Tom Nalen has been again nominated for selection into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Selecting offensive lineman is not as simple as selecting quarterbacks, running backs or wide receivers. Those skill positions can be measured by statistics, but there aren’t any for offensive lineman. This adds to the difficulty in making a case for why Nalen deserves to have his bronze bust put in those hallowed halls. However, there is still some very compelling evidence.Nalen is arguably the most technically sound center of all time. His playing weight was listed at 286 pounds, but many times he looked more like 275 or less. That weight would have been fine in the 1970s or even the 1980s when defensive tackles were not huge, but Nalen played when said tackles were easily 325 pounds or more. He fought every game against players who were 50, 60, and in the case of Super Bowl XXXII 70 pounds heavier and won those battles consistently.
He did not have the girth to win with brute strength so he did it with perfect technique, intelligence and tremendous tenacity. The great John Elway once quoted that Nalen was “the epitome of grit, toughness and athleticism for centers.” That kind of pure skill alone needs to be rewarded.
His credentials do not end there. Nalen anchored the line for two Super Bowl victories and in both, his blocking propelled Terrell Davis to over 100 yards. He was selected to the Pro Bowl five times and as an All-Pro three times. He did so without any loud-mouthed self-promotion. He was truly and unsung hero of the vaunted Denver Broncos rushing attack.
During Nalen’s tenure with the Broncos the offensive line allowed only 395 sacks, which is good for third fewest in the entire NFL during that span.
Finally, the smoking gun. Nalen started twelve seasons at center with the Broncos. In eleven of those years he was the pivot for a one thousand yard rusher. Actually it was ten seasons because in 1998 he propelled Davis to 2,008 yards, only the fourth rusher in history at the time to do so. To add more clarity to this greatness is the fact that the season before Nalen became the starter, the Broncos had no one thousand yard rusher and the same goes for the season after.
No other Hall of Fame center can claim that type of production. Not Dermontti Dawson or Dwight Stephenson, two modern day Hall of Famers. Nalen’s production matched that of Mike Webster, who many believe to be the best center of all time. However, it took Webster sixteen seasons as a starter to garner the same production as Nalen. Those seasons included the days of Franco Harris, a Hall of Fame running back. In other words, Nalen’s dominance is unprecedented.
Furthermore, Nalen accomplished this feat without the help of a great running back like Davis his entire career. He anchored the line for several no-name rushers like Olandis Gary and Tatum Bell. When Gary went on to a different team his play was described by his coach as equal to a “ham sandwich.” In case you didn’t know that means he sucked. What Nalen did for many different running backs was truly amazing.
When the best center of all-time is discussed Nalen has to be included. His production speaks for itself. It was better than any other Hall of Fame center and that cannot be overlooked. In fact, he may be the best to play the center position ever. He deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and he deserves it this year.