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Which long shot NFL Hall of Fame nominee would you love to see in Canton?

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102 players and coaches got nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and some names don’t have a chance of making it in.

Larry Centers #37

The Pro Football Hall of Fame released its 102 modern era nominees for its class of 2019, and the group is headlined by several big names. Tony Gonzales, Champ Bailey, Ed Reed, and London Fletcher make up a stacked class of first-time selections. 2017 finalists Tony Boselli, Ty Law, John Lynch, and Isaac Bruce will all make their cases for inclusion alongside them. The rest of the list is dotted with the kind of players you’d get excited about finding in a $2 pack of Donruss cards — guys like Randall Cunningham, Sterling Sharpe, and Karl Mecklenburg.

And then there’s the guys whose jerseys you bought years ago and had since forgotten. The players who may have scraped greatness for a few seasons before becoming journeymen, or the veterans who have a great case for inclusion in the Hall of Pretty Good.

Dig through the 102 nominees and you’re sure to find a guy you once loved, but haven’t thought about in more than a decade. The players who don’t have a legitimate case for Hall inclusion, but who you want to see immortalized out of sheer love. Maybe they were the first player you rooted for as a child, and that made them larger than life. Maybe they were your fantasy football standby or the player who snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in an otherwise meaningless Week 16 game. Maybe you just liked the way they blocked and made their teammates better.

These are the players on 2018’s list of nominees we know won’t make it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but who we’re irrationally rooting for regardless.

Larry Centers, fullback

Centers was never supposed to make it in the NFL. He was a college fullback at Steven F. Austin University who ran for just 4.2 yards per carry against I-AA competition and a fifth-round flier for one of the league’s most inept franchises in 1990. He found a roster spot because he was an average kick returner on a team with few other options. In his first two seasons, he had just 33 total offensive touches.

But he got better.

Centers developed into the league’s premier fullback, a pass-catching hybrid who was ahead of his time through his 14 seasons in the league. He could pick up blitzes or clear a path for the multitude of mediocre tailbacks (Leeland McElroy, LeShon Johnson, Adrian Murrell, Ronald Moore) behind him in Phoenix. He could push the pile in short yardage situations too, but his biggest value was as a checkdown option who made quarterbacks like fellow HoF nominee Dave Krieg, Boomer Esiason, Chris Chandler, Jay Schroeder, Jake Plummer, and Steve Beuerlein look a little less awful.

If you were stuck with the Cardinals playing any of the mid-90s Madden games, Centers was your saving grace. The guy could do everything. And the football gods smiled down upon him by allowing him to earn a Super Bowl ring in 2003 as a depth option for the Patriots. — Christian D’Andrea

Fred Taylor, running back

If there was a most underrated wing of the Hall of Fame, Taylor would deserve a spot front and center.

The 6’1, 234-pound running back was an absurd combination of power, quickness, and speed — he ran a 4.29 40-yard dash at the combine — and immediately one of the best players in the NFL when he was drafted by the Jaguars in 1998. Taylor finished his rookie year with 1,223 rushing yards, 12 rushing touchdowns, 421 receiving yards, and three receiving touchdowns.

That would’ve been more than enough for Offensive Rookie of the Year in most years, but unfortunately for Taylor, he came into the league the same year as Randy Moss and Peyton Manning. That ended up being the precursor to an entire career of being overlooked.

Taylor didn’t make the Pro Bowl as a rookie. He also didn’t make it in 2000 when he rushed for 1,399 yards and 12 touchdowns, or in 2003 when he had 1,572 rushing yards.

He’s the only player in NFL history to have five different seasons with at least 1,200 rushing yards that each didn’t earn a Pro Bowl nod. In 2007 — as Taylor’s star was beginning to fade and Maurice Jones-Drew was taking the mantle in Jacksonville — he finally got to a Pro Bowl.

The only players ahead of him on the all-time rushing list are Frank Gore, Edgerrin James, and players already in the Hall of Fame. He’s one of three players — along with Barry Sanders and Adrian Peterson — to have more than 2,500 career attempts and average at least 4.5 yards per carry.

Taylor getting the recognition he deserves for being one of the best running backs ever is long overdue. — Adam Stites

Takeo Spikes, linebacker

Takeo Spikes was a tackling machine. There wasn’t a player in the league he couldn’t bring down. I only became familiar with his work when he joined the San Francisco 49ers later in his career, but I quickly became a fan of what he was able to do on the field next to Patrick Willis and also a fan of the man himself.

He’s hilarious, driven, charismatic, thoughtful and so many other things that made him a great teammate and a great player to listen to on the sidelines, in interviews, and in the locker room. Covering the 49ers while Spikes was around was always a good time.

But let’s talk stats.

In his three seasons with the 49ers, Spikes missed just four tackles. He led all linebackers in most attempted tackles per miss in 2010, supposedly when he was on the “decline.” A two-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro selection, Spikes was one of only seven linebackers to make it to 200 career starts, and only one time over his 15 seasons did he record fewer than 70 tackles in a single season. He was a team captain for 13 seasons of his career, all but two of them. He finished his career with 1,423 combined tackles, more than, say, Brian Urlacher.

Unfortunately, Spikes never once made it to the playoffs. He played in 219 regular season games, the most of any player who didn’t make the playoffs in NFL history. We never got to see if Spikes had another level that he could elevate to in a playoff atmosphere. That saddens me a great deal, and I still hope he can make it into the Hall, even if he’s a longshot. — James Brady

Eddie George, running back

Eddie George is already a Hall of Famer ... as in, the College Football Hall of Fame. The 1995 Heisman winner — and star of one of the most talented Ohio State teams ever (albeit one that somehow only went 11-2) — George was inducted as a member of the 2011 class.

He won’t make it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, though. Running backs who average 3.6 yards per carry aren’t getting a bust in Canton. But George was always more than his stats. He was an ironman.

In his nine-year career, George rushed for more than 10,000 yards, which is impressive but not exactly out of the ordinary: 30 other running backs in NFL history have also done that, and half of them aren’t in the Hall of Fame either.

But the way George did it was special. He reached 10,000 yards without missing a start, something only Hall of Famer Jim Brown has done. George started 128 straight games, second to another Hall of Famer, Walter Payton, who started 170.

He reached his peak in the first half of his career. George followed up his Offensive Rookie of the Year season with four straight Pro Bowl nods, rushing for at least 1,290 yards all five seasons. In 2000, he led the league in touches after he helped carry the Titans to the Super Bowl the year before.

George’s contributions to the Titans’ Super Bowl run shouldn’t be overlooked, as they often are. Everyone remembers the Music City Miracle and Kevin Dyson coming up a yard short. But George was a beast that postseason, with 108 carries for 449 yards and three touchdowns, including a 162-yard performance against the Colts in the Divisional Round. He scored the Titans’ only two touchdowns against the Rams in the Super Bowl.

Even after his workhorse 2000 season, George rushed for 939 yards and then put together back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in his final two years with the Titans. Today, he remains the franchise’s all-time leading rusher.

George was consistent, durable, and all power.

Look at his dude. He’s huge:

Eddie George #27
Edd-ie! Edd-ie! Edd-ie!

He also had a memorable rivalry with Ray Lewis (yet another Hall of Famer).

“I had to get pills to go to sleep before facing him,” Lewis said of George. “You knew it was going to be a car wreck every time facing Eddie.”

Remember, that’s one of the NFL’s most feared defenders saying that about a running back.

Lewis and the Ravens got the better of George and the Titans a few times, including in the AFC Divisional Round the year the Ravens won the Super Bowl.

The Titans came out on top in the AFC Wild Card Round three years later. One of George’s most signature plays was gaining just a single yard — all because he stiff-armed Lewis:

But that yard still made a difference. Two plays later, Gary Anderson sneaked in a 45-yard field goal that proved to be the difference in the Titans’ 20-17 win.

That play isn’t enough to get someone in the Hall of Fame ... but anyone who can shut up Lewis for a second probably deserves it. (Same for anyone who survives so many seasons of Jeff Fisher.)

Nowadays, George has branched out into acting and has done everything from Shakespeare to Chicago. Forget about the EGOT — wouldn’t it be cool if George could be the first PEGOT winner? — Sarah Hardy