Ozzie Newsome doesn't have to worry about earning a place in pro football's ultimate shrine, the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. The Ravens GM was inducted in 1999, nine years after he made the last of his 662 career receptions as a tight end for the Cleveland Browns.
But could he make it again, as a double inductee, for his work as a GM in Baltimore?
The question came to me as I watched the 2015 induction ceremony last weekend. Six of the eight men receiving gold jackets were former players. The other two, Bill Polian and Ron Wolf, were inducted for exceptional work as a front office roster architect.
Polian, 72, built the nucleus of the Buffalo Bills teams that won four AFC titles, drafting future Hall of Famers such as Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas. Amazingly fired in the middle of that run, he moved on to the Indianapolis Colts, drafted Peyton Manning and oversaw years of success that included a Super Bowl victory.
Wolf, 76, began his career as a scout for the Oakland Raiders in the "pride and poise" years, but he is best known for his winning run as the Green Bay Packers' GM beginning in 1991. He acquired Brett Favre and Reggie White and brought glory back to Vince Lombardi's franchise, winning a Super Bowl along the way.
Newsome, 59, is a generation behind them but on his way to building a similarly impressive set of front office credentials. He started as a scout for the Browns and took over the decision-making reins when Art Modell brought the franchise to Baltimore. In two decades as a GM, he has drafted three likely Hall of Famers (Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed) and watched the Ravens win a pair of Super Bowls and make 10 playoff appearances.
Polian and Wolf are deserving inductees with track records that go back decades, but Newsome has already won as many Super Bowls in Baltimore as those two combined to win in Buffalo, Indianapolis and Green Bay.
As of this year, the Hall of Fame is using a new "contributor" category to reward candidates who didn't play or coach – commissioners, owners, general managers, etc. Newsome certainly would get a look one day, it seems, if he and the Ravens continue on their current path. And beyond his work as a GM, he has served for years on the league's competition committee, which determines how the game is played. His voice and opinions are as respected as any in the league.
Curious about Newsome's prospects, I reached out to Joe Horrigan, the Hall of Fame's executive vice president, and asked what surely was a question seldom heard: Can someone go in twice?
Horrigan threw cold water on the idea.
"Ozzie is already in the Hall of Fame and individuals are only elected once. The Hall of Fame continues to document and preserve Ozzie's contributions to the game, but Enshrinement is a one-time honor that lasts forever," Horrigan wrote in an email.
In other words, once you're in, you're in. I guess when the time comes, and if they feel it's appropriate, the people at the Hall will find some way to honor Newsome's record as the Ravens GM. Right now, for instance, on the Hall's website, all references on his testimonial page involve his playing career. That would change.
But even though it turns out the idea of a double inductee is merely a theoretical exercise, it does raise an interesting question. Is there another person in pro football history who warrants such consideration? Someone who played well enough to earn a place in Canton and then had a second act that was just as impressive?
I went over the list of inductees and couldn't come up with anyone.
Mike Ditka made it as a tight end and won a Super Bowl as a coach, but he wasn't a Hall of Fame coach. Gene Upshaw made it as a player and later ran the players' union, but that kind of duty doesn't warrant induction.
Denver's John Elway made it as a quarterback and now he's having success in Newsome's role with the Broncos, running a winning football operation. So he could eventually follow the same path. But he is two Super Bowl wins behind Newsome as a GM. At this point, no one else compares with Newsome as a potential double inductee. If anything, that's a testament to an extraordinary football life. Something special. Really special.