For the 19 years he’s been eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Joe Jacoby has been realistic about his chances. He was a quiet guy throughout his career, with a modest college résumé, playing a non-sexy position for a winning team filled with more noticeable Hall of Famers. But that doesn’t mean Jacoby doesn’t want to hear his name called this weekend, especially with his chances running out.
“Being a competitor, I guess I go into every situation looking to win,” he said this week, before flying down to Houston, where he’ll be one of 15 finalists hoping to get the nod. “I’ve been thinking about it. I’ve got a one-in-15 chance like everybody else does. … I think we all go in with a mind set that ‘I’ve got a shot, and I look to win.’ To me, it’s like playing another game: it’s a chance to win.”
There is some reason for optimism for the longtime Hog, one of three Redskins to start in all four Gibbs-era Super Bowls. He made the final 10 last year, and momentum sometimes comes into play with these things. “Jacoby caught a late wave into the final 10 and was a threat to make it to Canton,” one voter wrote after the decision. Former teammates Art Monk and Russ Grimm needed at least six chances as finalists before they finally broke through. And while Jacoby went against legendary left tackles the last few years — Jonathan Ogden (2013), Walter Jones (2014) and Orlando Pace (2016) are all recent inductees at that position — the other offensive line finalists this year could be less imposing: Kevin Mawae, Alan Faneca and Tony Boselli.
“Everyone in that room has a pretty good résumé,” Jacoby said. “Past history, I don’t know if it plays a part into it. You would think it might, as far as making it in the top 10 last year and now coming back. You’ve been in the room. Guys have heard about your résumé. It’s just at that moment, does that qualify for what they want, for each individual’s criteria for what a Hall of Famer is?”
The argument in favor of Jacoby starts with his longevity and his team’s success. He started for three Super Bowl winners, in front of three different quarterbacks and three different running backs. His 12 years as a starter coincided almost exactly with the best era in franchise history: eight playoff appearances and just one losing season. He played in 21 playoff games, tied for the most in franchise history. He missed 16 games during those 12 years of starting, and he excelled while playing in the league’s best division against some of its best pass rushers.
“Why he hasn’t been inducted into the Hall of Fame remains a mystery that’s worthy of Sherlock Holmes,” John Riggins said of Jacoby, in a quote that will be presented to voters.
He also played the most important position on the team’s most important unit, an offensive line that already sent Grimm to Canton. Former linemate Mark May once called Jacoby “the most dominant lineman in the whole NFL.”
“What do you think we won with?” former center Jeff Bostic once asked. “I don’t really have a dog in this fight. I just know that he deserves to be there.”
Former Redskins beat writer David Elfin, who will be making Jacoby’s case in Houston, helped get Grimm into the Hall in 2010, and he thinks Jacoby is even more deserving.
“Russ can get on a plane and punch me in the mouth, but if I was pushed against a wall, I would say Joe should get in by a minute margin over Russ, because he played left tackle,” Elfin said this week. “Russ was tremendous and deserves to be in. But that Jacoby’s not in is just wrong, and I think he should have been first.”
Jacoby, in his 19th of 20 seasons of eligibility, lives in Charlotte, where he works in insurance and is a volunteer high school offensive line coach. He said he’ll likely spend Saturday morning walking around Houston and trying not to worry about the discussion going on among the 48 voters. LaDainian Tomlinson is “the surest thing in this group,” according to Clark Judge, a voter who handicaps such things. Kurt Warner, who’s made the top 10 twice, is not far behind. But Judge labeled Jacoby an “outside favorite” because of his top-10 finish last year, and his small remaining window.
“He’s running out of eligibility, and voters may figure it’s now or never … with now holding the early lead,” Judge wrote. “Hall-of-Fame voters love tackles, particularly left tackles, and Jacoby is next in line here.”
What would it mean to him?
“I guess a cherry on top of a sundae is the best way to put it, a culmination of everything,” Jacoby said. “Let’s put it this way, I’m enjoying this journey. For somebody who wasn’t drafted, who was thought of as a defensive lineman, now I’m close to being in the Hall of Fame. I’m just going down with my wife, and we’re just going to enjoy Houston, enjoy the things they have us involved with, and just enjoy what we have. And then see what happens after that.”