Jerry Kramer and Bobby Dillon, two notable omissions for decades, are the most recent Green Bay Packers to gain admission to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
One can only hope LeRoy Butler, who helped to redefine the safety position in the 1990s, is next.
But who are the Packers who might have made a run at the Hall of Fame had their careers not been cut short or their effectiveness limited by devastating injuries? It's always risky to predict greatness, but here are six who might have had a chance, starting with the least likely to the most likely:
Tim Lewis (1983-86)
Drafted in the first round, Lewis was a cerebral cornerback with good size who picked off 16 passes in his first three seasons, including a team-record 99-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams in 1984.
Lewis was on the verge of stardom when he collided with Chicago wide receiver Willie Gault on a slant in the third game of his fourth season and didn't get up. He regained the feeling in his arms and legs before he left for the hospital, but retired two days later on the advice of doctors due to a narrow spinal canal. The Hall of Fame might be a stretch, but Lewis was emerging as one of the NFL's top cornerbacks when his career abruptly ended.
Eddie Lee Ivery (1979-86)
A first-round draft pick, the dual-threat halfback rushed for 2,933 yards — a 4.4-yard average — and caught 162 passes in eight seasons with the Packers. Unfortunately, it could have been so much better, especially if Ivery had never seen Soldier Field in Chicago.
Ivery's play during exhibition games as a rookie had Packers coaches raving about his potential. In the third carry of his first regular-season game, however, he collapsed to the Soldier Field turf with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee after making a cut. Two years later, Ivery reinjured the same knee in another season opener at Soldier Field.
Ivery was an exceptional open-field runner and the injuries not only cost him two of his first three seasons, they took away some of his quickness. No one knows how good Ivery might have been, but the potential for stardom was there.
Nick Collins (2005-11)
It took Collins time to find his footing after being drafted in the second round in 2005, but he was one of the NFL's best safeties by 2008, when he returned three of his seven interceptions for touchdowns.
Extremely fast, Collins had great range and was still an ascending player when he suffered a herniated disk in his neck against Carolina in the second game of the 2011 season, an injury that forced him to retire at 28. He will forever be remembered for his interception return for a touchdown that gave the Packers a 14-0 first-quarter lead in their victory over Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV. Two games later, his career was over. With only three great seasons on his resume, any chance Collins had of making the Hall of Fame was over, too.
Gale Gillingham (1966-76)
Raised in Stoughton before moving to Minnesota for high school, Gillingham had the distinction of replacing two legends, Fuzzy Thurston at left guard in 1967 and Kramer at right guard in 1969. Packers team historian Cliff Christl, a former Hall of Fame voter, has written that many of Gillingham's former teammates and coaches considered him the best guard and possibly the best offensive lineman in franchise history.
Blessed with size, strength, speed and a nasty disposition, the first-round pick won Super Bowl rings his first two seasons, was named first-team All-Pro four times and was the first winner of the Forrest Gregg NFL Lineman of the Year Award in 1970. Coach Dan Devine inexplicably moved Gillingham to defensive tackle five days before the season opener in 1972 and a season-ending injury to his right knee suffered in the second game left him playing in pain for the rest of his career. The combination of playing through pain and toiling for lousy teams with coaches he didn't respect led to his premature retirement during training camp in 1975. He returned in 1976, then retired again after the season. Gillingham is worthy of being in the Hall of Fame, but his shortened career hurts his chances.
Willie Buchanan (1972-78)
Some scouts thought Buchanan was the best cornerback prospect ever when the Packers drafted him in the first round and he looked the part while earning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors in 1972. Greatness seemed assured, but six games into the 1973 season, Buchanan got tangled up with Rams wide receiver Jack Snow in the end zone and broke the tibia and fibula in his left leg, an injury so severe doctors told him he might never play again. Although Buchanan played seven seasons with the Packers and four more for the San Diego Chargers, he was never quite as dominant after that.
Big, fast and physical with textbook technique, Buchanan didn't totally lose it, not even after he broke his fibula again in 1975. He had nine interceptions in 1978, his final season in Green Bay. He just wasn't the player some thought had a chance to be the best cornerback ever and a sure-fire Hall of Famer.
Sterling Sharpe (1988-1994)
Although he played only seven seasons before a neck injury forced him to retire, Sharpe should be getting more Hall of Fame buzz than he has. A first-round pick, he made it to 500 receptions faster than any NFL receiver, led the league in catches three times and was a three-time first-team AP All-Pro selection.
After a sophomore season in which he caught 90 passes for 1,423 yards and 12 touchdowns, Sharpe was widely considered the best wide receiver in the NFL not named Jerry Rice. But the best was yet to come. His 108 receptions in 1992 broke Art Monk's single-season record. He then reset the record at 112 in 1993. In three seasons with Brett Favre at quarterback, Sharpe caught 314 passes for 3,854 yards and 44 touchdowns. He might still be worthy, but two or three more years at that level and Sharpe would have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
© 2020 The Wisconsin State Journal
Visit The Wisconsin State Journal at www.wisconsinstatejournal.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.