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Pete Gogolak of the Bills and Giants was the first to illustrate that little guys with soccer backgrounds could win games for you -- within a few years, every team had one – and Stenerud was the best of that first generation, a seven-time All-Pro with what was then regarded as astounding range. He was the kicker on the NFL's 75th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1994.
Given his place in history, you can't quibble with his selection, yet when you take a close look, Stenerud's numbers pale next to those of more recent kickers such as Stover, Morten Anderson and others.
Anderson, the NFL's all-time scoring leader, kicked 565 field goals and scored 2,544 points over 25 seasons, successfully converting 79.7 percent of his field goal attempts. Stover is in the same ballpark as the fourth all-time leading scorer with 2,004 points, having converted a superb 83.7 percent of his attempts.
Over a career of the same length (19 years) as Stover's, Stenerud scored 305 fewer points than Stover, kicked 98 fewer field goals and converted a substantially lower 66.8 percent of his attempts.
With all due respect, kickers who convert 66.8 percent of their attempts today don't keep their jobs.
Shoot, Stenerud converted less than half of his attempts of 40-plus yards during his career, making just 94 of 214 or 44 percent. Stover was far better at that distance, converting 66 percent from 40-plus yards.
What has happened, of course, is that kicking games -- and kickers themselves – have evolved, matured and dramatically improved in the post-Stenerud years as coaches realized how much they could help. Improved conditioning, specific coaching, sounder techniques and better field conditions have made kicking a higher-percentage venture.
Kickers have become so proficient that they take up the first 26 slots on the all-time scoring list. Today's game is populated by tons of guys like Stover who have kicked at a high level for years. Jason Hanson has toiled in obscurity for the lamentable Lions for almost two decades, but his numbers are better than Stenerud's and he's seventh on the league's all-time scoring list.
What all this means is the Hall of Fame selection committee is about to face some tough decisions as these guys retire. Kickers have become so central to the game and also so proficient that they no longer can be kept out of the Hall just because they don't block, tackle or run with the ball. Sorry, that thinking is hopelessly outdated at this point.
But so many kickers have such good numbers that a line needs to be drawn somewhere or you're going to end up with an entire Hall of kickers.
In other words, a set of standards needs to be established – and inevitably will be as these case-by-case calls are made.
Morten Anderson, as the league's all-time top scorer, certainly deserves a Hall selection, as does Adam Vinatieiri, who booted a pair of Super Bowl-winning kicks on top of a Stover-like career.
Stover? He ranks right near the top of this generation of super kickers. His proficiency was astounding. He is close -- really, really close.
It would be a great thing to see.
John Eisenberg *covers the Ravens for Comcast SportsNet Baltimore. He worked in the newspaper business for 28 years as a sports columnist, with much of that time coming at the Baltimore Sun. While working for the Sun, Eisenberg spent time covering the Ravens, among other teams and events, including the Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series and Olympics. Eisenberg is also the author of seven sports-themed books.*