When it came to selecting guards for the GridFe Hall of Fame, voters tended to go with mauling run blockers who also happened to have the ability to protect quarterbacks. This makes sense, as for most of football history coaches have devoted more attention to power in the middle and finesse on the edges. However, it is clear that guards of the future will have to be able to prioritize mitigating interior pressure while also providing a push in the rushing attack. With the continuing evolution of the game, the increasing emphasis on passing will necessitate this. As it stands, the GridFe voting committee selected ten guards for the inaugural Hall of Fame class. Overall, we gave votes to 17 individual guards. Below are the ones who made the cut.1
Hall of Fame Offensive Guards
Jim Parker (1957-1967)
8 First Team All Pros; 1 Second Team All Pro; 8 Pro Bowls; 2 Title Wins; 1 Title Loss; 1 GridFe World Award; 1 GridFe Sweetness Award; 3 GridFe Guardian Awards; 4 GridFe Hog Awards
Nicknamed the Guardian for the pride he took in protecting quarterback Johnny Unitas (and the aplomb with which he did it), Parker is one of the few linemen in history for whom the title of Greatest of All Time wouldn’t be hyperbole. He began his career as a left tackle and effectively kept smaller, quicker ends out of the backfield, earning all pro honors in four of his five seasons at the position. Then he moved to the inside and earned four more all pro selections at guard, neutralizing powerful defenders with seeming ease. Parker was so superb against legendary end Andy Robustelli in the 1959 Championship Game that broadcasters actually isolated his performance in real time and in replays, marking the first time such attention was given to the trenches.
Tom Mack (1966-1978)
Los Angeles Rams
5 First Team All Pros; 3 Second Team All Pros; 11 Pro Bowls
Mack was noted for his toughness, having never missed a game in his thirteen-year career. This is especially impressive when you consider that he managed to play a full season as a rookie for George Allen, whose notoriously veteran-heavy rosters have achieved a nearly mythic status among historians. Mack rewarded the Rams’ faith in him with eight seasons of all pro caliber play, helping the team win eight division titles, including six in a row from 1973-78. He kept Roman Gabriel clean in the pocket and, later, paved the way for Lawrence McCutcheon‘s tremendous early-career production.
Gene Upshaw (1967-1981)
7 First Team All Pros (3 AFL/4 NFL); 4 Second Team All Pros; 7 Pro Bowls (1 AFL/6 NFL); 2 Title Wins; 1 Title Loss; 2 GridFe Hog Awards (1 AFL/1 NFL)
The massive Upshaw was brought to the Raiders to combat the monstrous rival defenders within their division, such as Buck Buchanan and Ernie Ladd. While he cut a hulking figure, he was surprisingly fast and quick. Upshaw put that athleticism to great use on his favorite play, the sweep, on which he could get out in front of runners and annihilate defensive backs in space. He maintained a high level of play for a long time and became the first player in history to see action in a Super Bowl in three different decades. On a line filled with legends, Upshaw was the one named captain eight times. His leadership was later recognized when he was elected as the executive director of the NFL Players’ Association.
Larry Little (1967-1980)
Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers
6 First Team All Pros; 1 Second Team All Pro; 5 Pro Bowls (1 AFL/4 NFL); 2 Title Wins; 1 Title Loss; 3 GridFe Hog Awards
After beginning his career in relative obscurity as an undrafted free agent in San Diego, Little saw his career and legacy turn around when he was traded to Miami. The arrival of Don Shula the following year brought increased team success, which drew attention to the outstanding play of Little and other previously overlooked Dolphins. Little was a fantastic run blocker who had the power to clear a path for Larry Csonka up the middle and the finesse to lead the way for Mercury Morris on outside runs. During his prime, the Dolphins boasted a dominant ground and pound attack that was a major part of three consecutive Super Bowl appearances, including two victories.
John Hannah (1973-1985)
New England Patriots
10 First Team All Pros; 9 Pro Bowls; 1 Title Loss; 1 GridFe World Award; 1 GridFe Sweetness Award; 6 GridFe Hog Awards
The Hog is often referred to as the greatest offensive lineman ever to live. If he’s not, he’s certainly on Rushmore. The great Dr. Z, who pioneered extensive film study in sports journalism, didn’t give preference to big names and often highlighted unheralded players over established ones; he named Hannah his first team all pro guard seven times. Hannah was strong, but his incredible combination of leverage and balance gave him nearly unparalleled functional power. His pass set was solid, and it was rare to see him give up easy pressure. However, it was the run game where he was a force of nature. Finding their greatest success running behind Hannah, the 1978 Patriots set a still-standing NFL record with 3165 rushing yards.2 They did this without a single rusher topping 768 yards.
Bruce Matthews (1983-2001)
Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans
9 First Team All Pros; 1 Second Team All Pro; 14 Pro Bowls; 1 Title Loss; 3 GridFe Hog Awards
Throughout his 19-season career, Matthews proved to be incredibly versatile and remarkably durable. He played all five positions on the offensive line and started 39 games at tackle, 87 at center, and 167 at guard. Proving he was more than just a guy who could fill in at a position, Matthews earned Pro Bowl and all pro honors at all three positions on the offensive interior. At the time he retired, he had started more games than any player in history, and his 292 mark currently trails only Brett Favre‘s 298. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Matthews’s long and distinguished career is that it took place during the most significant explosion in defensive line size in modern history. He began his career against 260 pounders and continued to play at a high level till he was 40 and his average opponent weighed closer to 290 pounds.
Randall McDaniel (1988-2001)
Minnesota Vikings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
9 First Team All Pros; 12 Pro Bowls; 4 GridFe Hog Awards
A successful high school sprinter, McDaniel possessed rare athleticism for an offensive lineman. It’s common to see a running back with his hand on the back of a pulling guard, pushing the big man to lead the way. Running behind McDaniels allowed ball carriers to play at full speed, because he was usually just as fast as they were. Over the course of his celebrated career, he cleared a path for six different thousand yard rushers and proved to be skilled at keeping his quarterbacks off the ground. A big part of the Vikings 1998 scoring explosion, in which the team broke the record for points scored in a season, McDaniel allowed just 1.5 sacks while aiding in Randall Cunningham‘s renaissance. On top of his incredible talent, he also carried with him an unbridled love of the game that simply made him a joy to watch.
Will Shields (1993-2006)
Kansas City Chiefs
3 First Team All Pros; 4 Second Team All Pros; 12 Pro Bowls; 1 GridFe Hog Award
Shields didn’t have the wow factor of linemen whose blocks end up on highlight reels, but he was exceptional in his ability to consistently battle defenders to stalemates. Along the line, this is an underrated skill. When fellow legend Willie Roaf came along, they anchored a line that was the fulcrum of one of the great sustained offenses in modern history. Shields helped Priest Holmes score a then-record 27 rushing touchdowns in 2003. The following season, he had among his most notable games in a dominating victory over the Falcons, when Shields and co paved the way for Holmes and Derrick Blaylock to score four rushing touchdowns apiece.
Larry Allen (1994-2007)
Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers
7 First Team All Pros; 11 Pro Bowls; 1 Title Wins; 1 GridFe World Award; 5 GridFe Hog Awards
On a list of the most intimidating players in modern history, Larry Allen‘s name won’t be too far from the top. He earned the moniker of the Strongest Man in the NFL not for his ability in the gym by for his ability to impose his will upon opposing linemen. As a young player, Allen would reportedly announce when a run was coming behind him because he felt there was nothing the defense could do about it, even if they knew in advance. He was also surprisingly mobile, capable of chasing down interceptions linebackers from a standstill. As an elder statesmen, he used his veteran savvy to make up for any decline in physical skill and was able to use leverage instead of raw power to demoralize defenders.
Alan Faneca (1998-2010)
Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Jets, Arizona Cardinals
6 First Team All Pros; 2 Second team All Pros; 9 Pro Bowls; 1 Title Win; 3 GridFe Hog Awards
Faneca was a standout performer early in his career for Pittsburgh. His superb run blocking helped rushers such as Amos Zereoue, Najeh Davenport, and Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala break the century mark on the ground and helped the great Jerome Bettis cement his legacy. Faneca’s commitment to conditioning paid dividends, as he was usually at his best in the playoffs, when the wear of the season took its toll on the men in the trenches. He suffered a noticeable decline when he moved to New York, but he continued his trend of saving his best play for the biggest moments, showing up big time in the postseason.