, most remember Cunningham for being an NFL All-Pro quarterback, but he was a first-team All-America punter for the Rebels in 1983. Cunningham would have had no chance to get into the hall if he hadn’t punted. He made honorable mention as quarterback, but that doesn’t get you on the ballot. Some would like to see Notre Dame quarterback Joe Montana and Alabama quarterback Joe Namath in the Hall, but neither were first-team All-Americans.
Franklin is one of five specialists on this year’s ballot. Is that good or bad? I don’t know. You figure at the most only one will get in. Florida State place-kicker Sebastian Janikowski is a two-time All-American like Franklin, but Janikowski earned consensus honors in 1998 and then was a unanimous pick in ’99. Hawaii place-kicker Jason Elam ranked second in field goals (79) and scoring (395 points) when he graduated. Michigan State’s Morten Anderson and Arizona State’s Luis Zendejas also are place-kickers on the ballot, so maybe it’ll help Franklin that he’s the lone punter.
If Franklin doesn’t make it this year, it could be tougher next year when A&M linebacker Von Miller becomes eligible. A player becomes eligible 10 full seasons after his final collegiate season. Miller, a Butkus Award winner, should be in the Hall at some point. The chances of one-time All-Americans such as A&M free safety Lester Hayes and linebacker Ed Siminoni making the Hall are slim. That’s a shame because both were great players. Hayes and Simonini’s Hall chances rest with the Football Bowl Subdivision Veterans Committee, which considers players who last played more than 50 years ago. Simonini’s senior season was 1975 and Hayes final year was 1976.
Simonini led the team in tackles three seasons. The two-time Southwest Conference defensive player of the year was a tackling machine. Hayes came to Aggieland as a defensive end, moved to linebacker his sophomore season and then settled in at safety. His speed and size — 6-foot-2, 208 pounds — and jarring hits were a big reason the Aggies held 19 opponents to 14 points or less his last two seasons.
You can make cases just as good for Thomas and Holland, maybe better ones since they were two-time All-Americans. A&M running back Darren Lewis also earned two-time All-America honors, but the Southwest Conference career rushing leader had off-the-field issues. He had drug problems and was arrested for armed robberies, resulting in a federal prison term.
The College Football Hall of Fame also considers post-football life, saying players must prove worthy citizens, carrying on the ideals of football in their communities. The College Football Hall of Fame also gives consideration to academic honors and whether the player earned a college degree.
The College Football Hall of Fame sets a high bar, which might frustrate some, but if anyone should understand competition it would be All-Americans.