Donnie Shell should probably be in the Hall of Fame and Tony Dungy recently backed him on that front, but FIRST...
My dad was born in 1963. I was born in 1991. As such, my memories of the 1970s Steelers are viewed almost entirely through his lens. I loved hearing about those squads — and I still do. From his hero Jack Lambert to the understated brilliance of John Stallworth to Frenchy Fuqua's goldfish shoes, those players were superheroes to me growing up in south-central Pennsylvania.
And without fail, one of the stories that'd make dad's eyes light up like few others was this: Earl Campbell — Heisman Trophy winner, Hall of Famer, absolute juggernaut of a running back for the Oilers — takes the handoff. He makes one cut. He spins. And he's annihilated by Shell. Nobody does this to Campbell. But he's there on the turf, broken ribs, out of the game thanks to a torpedo wearing No. 31 on the field.
Back then, in 1998, I couldn't pick up my phone and Google that clip. Today, I can:
Classic Clip of the Day....
Donnie Shell’s rib shattering hit on Earl Campbell.
Very rare footage of 1978 Steelers@Oilers. It’s a cleanup of a poor quality video I own, sometimes freezes slightly.
Late 1st qtr. Sam Nover and Len Dawson on the call.
Campbell would not return. pic.twitter.com/seSSevUZeO
— Steel City Star (@steelcitystar) January 28, 2019
Not. Too. Shabby.
And while Shell was never discussed on the level of his Steel Curtain counterparts such as Lambert, Jack Ham, Mel Blount or Joe Greene, Dungy, who won a Super Bowl with the 1978 Steelers and led the team in interceptions that season, recently made the case for him to enter that conversation. It wasn't just that hit on Campbell. It was the body of work:
Donnie Shell should be included in any discussion of Seniors for the HOF. 5 straight Pro Bowls, 3X First Team All Pro, 4 SB Rings, 51 INT, 19 Fumble Recoveries. Overlooked because of 9 teammates who are in and the fact that his career split 70’s and 80’s so no All Decade Team. https://t.co/mW6zEtTx0z
— Tony Dungy (@TonyDungy) July 4, 2019
The problem, according to Dungy, is that voters are burnt out on the ‘70s Steelers. Four defenders and five offensive players are in already, and Shell, probably No. 10 right before L.C. Greenwood and Andy Russell in the rankings, just misses out. While Shell was elected to the Steelers All-Time team and the College Football Hall of Fame, a Pro Football Hall of Fame nod would outrank anything else on the mantlepiece, no doubt.
Shell's career is an interesting one because he did not officially take over as a starter for those Super Bowl-winning Steelers squads until 1977. They'd already won two by that point. But while he was slower to make an impact, he boasted longevity, playing at a high level into the 1980s and even earning an All-Pro nod in 1982 after posting five interceptions in a strike-shortened nine-game season.
His 51 career interceptions and 19 fumble recoveries speak to his tenacity and his fearlessness, two traits perfectly summarized with that crushing hit on Campbell above. The numbers are there. The tape shows a Hall of Fame-caliber player.
I think Dungy has a point.
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