The hallowed halls of the Pro Football Hall of Fame are packed with guys who had a lot of talent. Emmitt Smith, Shannon Sharpe, Joe Greene, Dan Marino, the list goes on and on. But it takes more than just raw talent to get into the Hall.
It also takes drive and desire. It takes wanting to be the best and fighting for it. It doesn’t always take winning a Super Bowl—as Marino proves—but it does take winning. These are players who not only had the talent, but knew how to put it to use — players who were dedicated to doing it every chance they got.
Sometimes, it takes the right situation. The help of guys around you. But, most of the time, Hall of Fame players are those who elevated the play of people around them. Who made those guys into stars in their own right.
It’s a mindset, a commitment. Without that, talent doesn’t even matter.
Two stories from the past week underscore this almost painfully. First, the Jaguars’ GM said that Justin Blackmon likely won’t ever play again. This is a guy who was better than Dez Bryant in college, both statistically and in terms of awards won. Just a few years ago, he was thought to be the best young wideout prospect in years.
But he battled addiction. Got suspended. Went to rehab. After falling off the wagon too many times, he’s probably not coming back to the NFL.
Blackmon had the raw talent to get into the Hall of Fame. But that doesn’t mean he’s a Hall of Fame-caliber player. It just means that he had the unique opportunity to get there if he worked at it, something very few people have—even among active NFL players.
But other things got in the way.
The same thing appears to be happening to Aldon Smith. He was tremendous in his rookie season for the San Francisco 49ers, one of the best pass rushers to come into the game. He looked like he could be dominant at what has become a very high-profile position.
He also ran into trouble with the law. There have been multiple DUIs, among other incidents. Recently, he has been picked up again for vandalism, DUI and a hit and run.
The 49ers had been suspending Smith every time something happened, hoping he straightened his life out. Every time, he just went out and did it all over again. There’s a point where excuses wear thin, and the 49ers have now released him in the wake of the most recent arrest.
Like Blackmon, Smith had a lot of hype early. He had the talent to be a very special player. But everything else got in the way. He didn’t have the right mindset.
It could be argued that mindset is even more important than physical talent, to some degree. A lot of guys are in the NFL. They’re all fast, strong, athletic. Only some of them step up and stand above their peers. And only a small fraction of them step up again and put together Hall of Fame careers.
The Hall of Fame is an honor, but not just one to honor natural talents. It’s to honor guys who played the game the right way. Guys who wanted to be the best and would let nothing stop them.
That’s the true honor when a player puts on that gold jacket, what the Hall really signifies. These players are the best of the best, and it’s because of the way they view the game and how badly they wanted to be nothing but the best.