What it Takes to Make it to the Hall of Fame

Making it to the Hall of Fame is something that any kid dreams about when they’re playing in the backyard. All who grew up throwing the pigskin with dad imagined playing professionally, winning championships and ultimately getting a bust in Canton, Ohio. It is the ultimate pinnacle of sporting success, proof that a player succeeded at the highest level for an entire career.

Those who join this prestigious group become immortalized in the minds and hearts of fans everywhere. Generations and generations of fans will visit your bronzed bust, learning how tremendously great you were on the gridiron. Stories will be passed down from parents to children to grandchildren, as you were the one who provided them lifelong memories with your athletic exploits. The Hall of Fame is forever.

But how do you go about getting into Canton, Ohio? How did previous football legends overcome the obstacles standing in the way of them and immortality? Each and every person in the Pro Football Hall of Fame has a unique story about perseverance, toughness, bravery and, ultimately, glory. Football is a sport that can be unforgiving. It can chew you up and spit you back out if you allow it to. Hall of Famers, however, were somehow able to elevate themselves over every hurdle, and have their legendary status to prove it.

There is no way around it. It is highly unlikely that you will ever make it to the Hall of Fame. Of the millions of people who have ever been involved in professional football, only 318 can say that a bust of their likeness now resides in Canton. Would you like to be one of those people? Then buckle up, because it is going to take a lot of hard work. Here are a few tips to making it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Never Get Discouraged

Regardless of how naturally talented you are, you will eventually come across someone who tells you that you can’t do something. No one makes it all the way to professional football without encountering a few doubters, let alone the Hall of Fame.

One of the myriads of tales proving critics wrong involves Hall of Fame running back Terrell Davis. Known as TD, he played his entire seven-year career with the Denver Broncos, winning two championships and an MVP award in the process. He is one of only seven players to have rushed for more than 2,000 yards in a single season, a feat he accomplished in 1998. Though several serious knee injuries curtailed what was going to be an even more historic career, Davis was still inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August of 2017.

Davis’s career on the surface does not tell the entire story of the immense obstacles he overcame. He began his collegiate career at Long Beach State after his brother, who played there before him, convinced the head coach to give Terrell a scholarship. If you haven’t heard of many football stars coming out of Long Beach State, it’s because they don’t play football anymore, as they eliminated the program altogether after Davis’s redshirt freshman season.

Here was future Hall of Famer Terrell Davis, at a small school without a football program, a school that he was barely able to land a spot on in the first place. This could have easily eliminated the already dwindling chance that Davis had of pro football stardom. However, as with all other Hall of Famers, discouragement was not an option.

Davis would latch on to the University of Georgia, where he served as a backup for his first two seasons as a Bulldog. He finally got his chance to start during his junior and senior seasons but was mostly held back because of nagging injuries. He only topped 100 carries in one season as a Bulldog and was seen as a talented but injury-prone player when the draft came along.

As if the “fragile” label wasn’t enough to scare away pro scouts, his head coach at Georgia, Ray Goff, did not grant them access to Davis’s game film. This caused Terrell to tumble even further down on draft day, until he was finally taken by Mike Shanahan and the Denver Broncos in the 6th round. Such a low selection could have once again ended any chance of TD becoming a star in the professional ranks. But he just kept plugging away.

Davis began his first training camp as the 6th-string running back on the Broncos depth chart. Not first, not second, not even in the top five. Sixth. Nevertheless, Davis impressed his coaching staff during every opportunity he received, even while playing special teams. Week after week he climbed up the ranks until finally he was named the starter for the season opener of his rookie year.

The rest, as they say, is history. With his trademark fingerless football gloves, Davis rushed for over 1,100 yards as a rookie, and his yardage and touchdown total would climb every year for the next three seasons. His regular season performances made him a star, but his playoff performances made him a legend. In eight career postseason games, TD rushed for an incredible 1,140 yards and 12 touchdowns, winning Super Bowl XXXII MVP in 1998. Though serious injuries stunted his career, what he accomplished in such a short time was still enough for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Terrell Davis faced obstacles at every level of his football career and did not let them faze him. If you wish to one day see your bust in Canton, you won’t let them affect you either.

Good Work Ethic

The higher up you go in the football ranks, the more talented the competition becomes. In high school, players can often survive on talent alone. They can simply be naturally stronger and faster than their opponents and do just fine for themselves. The same concept applies in college, although to a lesser degree. Many of the players will never get the chance to play professionally, as they simply do not have the ability to overcome their lack of natural gifts, such as size and speed. In the pros, however, everyone has the talent.

No one plays professional football without having some kind of natural ability. It is a league littered with 250-pound Adonises who also happen to run a 4.5 forty-yard dash. There are 6’5″ wide receivers who can leap over defenders as if they were jumping over a fire hydrant. There has never been a lack of athletic freaks in pro football. Oftentimes what separates them on the field, however, is work ethic.

Why do so many high-round draft picks end up fizzling out in the pros? Jamarcus Russell came into the league with one of the strongest arms any scout had ever seen. At 6’6″ and over 250 pounds, Russell was drafted 1st overall by the Oakland Raiders. Unfortunately, he never had the work ethic it took to succeed at this level. Though he showed flash early on in his career, defenses quickly caught up to him. It didn’t matter how talented he was, for the lack of dedication to his craft far outweighed the strength in his arm. His career lasted just three seasons.

Tom Brady, on the other hand, was not given all of the athletic gifts that Russell had. Though he has always had a good arm, he has very little mobility and cannot simply chuck it 70+ yards down the field like Russell could. As a 6th-round pick by the New England Patriots in 2000, Brady needed to rely on his work ethic if he wanted to be successful in the pros.

Brady has spent the next 18 years mastering his craft year in and year out, and his impressive collection of hardware proves that his painstaking dedication is second to none in pro football. From hours of extra film study on upcoming opponents, to a rigorous offseason in which he prepares his body for the grind of a season, there simply are no off-days for “Touchdown Tommy.” With three MVPs (including one in 2017, at the age of 40), five Super Bowl titles and a slew of other records under his belt, Tom Brady’s work ethic has allowed him to continue to defy his body’s athletic limitations. Though he is not yet in Canton, TB12 will go down as one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time–if not the greatest. He is living proof that if you want to be a Hall of Famer, an impeccable work ethic has to be one of the skills in your arsenal.

Lots of Toughness

Football truly is a gladiator sport. It is a game that can be both beautiful and brutal all at once and requires its athletes to perform incredible feats of athleticism while also facing danger from all angles. There will be bumps. There will be bruises. For this reason, those who make it in this sport need to be able to work through the pain. If you want to be a Hall of Famer, you have to be tough.

Perhaps the most famous example of toughness in pro football history involves Hall of Fame defensive back Ronnie Lott. A 14-year player for the 49ers, Raiders and Jets, Lott terrorized opposing offenses from the beginning to the end of his career, making the Pro Bowl ten times and winning four Super Bowls. However, he is perhaps best known for an incident involving a mangled finger of his in 1985.

At the conclusion of the 1985 regular season, Ronnie Lott’s pinkie finger on his left hand was severely broken and gashed. With the playoffs looming just around the corner, Lott decided to simply bandage it up and play the following week. After the 49ers’ season was finally over, Lott was faced with a choice. He could either get surgery on the destroyed finger, which would likely jeopardize his ability to play at the beginning of the next season, or he could simply remove the part of the finger that was damaged. For most, that is not really an option at all. But it was to Lott and, lo and behold, he had a portion of his finger amputated so that he would not miss any playing time.

There are many reasons that Ronnie Lott is on the Mt. Rushmore of defensive backs in football history. As a member of both the college and pro football Hall of Fame, Lott had it all. However, would he have been able to accomplish all that he did without a nearly infinite amount of toughness? Not likely. Toughness is what pushes a player late in the 4th quarter of a close game, when the body is calling for a rest. Toughness is what allows a player to perform at the best of his abilities, even when he is dealing with a laundry list of nagging injuries. Without this resolve, the violence of football can get the most of even the most talented of players. If you want to be a Hall of Fame player, you have to have the toughness to make it there.

It’s a Long Road

You can go through the list of every member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It was not easy for any of them. Each and every one of them had to grind it out through thick and thin, overcoming a myriad of obstacles on their way to Canton, Ohio. If the Hall of Fame is your ultimate goal, then you too must take this journey. You cannot get discouraged when things take a turn for the worse, as they inevitably will sometimes. You must have a work ethic that separates yourself from your equally-talented peers. And you must be as tough as a $2 steak, as they say. If you have all three of these traits, as well as some natural ability, then maybe–just maybe–you will have a bust of your own one day.

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