Earlier this week, two former Wisconsin Badgers football stars were named finalists for the National College Football Hall of Fame. Those players were from two very different eras, as former cornerback Troy Vincent and offensive lineman Joe Thomas were named to the long list of finalists.
In order to be eligible for selection to the hall, players must be 10 years removed from their last season in college football and have been selected as a first team All-American by one of the selector organizations recognized by the NCAA. They also must have played their last collegiate season within the last 50 years. So, for the 2019 class, only players who played from 1969 and on would be eligible for the Hall of Fame this year.
Additionally, the player must meet off the field criteria as stated by the National Football Foundation:
“He must have proven himself worthy as a citizen, carrying the ideals of football forward into his relations with his community and his fellow man, with love of his country. Consideration may also be given for academic honors and whether the candidate earned a college degree.”
Finally, a player from any school may only be selected every other year and the last Badger player to be selected was Tim Krumrie back in 2016.
Now that we know the criteria for selection, it got us wondering what the Badgers future for the Hall of Fame may be.
Here are five players we believe should sit in the Hall of Fame based off the criteria they set forth.
1) Troy Vincent
Obviously Vincent is one of the top candidates for the CFB Hall of Fame, after all he is one of the two Badgers listed as a finalist this season.
What puts him at the top of the list for us though? Simply put, Vincent transformed how Wisconsin played in the secondary and how players saw the Badgers as a whole. By the time he left Madison, it was cool to come to UW and expect to make it to the next level.
He came to UW in 1988 and stuck through two horrendously bad seasons before becoming a cornerstone of the turnaround that Barry Alvarez put in place beginning in 1990. If there is a player who exemplifies the turnaround Wisconsin made, it is Vincent.
Vincent had 4 career touchdowns (2 in his final season at UW) and was a 1st team All-American in 1991. He also still holds the Badgers record for punt return yards (773) and passes defensed in career (31) Wisconsin not coincidentally, went 5-6 in 1991 and its first multi-win Big Ten campaign since Jim Hilles led the team in 1986. Vincent was one key component to that turnaround and one of the best individual players to ever come through Madison….having scored three punt return touchdowns for his career at Wisconsin.
Simply put, if you were to put a players Mount Rushmore of Alvarez’s era to today, Vincent would easily make that list. The combination of his overall skill and is importance to where the Badgers program is today puts him at the top of our list.
2) Joe Thomas
Many great offensive lineman came before Joe Thomas, but few have been able to equal his production and prowess before or after. He was a consensus first team All-American and Outland Trophy winner (one of just 4 in UW history) in 2006. Thomas also was a three-time All-Big Ten selection (first team honors in 2005, 2006).
He was the model of consistency while with the Badgers, starting the final 38 games in his final three seasons as Wisconsin.
UW athletic director Barry Alvarez may have put it best regarding Thomas:
“He is the best lineman to ever come through here,” said Alvarez, via the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “Everything came easy to him. He was such a good athlete. His hand placement. His feet. He was always right on.”
All you need to know is Thomas was put on the ballot and made the finals in his first year of eligibility. Maybe he makes it before Vincent does, and we’d be perfectly alright with that choice. After all, both are as close to sure-bets to get in eventually as you could have.
3) Jim Leonhard
How Jim Leonhard hasn’t been named a finalist for the College Football Hall of Fame yet is beyond us.
Yes, Leonhard holds a special place in the hearts of Badgers fans for his story — going from small-town Wisconsin to walk-on to three-time All-American and all. Not only is his story great, but he proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he belongs in the hall with just his performance on the field.
Leonhard finished his career at Wisconsin with 21 career interceptions (tied for the record with another name on this list), while also putting up 50 passes defensed (25 of which came in his sophomore campaign). He played in every game of his career, including starts in the final 39 games as a Badger.
He’s also begun to contribute in a major way to the UW’s history as a coach, going from first-year defensive backs coach to defensive coordinator the very next season. Leonhard’s defense was one of the best in program history by the numbers last season and his contributions to the game are enormous.
One has to believe Leonhard makes his name to the finalist list sooner than later, and if not it is one of the biggest misses in NFF Hall of Fame selection.
4) Jamar Fletcher
Few defensive backs could have followed in the shadow that Troy Vincent created and that proved true for most of the 1990’s. Then a guy named Jamar Fletcher came along and re-defined the position and what could be done with it at Wisconsin.
Fletcher was one of the most athletic cornerbacks the Badgers had ever had up until that point and arguably through today’s crop of young corners. In his three years at UW, Fletcher piled up 21 interceptions (7 every year), five of which were returned for touchdowns. He also added
In his final season, Fletcher’s reputation and performance equaled a huge season. He would be a three-time first team All-Big Ten selection, a freshman All-American (1998) and a two-time All-American selection. Fletcher would also go on to win the Jim Thorpe Award and the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year award in 2000 before a nine-year NFL career.
Just in case you forgot, he also helped secure UW’s win over UCLA in the 1999 Rose Bowl with a key 4th quarter interception.
Few defensive backs were as transcendent as Fletcher was while with the Badgers and between his speed and instinct, he instilled fear in some of the best quarterbacks the Big Ten had ever seen. It will be interesting to see if and when Fletcher gets on the finalist list, because he clearly earned it.
5) Chris McIntosh
When you think Wisconsin football, you think offensive linemen. That has been the hallmark of UW football all the way back to the early days with Bob “Butts” Butler (who is in the Hall of Fame) and up to today’s talented and deep group of offensive linemen.
He was a first team All-American selection by three different organizations in his senior season of 1999, started 50 straight games in his career and was one of the captains on UW’s back-to-back Rose Bowl championship teams. While some other names may overshadow him in terms of what happened after their Wisconsin careers, few could hold a candle to what McIntosh did to make the UW line more athletic instead of just straight big maulers.
Currently, McIntosh bleeds UW’s Cardinal and White in the form of being deputy athletic director under his former head coach, Barry Alvarez.
One More Name: Montee Ball
One name you may not see on this list that should be there is running back Montee Ball. Unfortunately, his stint in jail due to domestic abuse is likely to keep him off the list for a long time to come. On the field, there’s little doubt that Ball is worthy of the Hall of Fame, after all he did leave the game as one of the most productive running backs in college football history.
But, even his 5,140 yards, 77 rushing touchdowns and 5.6 yards per carry may not be enough to overcome some of his issues off the field due to his battle with alcoholism and domestic abuse. As of earlier this year, Ball had not complied with the main parts of a plea deal that saw him get probation on a domestic abuse charge.
If Ball can clean things up and become a positive force for battling against addiction like this, perhaps there will be a place for him in the Hall of Fame. As of now, it’s hard to see him getting in, but time will be the ultimate judge of his potential as a Hall of Famer…I mean, Eric Dickerson still sits outside the Hall of Fame despite being clearly one of the best running backs in the history of the game.