The Pro Football Hall of Fame will announce the five modern-era players to round out its 2020 class on Saturday. And it's going to be quite a collection of football talent, this special 20-member Centennial Class.
But I'm here to tell you – and anyone who will listen – that they got it wrong. It's still incomplete.
Why? Because Tommy Nobis was passed over. Again.
And it's beyond wrong. It's a travesty.
I was about to type the words, and I don't understand why, but I do.
Nobis was clearly snubbed because he didn't play on very good teams during his 11-year career. The selection committee clearly held the fact that the Falcons teams he played on had an overall record of 50-100-4 and had only two winning seasons.
Nobis, who died in 2017 at the age of 74, even acknowledged that the losing was something held against him. During an interview with The Associated Press in 1998, Nobis said playing on losing teams was "a stigma."
"When you're a part of something that's losing, it's hard to pull out of it," he said. "Very hard."
Clearly, because here we are in 2020 and some voters still haven't been able to pull out of it, to separate Nobis's greatness from the losing.
I mean, what else are they holding against him? There's no other explanation for it. It certainly wasn't because of his play on the field.
Let's connect some dots – and then you, too, will get it if you don't already. Maybe then you'll be just as frustrated as I am about Nobis being snubbed once again.
Let's first look at Tommy Nobis, the player – the one and only man who earned the right to be called Mr. Falcon.
Nobis was considered one of the best athletes of his generation before he even entered the National Football League. And, please, don't just take my word for it.
Sports Illustrated called Nobis "The Best Defender in College Football" on its cover on Oct. 18, 1965. LIFE magazine featured Nobis on its Dec. 10, 1965, cover in a story about how the NFL and AFL competed for college stars, calling Nobis the "nation's best defensive college player."
And if that doesn't impress you or give you an idea of what kind of football player Nobis was, chew on this. Nobis was not only drafted No. 1 overall by the Atlanta Falcons, the University of Texas star was also picked by his home-state team – the Houston Oilers of the American Football League – and it ultimately led to a bidding war over Nobis that went, well, beyond this world.
While orbiting Earth in the Gemini spacecraft, astronaut Frank Borman — whose two sons were ball boys for the Oilers — urged Nobis to sign with Houston.
"I hope he comes here," Borman reportedly said from his spaceship as it flew over Houston on its 59th orbit.
Nobis instead picked Atlanta, and he was a star from the moment he set foot on the grass at old Atlanta Stadium. Nobis went on to become the 1966 NFL Rookie of the Year in Atlanta's inaugural season after registering a stunning 296 combined tackles, a mark that still stands as the Falcons' all-time single-season record and is unofficially the most tackles ever credited to one player in NFL history.
Nobis couldn't play every position, but he was definitely considered one of the most-feared linebackers in the NFL. Despite the fact that the most games the Falcons won in a single season during his career was nine, Nobis was a five-time Pro Bowl selection (1966-68, 1970, 1972), named All-Pro twice (first team in 1967 and second team in 1968), and was later named to the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 1960s.
You know what other linebackers were on that all-decade team with Nobis?
- Ray Nitschke, Hall of Famer.
- Dick Butkus, Hall of Famer.
- Dave Robinson, Hall of Famer.
And how about what's written under Nobis's name on the Pro Football Hall of Fame's own site?
"Nobis, an All-America at Texas, was the Atlanta Falcons first-ever draft pick. He became an immediate star but suffered from the lack of talent around him. Despite this lack of support, Nobis earned All-NFL honors in only his second season. A relentless player who gave 110 percent on every play, he earned Pro Bowl honors five times during his 11-year career."
Can they be any more (painfully) clear?
Former Falcons head coach Dan Reeves, who starred for the Dallas Cowboys in the 1970s, was also a finalist for the 20-member Centennial Class of 2020 but didn't get in. When asked about Nobis once, Reeves summed it perfectly.
"The fact that he's not in is really a tragedy," Reeves said. "But they go so much by the team, by winning."
Voters apparently prefer great players on great teams, not great players on not-so-great teams. And that's a shame.
Nobis picked the NFL and played his heart out. He not only gave it all on the field but did so much for others off the field as well, including the Tommy Nobis Center he founded in 1977.
His No. 60 was never worn by another Falcons player and eventually retired by the team. He was an inaugural member of the 2004 Falcons Ring of Honor – and a member of so many more honorary teams and hall of fames, including:
- College Football Hall of Fame
- Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame
- Georgia Sports Hall of Fame
- San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame
- State of Texas Hall of Fame
- Sports Illustrated's College Football All-Century Team
The Pro Football Hall of Fame recognizes, enshrines and creates bronze busts for the all-time greatest players, not their teams.
They've passed over one of the best to ever play the game, a player who did all he could to help his teams win. That should matter.
They got it wrong. Again.