BY JEFF DARLINGTON -
It is often never safe to assume any player is a lock to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, no matter the career or the position. This year, an exception can be made.
San Francisco 49ers legend Jerry Rice, considered the greatest wide receiver in NFL history, will find out today at 5 p.m. if he will take his place in Canton, Ohio, as one of between four and seven players who will make up the Class of 2010. Think he's nervous?
Rice is among a group of 17 finalists that includes only one other virtual certainty, former Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith. Outside of Rice and probably Smith -- who are on the ballot for the first time -- the decisions should be much more interesting.
HALL OF FAME FINALISTS
Tim Brown, WR, Raiders (1988-2003), Bucs ('04) Cris Carter, WR, Eagles ('87-89), Vikings ('90-01), Dolphins ('02) Don Coryell, Coach, Cardinals ('73-77), Chargers ('78-1986) Roger Craig, RB, 49ers ('83-90), Raiders ('91), Vikings ('92-93) Dermontti Dawson, C, Steelers ('88-2000) Richard Dent, DE, Bears ('83-93, '95), 49ers ('94), Colts ('96), Eagles ('97) Russ Grimm, G, Redskins ('81-91) Charles Haley, DE/LB, 49ers ('86-91, '99), Cowboys ('92-96) Rickey Jackson, LB, Saints ('81-93), 49ers ('94-95) Cortez Kennedy, DT, Seahawks ('90-2000) *Dick LeBeau, CB, Lions ('59-72) *Floyd Little, RB, Broncos ('67-75) John Randle, DT, Vikings ('90-2000), Seahawks ('01-03) Andre Reed, WR, Bills ('85-99), Redskins (2000) Jerry Rice, WR, 49ers ('85-2000), Raiders ('01-04), Seahawks ('04) Shannon Sharpe, TE, Broncos ('90-99, '02-03), Ravens (2000-01) Emmitt Smith, RB, Cowboys ('90-02), Cardinals ('03-04)
Super Bowl With a Smirk: Preview of Pro Football Hall of Fame vote A panel of 44 sports writers, including The Miami Herald's Edwin Pope, will meet for as many as eight hours Saturday to pick anywhere between four and seven finalists to have their careers immortalized in the Hall.
It's among the greatest honors in professional sports, but Smith said it's not necessarily a goal he strived to reach during his playing days.
``It's not something I can say I ever really dreamed about,'' Smith said. ``I never said, 'I have to make the Hall of Fame.' If I could make steps that could set me apart in my career, then I've had a successful career.''
No doubt, making it into the Hall of Fame would be another way to set him apart.
OTHERS ON THE BALLOT
This year's group includes only one former Dolphins player, wide receiver Cris Carter, who spent only his 2003 season in Miami. Carter was better known for his tenure from 1990 to 2001 with the Minnesota Vikings.
The rest of the list includes:
Wide receivers Cris Carter, Tim Brown and Andre Reed; running back Roger Craig; center Dermontti Dawson; tight end Shannon Sharpe; guard Russ Grimm; defensive ends Richard Dent and Charles Haley; defensive tackles Cortez Kennedy and John Randle; linebacker Rickey Jackson; and coach Don Coryell.
There are also two senior nominees: defensive back Dick LeBeau and running back Floyd Little. In order for either senior nominee to be inducted, they must get 80 percent approval from the voting panel.
However, the selection process for the finalists is a different, separate deal.
The 15 modern-era candidates will first be narrowed down to 10, then five. Finally, those five finalists would need 80 percent of the votes (36 total) -- just like the senior nominees -- to enter into the group.
The group must select at least four total, between senior nominees and modern-era nominees. They will not select any more than seven. At 5 p.m., the NFL Network will air the announcement of this year's class.
There is little question about whether Rice or Smith will make it, of course, because of their dominance over the game while they played -- as well as the historical marks they set along the way.
The tandem holds three of the most coveted career-long records in sports. Smith ran for more yards (18,355) than any other NFL player -- breaking Walter Payton's record -- while Rice caught more passes (1,549) and rushed for more touchdowns (208).
Earlier this week, Rice sarcastically said he doesn't believe he's the best wide receiver in NFL history, a superlative he gave to Terrell Owens. Responding to comments made by Owens last week, during which Owens said he'd be close to breaking Rice's records if he had better quarterbacks, Rice had a few laughs about the topic.
``Here's the thing,'' Rice said. ``I'm not the greatest receiver. Terrell Owens is the greatest receiver. That's what I heard. He made a statement saying that if he had Joe Montana and Steve Young, he'd probably be breaking my records now. So Terrell is the greatest receiver.''
In a vote that is likely to be unanimous when the panel of voters decides whether Rice belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, we have a feeling there will be a few people who might disagree.