By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 31, 2009
TAMPA, Fla. -- It's not possible to have a much bigger weekend in pro football than the one that Russ Grimm is about to have. On Saturday, he's up for election to the Hall of Fame. If that doesn't work out for him, he has a quiet, little fallback plan called the Super Bowl, in which he'll participate Sunday as the offensive line coach of the Arizona Cardinals.
Yet the Washington Redskins' former guard was keeping things relatively low-key this week. He chooses not to fret about the Hall of Fame vote and to play down his curious role in this Super Bowl matchup as the man who just missed out on being the coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers and instead went to Arizona and helped Coach Ken Whisenhunt transform the Cardinals.
"Russ is always very level emotionally," Whisenhunt said. "You don't always know what's going to affect him."
Whisenhunt, a former Redskins tight end, endorsed Grimm's Hall of Fame candidacy, calling Grimm "very deserving of it" as "one of the best players ever at his position." Whisenhunt also said, "I know what it would mean to him."
If Grimm gets in, he would be the first member of the Redskins' famed Hogs offensive lines to be enshrined in Canton, Ohio. Those groups helped bring attention to offensive line play among NFL followers. They showed that blockers can be mini-celebrities, at least under the proper circumstances.
"I told him, 'Russ, you should have been in first. You should have been in before me, if in fact I should be in,' " John Riggins, the Redskins' Hall of Fame running back, said at midweek. "I told him in the worst-case scenario, he can have my locker. . . . I hope for Russ's sake that he gets in."
But others had to do Grimm's campaigning this week because he wasn't doing his own, at least not publicly.
"Those are things when I say I don't have a decision in that, so I'm not gonna worry about it," Grimm said. "If it happens, I will be elated. If it doesn't happen, you know, we've still got a game on Sunday. I don't worry about things like that."
But when he was asked whether he thinks the offensive lines on which he played with the Redskins deserve a representative in the Hall of Fame, Grimm said: "I mean, I thought so. But that's me. I'm a little bit biased."
In the year after former Redskins greats Darrell Green and Art Monk were elected, Grimm's candidacy could be a long shot when the media members who serve as Hall of Fame selectors meet Saturday to elect four to seven candidates.
Defensive end Bruce Smith, who finished his career with four seasons with the Redskins after 15 seasons with the Buffalo Bills, is regarded by many observers as a virtual lock to be elected in his first year of eligibility. Fellow first-timers Shannon Sharpe and Rod Woodson also are strong candidates.
Grimm has competition among offensive linemen from fellow candidates Randall McDaniel, Bob Kuechenberg and Dermontti Dawson. The other modern-era finalists are former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Bills owner Ralph Wilson and former players Cris Carter, Richard Dent, Cortez Kennedy, John Randle, Andre Reed and Derrick Thomas. Seniors committee nominees Bob Hayes and Claude Humphrey also are up for consideration.
"I never started playing football to be in the Hall of Fame," Woodson, a former defensive back for four teams, including the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, said this week. "I just got a little better and better. I'm done competing. If they want to put me in the Hall of Fame, that's great. If not, I had a wonderful career and I have a great life now."
Grimm had little time during the week to worry about the vote. He was readying his Arizona blockers to deal Sunday with a Pittsburgh defense that ranked first in the league this season. He knows the Steelers well, having served as their offensive line coach from 2001 through 2006 under former coach Bill Cowher. He was there when the Steelers won the Super Bowl title in Detroit three years ago with a triumph over the Seattle Seahawks. He and Whisenhunt, then Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator, were widely considered as the favorites to succeed Cowher when he exited a year later.
Whisenhunt left to take the head coaching job in Arizona with the Steelers' search still unresolved. The two finalists were Grimm and Mike Tomlin, then the defensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings. There was a report in a Pittsburgh newspaper that Grimm would get the job, but he didn't. It went to Tomlin, and Grimm joined Whisenhunt in Arizona to try to win in a place in which winning seemed next to impossible.
Grimm said he never was told by anyone in the Rooney family, the Steelers' owners, that the job was his. He said he never assumed that it was his. "I didn't know either way until they called me and said the decision was made," Grimm said. "That was fine. I appreciated the opportunity, and I was going to move on."
He praised the job done in Pittsburgh by Tomlin. If Grimm is bitter about being passed over by the Steelers, he didn't say so publicly during the Super Bowl buildup.
"I'm not saying that I didn't want the job," Grimm said. "It's that process. You make a run at something. The decision is made, and you move on. That really doesn't have any bearing on why we're here now. That's part of the business."
Grimm has been in the running for other head coaching jobs around the league. But when he was asked if he remains hopeful that his time to be a head coach in the NFL will come, he shrugged and gave another of those "What can I do about it?" responses.
"I don't worry about that," Grimm said. "I'm worried about this game on Sunday, and that's it right now. You can't look ahead. I never look ahead like that and say, 'Well, maybe this job will come open next year or that job will come open next year.' If it does, it does. If it doesn't, I'm extremely happy doing what I'm doing right now."