The Pro Football Hall of Fame. It is the biggest individual honor that anyone associated with the sport can have bestowed upon them. Counting this year's inductees, there are only 310 members that have been immortalized with this honor, including 266 former players. There are several former New Orleans Saints that are in the Hall. Most notably, linebacker Rickey Jackson, offensive tackle Willie Roaf, general manager Jim Finks, and 2017 inductee kicker Morten Anderson. Of course, one can’t overlook head coach Hank Stram, running back Earl Campbell, fullback Jim Taylor, defensive end Doug Atkins, and the late Ken Stabler.
The Dome Patrol. Four Saints linebackers that played together from 1986-1992. They were Rickey Jackson, Pat Swilling, Sam Mills, and Vaughan Johnson, and they were intimidating to every opponent that lined up to face them. The Dome Patrol was not only considered to be dominant at the time, but are recognized as one of the most dominant position groups in NFL history.
So WHY then, is only one member of this group, Rickey Jackson, in the Hall of Fame???
Today, we will compare the HOF credentials of Swilling, Mills, and Johnson up against a few of the linebackers that are already enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Given the differences in rules changes, statistical tracking, and basic strategy approaches in the NFL over the decades, I have chosen to compare five linebackers who played within the similar period of time as did these Saints defenders. This is not to suggest one bit that these players did not deserve the honor given to them. It’s merely to show that these former Saints deserve every bit to be enshrined alongside these greats of the game.
Andre Tippett (2008 inductee)
Tippett was a terrific outside linebacker for the New England Patriots for 12 years (1982-93). He had 100 sacks in his career, including three double-digit seasons, and a high of 18.5 in 1984. He made five Pro Bowls, and two seasons where he was All-Pro. Tippett was voted onto the NFL All Decade team of the 1980s.
Derrick Thomas (2009 inductee)
Thomas played 11 years for the Kansas City Chiefs, from 1989-99. He was voted to 9 Pro Bowls, and was an All-Pro twice. Thomas had 126.5 sacks, with seven years of double-digit totals and a league high of 20 in 1990. He has the NFL record for sacks in a single game with 7 (set in 1990), and second-most sacks as well with 6 in a 1998 contest. He also scored four defensive touchdowns and recorded 3 safeties in his career, to go along with an amazing 41 fumbles forced. Rookie of the Year in 1989, and also a member of the All-Decade Team of the 1990s.
Derrick Brooks (2014 inductee)
The only Super Bowl champion of our group (more on that later), Brooks was a player on the feared Tampa Bay Buccaneer defenses for 14 seasons (1995-2008). He scored 7 defensive touchdowns on 25 interceptions and 4 fumble recoveries as well as forcing 24 fumbles and adding 13.5 sacks. He scored a memorable touchdown in Tampa's Super Bowl XXXVII victory, and was the 2002 NFL Defensive Player of the year. 11 Pro Bowls, All-Pro 5 times, and a member of the NFL's All-Decade team of the 2000's.
Junior Seau (2015 inductee)
Seau played 20 seasons in the NFL with the Chargers, Dolphins, and Patriots. The bulk of his career was spent in San Diego, from 1990-2002. He had 56.5 sacks, 18 interceptions, 11 forced fumbles, 18 fumble recoveries and a touchdown over the course of his career. Seau made NFL All-Pro six times, and voted to the Pro Bowl a total of twelve. He was a member of the NFL's All-Decade Team of the 1990s.
Kevin Greene (2016 inductee)
Greene played 15 professional seasons with the Rams, Steelers, Panthers, and 49ers. He is 3rd on the NFL all-time sacks list with 160, leading the league in that statistic twice, with 5 seasons in the top ten. He had Ten seasons of double-digit sacks, forced 26 fumbles, as well as recording 3 safeties and scoring 3 defensive touchdowns. All-Pro twice, five Pro Bowls, and a member of the NFL All-Decade team of the 1990's.
Let's see how the three members of the Dome Patrol not in the Hall of Fame stack up statistically:
Pat Swilling (Saints - 1986-92; Lions - 1993-94; Raiders - 1995-98)
Swilling was undoubtedly one of the most feared pass rushers in the league. He had 107.5 sacks in 12 years, including 76.5 as a Saint. He had six seasons of double-digit sacks, including three in the top five and a league leading 17 sacks in 1991. Swilling forced an incredible 36 fumbles, and also added six interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries.
He was the NFL Defensive player of the year in 1991, made 5 Pro Bowls and was an All-Pro twice. When Swilling left the Saints to go to Detroit in 1993, the Lions thought so highly of him that they actually "unretired" the No. 56 so he could wear it. The number was retired due to the exploits of Lions great Joe Schmidt (a Hall of Famer himself). To this day, No. 56 has only been worn by two players throughout the long history of the Detroit Lions— Pat Swilling and Joe Schmidt.
Sam Mills (Saints= 1986-94; Panthers= 1995-97)
Mills began his professional career in the USFL from 1983-85, where he was All-USFL three times and won two league championships with the Philadelphia and Baltimore Stars. He joined the Saints in 1986, and would go on to be one of the NFL's most respected linebackers for 12 seasons. He had 20.5 sacks, 11 interceptions, forced 22 fumbles and recovered 23 fumbles while scoring 3 defensive touchdowns and being among the league's perennial leaders in tackles. Mills was voted to five Pro Bowls, and was All-Pro 3 times. A member of the NFL's All-Decade team of the 1990s, Mills is not only a member of the Saints Hall of Fame, but his number 51 is also retired by the Carolina Panthers.
Vaughan Johnson (Saints= 1986-93; Eagles= 1994)
Johnson, like Mills, came to the Saints from the USFL. Over his eight seasons as a Saint, Johnson was one of the most feared and intimidating hitters in the league. His career totals of 12 sacks, 4 interceptions, and 11 fumbles forced did not reflect how valuable of a defender he was to New Orleans. Respect was certainly shown by his peers, evidenced by 4 straight Pro Bowl berths from 1989-1992. Johnson is also a member of the Saints Hall of Fame.
Does a statistical comparison show that Swilling, Mills, and Johnson were all elite defenders in their time? Check. One criteria for "The Hall" often asks how the player has affected the game, or if they have changed the game. Let's remember the fact that the Dome Patrol is still mentioned among the best position groups, in NFL HISTORY, and this 25 years after they began to break up.
Consider this as well, the San Francisco 49ers teams of the late 80s and early 90s are one of the most respected dynasties in NFL history. When they get asked who their toughest opponent was, coaches and players of those teams say that it was those New Orleans Saints defenses; mentioning both the entire group and individual players (the most reverence is typically for Vaughan Johnson and Sam Mills. I would call that respect, and affecting the game. Check.
Okay, there's the playoff thing. Fairly or not, some players' inductions over the years have been delayed, due primarily to a lack of postseason success. Fair? Probably not, but reality. The New Orleans Saints made the playoffs four times (1987, '90, '91, and ‘92) while the members of the Dome Patrol were intact. Even though those were the first playoff appearances in the franchise's entire history, and largely would not have been possible if not for the performance of these linebackers, the fact remains that the team did not win a single playoff game.
Jackson eventually did win a Super Bowl, as a part of the 1994 San Francisco 49ers. Swilling played in two more playoff games after leaving New Orleans, losing them both and dropping his playoff record to 0-6. Mills did win a playoff game with the Panthers, finishing his career with an 1-5 playoff record.
Many of the outstanding players in the Hall of Fame have had little postseason success as well. Some with lesser credentials then those possessed by Swilling, Mills, or Johnson. Tippett made the playoffs in only 3 of his 12 seasons as a player. He did play in one Super Bowl with the Patriots, a 46-10 loss to the Bears in SB XX, and his teams finished with a 3-3 playoff record.
Derrick Thomas' Chiefs were notorious for their playoff failures. He appeared in the playoffs in seven different seasons, but only came away with a record of 3-7, often losing to teams where his squads were heavily favored. Brooks is the exception to the players that we highlighted, having won a championship with Tampa Bay. Other than that win, and the two victories leading to the Super Bowl, Tampa's playoff record during Brooks' career was only 2-6 in six appearances.
Seau was part of only five playoff teams over his 20-year career, with a record of 5-5 and two Super Bowl losses. Kevin Greene was a part of nine playoff teams. He played well in the majority of those games, his teams still went 8-9 with a single Super Bowl loss.
Every single one of the players, coaches, and contributors in the Pro Football Hall of Fame are deserving of the honor given to them. Pat Swilling, Sam Mills, and Vaughan Johnson are every bit as deserving to take their place alongside Dome Patrol teammate Rickey Jackson, and alongside the greats of football history.
Which Dome Patrol member is most deserving of Hall of Fame induction?
This poll is closed