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Does Bruce Smith belong in the Hall of Fame?

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DE Smith a near-lock for HoF induction (USA Today)

The Hall of Fame Finalists
At least four candidates must be elected from the 17 listed semi-finalists but the total class cannot number more than seven. In order to be elected they must receive 80% of a yes/no vote. Here is the complete list of finalists: Bruce Smith, DE; Rod Woodson, DB; Shannon Sharpe, TE; John Randle, DE; Dermontti Dawson, C; Cortez Kennedy, DT; Cris Carter, WR; Andre Reed, WR; Richard Dent, DE; Russ Grimm, OL; Bob Kuechenberg, OL; Randall McDaniel, OL; Derrick Thomas, LB; Paul Tagliabue, Commissioner; Ralph Wilson, Buffalo Bills Owner; Claude Humphrey, DE; Bob Hayes, WR.

Earlier last week, I posted the career accomplishments and Hall of Fame merits of Bills founder and owner Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. and Bills Wide Receiver Andre Reed. Today we will look at the candidacy of the Buffalo Bill many think is a shoo-in for enshrinement in the Hall of Fame this year, Bruce Smith.

Smith's Legacy
After being selected number one overall by the Buffalo Bills (see guys, we used to be so much worse), Bruce Smith went on to become one of the most dominant defensive players in NFL history.

Bruce, or as we Bills fans called him "Bruuuuuuuuuuuuuuuce", was a dominant player during his 19 playing seasons with the Buffalo Bills (1985-1999) and the Washington Redskins (2000-03). His speed and strength made him one of the most feared defensive ends in the modern game. Teams routinely double, if not triple-teamed the former Outland Trophy winner and Virginia Tech All-America.

Smith quickly established himself as a starter on the Bills' defensive line and was named the AFC Defensive Rookie of the Year by the NFL Players Association. It foreshadowed greatness as he went on to be named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1990 and 1996 and the AFC Defensive Player of the Year in 1987, 1988, 1990, and 1996. He also earned first-team All-Pro honors nine times and was selected to play in 11 Pro Bowls, earning the MVP Award in the 1987 contest.

Although Smith’s lightning quickness made him a terrorizing outside pass rusher, he was also devastatingly strong. “He is so strong,” proclaimed Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon, “that he can bulldoze over you.”

A key member of the Bills teams that won six AFC Eastern Division championships and four AFC titles, many observers feel that 1990 was Smith’s finest season. That year he recorded 19 quarterback sacks, and his dominant play frequently changed the complexion of the game. Against the New York Jets in Week 3 he recorded six tackles, two sacks, defensed a pass, and forced two fumbles. In Week 14 against the Indianapolis Colts, he sacked quarterback Jeff George four times in the first 20 minutes of the game. And in Super Bowl XXV he came up with two of the biggest plays of the game when he sacked New York Giants quarterback Jeff Hostetler in the end zone for a safety - giving the Bills a 12-3 - lead and later forced New York to turn the ball over on downs by tackling running back Ottis Anderson for a two-yard loss on a fourth down conversion attempt.

The NFL’s all-time career sack leader (200), Smith’s 13 seasons with 10 or more sacks is also an NFL record. Dedicated to staying in top physical condition, Smith was named to both the NFL’s All-Decade Teams of the 1980s and 1990s. To throw one more stat at you, he amassed his 200 sacks in 239 games, an average of almost a full sack (0.8) every game!

Defensive Ends in the Hall of Fame
Currently there are 26 defensive linemen, 14 listed as Defensive Ends, enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Just last year, Fred Dean was inducted. This year Smith's heaviest "competition" may come from fellow ends Richard Dent and Claude Humphrey or from Defensive Tackles John Randle and Cortez Kennedy. As I said Smith is the all-time NFL sack leader with 200. Reggie White has 198 and is in the Hall of Fame. Of the other finalists this year, John Randle and Richard Dent are tied for sixth place with 137.5. It must be noted here that sacks were not an official NFL statistic until 1982, so perhaps players like Lawrence Taylor (132.5, began playing in 1981) and Rickey Jackson (128 sacks, began in 1981) would be higher on the list. Neither would have better stats than Smith.

My Take
I think (and so does everyone else I have read or listened to) that Bruce is a lock to make the Hall of Fame this year. He was dominant for many years on some historic teams, and he dominated while being double-teamed at a minimum. His ability to run around, through, and over people made him a force and one of the two greatest defensive ends (Reggie White) ever.

What do you think about Smith's Hall chances? Vote in the poll now.