Jessie “The Hammer” Tuggle is a beloved Falcons alum that just so happens to be Falcons DT Grady Jarrett’s father. Given all the buzz surrounding the decision to hit Jarrett with the franchise tag this week, now seems like an apt time to circle back and talk about Tuggle. In particular, I want to talk about why Tuggle deserves to be in the Hall of Fame.
Let me begin my case by presenting the universe of facts within which we’re operating. Tuggle made the Pro Bowl 5 times in the 1990s. That bears repeating: 5 time Pro Bowler. He also earned All Pro honors 3 times during that time frame. Over 14 seasons, Tuggle racked up 10 fumble recoveries, 1,804 tackles (fourth all-time), 6 defensive TDs, and 21 sacks. He started 189 games for the Falcons and held the record for fumble recoveries for a touchdown (5) until Jason Taylor dethroned him in 2009. He led the NFL in combined tackles four times and his 207 combined tackles in 1991 still ranks second all-time.
While I understand tackle totals are a poor metric by which to assess a player’s contributions, these numbers fairly reflect the otherworldly workload Tuggle shouldered over three decades as a professional. He was an NFL fixture who consistently played at a high level over an atypically long career at a brutal position. In short, his ability to contribute, contribute consistently, and contribute for a very long time has to count for something.
For Tuggle this has become a numbers game. Only 25 semi-finalists are chosen by the Selection Committee each season. From there between 4 and 8 players are inducted. Players must have the support of 80 percent of the Selection Committee Board to be selected. When the criteria requires such extreme narrowing, a player like Tuggle who played for a team like the Falcons is going to struggle to stay in the conversation after a while. Tuggle retired almost 20 years ago, and first became Hall of Fame eligible in 2005. He wasn’t among the semi-finalists last season, and I’ll be shocked if he makes it that far again any time soon. But that’s not fair. That’s not how it should be. Because if Tuggle played for a different team, under different circumstances, during a different time period, he’d undoubtedly garner more recognition.
If there’s a poster child for why this nomination process is flawed, it’s Tuggle. This isn’t how it should work, and frankly, it’s the omission of players like Tuggle that undermines the entire process. Do better, Selection Committee. Do better.