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Canton Calling: The Case for Simeon Rice

Article by Scott Smith

On February 4, the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee selected five modern-era players for enshrinement in 2017. Simeon Rice was not among them. Rice deserves to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the game's all-time greats. Not eventually, but now.

"[Rice's] main job in our defense was to terrorize the quarterback and he did it better than anyone I've ever seen."

- Rod Marinelli

Rice was not one of the 15 finalists for enshrinement that were identified earlier in January. In fact, it wasn't until 2016, Rice's fourth year of eligibility, that he was even included on the list of the 125 initial candidates released in September! That's inexplicable.

Four defensive ends have gained enshrinement in Canton in the last four years: Michael Strahan, Charles Haley, Kevin Greene and Jason Taylor. All four were worthy selections; Greene, Strahan and Taylor are among the top 10 all-time in sacks while Haley combined 100.5 sacks with five Super Bowl rings. Here is Rice compared to the first of those four to get his gold jacket:

 


Player A is Michael Strahan, who got his bronze bust in the summer of 2014. Again, Strahan is a deserving Hall-of-Famer, and there were some who were surprised that he had to wait an extra year to get in. But if Strahan has a home in Canton, then Rice should be his neighbor. As compared to Strahan, Player B - Simeon Rice, of course - caused more fumbles, intercepted more passes, broke up more passes, had more sacks on a per-game basis, had more seasons in which he surpassed 10 sacks and won the same number of Super Bowls.

Rice was instrumental in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers getting that Super Bowl title, the first in team history. Rice joined the Buccaneers in 2001 after five seasons with the Arizona Cardinals. By that point, Tampa Bay had begun a franchise renaissance behind such defensive stars as Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp but had not taken any of its playoff appearances all the way. For those who helped build that championship team, the addition of Rice was crucial.

"For a left tackle out there on an island, he was their worst nightmare."

- Hall-of-Famer Derrick Brooks

"Simeon was always big in the big games from the Super Bowl to all the playoff games," said Dallas Cowboys Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli, then the Buccaneers' defensive line coach. "He was the missing piece for our defense because he was a guy that could take the game over. Some of the biggest games he had were against the very best players. He helped drive us to our Super Bowl championship. To me, that is what the Hall of Fame is all about. It’s not just the numbers. It’s about the guys that can get you to a world championship and that’s what Simeon did."

Rice also compares favorably to Taylor, who was elected as a first-ballot nominee in February and will be officially inducted this summer, in several ways. Taylor had the superior sack total (139.5 to 122.0) and had even more forced fumbles and interceptions than Rice's excellent totals. However, Rice had more 10 -sack seasons, averaged more sacks per campaign and won one more Super Bowl than Taylor.

 

As for the comparative career sack totals for Rice and Strahan, Rice typically faced tougher matchups at the line of scrimmage because he lined up at right end across from the NFL's most dominant offensive linemen. His Buccaneer teammates recognized the significance of Rice's contributions against that level of competition.

"I can say firsthand from the matchups that I had with him that Simeon was one of the toughest for me, as well as for an offense as a whole."

- Hall-of-Famer Willie Roaf

"There is no doubt Simeon Rice should be a Hall-of-Famer," said former Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks, a 2014 Hall-of-Fame inductee. "Anyone that puts up 122 sacks and has eight double-digit sack seasons during a 12-year career deserves to be in the conversation. And he did this while going against the best offensive linemen—the left tackles. Sim is one of the best pass rushers of his time and he played a big part in making us the dominant defense that we were in the early 2000s. Go talk to some of the great Hall-of-Fame left tackles that had to go up against Sim on a regular basis and all you’ll hear is how hard he was to get in front of and slow down. For a left tackle out there on an island, he was their worst nightmare."

The added level of difficulty inherent in facing primarily left tackles is reflected best in the Pro Bowl rosters from Strahan and Rice's respective playing days; the all-star dominance of left tackles demonstrates where the most talented players generally lined up.



 


Willie Roaf, who played 13 years for the Saints and Chiefs and was a contemporary rival for Rice, earned 11 of those left-tackle Pro Bowl bids. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012, Roaf remembers well the difficulty of slowing down the Buccaneers' dynamic edge rusher.

"Simeon Rice was a player who could take over a game if you were not prepared for him and if he was not accounted for at all times," said Roaf. "Very few pass rushers I played against possessed his combination of speed and power. I can say firsthand from the matchups that I had with him that Simeon was one of the toughest for me, as well as for an offense as a whole.  He was also a big game player. The big stage didn’t frighten him and he was a huge part of that Super Bowl run the Buccaneers had in 2002."

The higher degree of difficulty for those playing primarily against left tackles makes it more of a challenge to produce the career statistics that sway Hall of Fame voters. Since 1981, of all the defensive linemen voted into the Hall of Fame, only five played all or most of their careers (primarily) at right end. Rice compares favorably to those five.

Bruce Smith and Jason Taylor were the only two of those five right ends to be elected to the Hall of Fame in his first years of eligibility, but all of them except Rice were first-year HOF nominees who quickly made it at least to the list of semifinalists.

 


During Rice's peak from 1999 to 2005, Strahan and Jason Taylor came closest to his overall sack total but neither player was as consistently among the league leaders from season to season. The graphs below contrast Rice’s season-by-season consistency with the other two and also demonstrate how his cumulative totals during that span remained above the rest.

 



The sum of those many years of dominance make him the current best choice at his position to receive Hall of Fame recognition. There were three players primarily considered defensive ends who were among the original nominees for last year's class, including Taylor, who is now in the Hall. Below are those three plus other recent Hall nominees.

 

Since the turn of the decade, the Hall has taken in six defensive ends, including one chosen by the Senior Committee: Richard Dent, Chris Doleman, Claude Humphrey, Michael Strahan, Kevin Greene* and Jason Taylor. Rice would be a very worthy addition to that list. He has a much better sacks-per-season rate than most of those six and in fact has the fifth-best mark in that category for any defensive end who played in the post-1982 era and is no longer active, following only Reggie White, Bruce Smith, Leslie O'Neal and Kevin Greene.

Like those players, Rice was not only a game-changer during his playing days but one who is still considered one of the best by his peers.

"Simeon was like an artistic pass-rusher," said Marinelli. "His coordination, his hand-eye coordination was off the charts. I’ve got some tapes I’ve cut on him over the years. It’s just mind boggling. I still show highlights of him to some of my players today. He was all about the ball and at that right end, you want a guy to be about the ball. His main job in our defense was to terrorize the quarterback and he did it better than anyone I've ever seen."

(*Greene is listed as both a linebacker and a defensive end in the Hall's registry.)



 


There are 20 players who have amassed at least 120 sacks in the NFL. Of those players who had 120 or more sacks and are already eligible for the Hall of Fame, only three are defensive ends who are eligible but not already enshrined in Canton. In contrast, only two defensive linemen with fewer than 120 career sacks, since that stat became official, are in the Hall of Fame: Howie Long and Charles Haley. Like 3,000 hits in baseball, 120 sacks appears to be a common threshhold for enshrinement. Here is the 120-sack club:

* Players are identified at the position at which they were listed during the largest number of seasons during their careers.

Simeon Rice checks all the boxes for enshrinement. Taken as a whole, his career produced the type of numbers that have led to nearly every player at his position getting a bronze bust. He also was the best player in the NFL at his job for a sustained period, and his absolute peak years coincided with great success for his team as a whole. It is mystifying that he has received virtually no support for his candidacy in the five years he has been eligible.

Simeon Rice deserves a place among his peers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Story by Scott Smith. Graphics by David Sharpensteen. Web Design by Eric Rook.
Additional Research and Concepts by Eric Holland.