Monday afternoon, Charles Tillman officially announced his retirement from the NFL. As with any player of Tillman’s pedigree, the debate of legacy begins to swirl. This is especially true in regards to the Hall of Fame. Bill Zimmerman and I debate whether Charles Tillman has earned a spot in Canton with this piece giving the case for Tillman to be placed in the Hall of Fame
Let’s address Tillman’s shortcomings in regards to being in the Hall of Fame first. Was he the best cover corner in the game? Not quite. However, don’t forget that Tillman held the league’s best in check week in and week out. A play that stands out comes from Tillman’s rookie year when he ripped a ball out of Randy Moss’ arms in the end zone to seal an upset win over the Minnesota Vikings. Above single game skirmishes, one of the best underrated rivalries in NFL history was Charles Tillman vs Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions. While Johnson was able to make plays as any great receiver does, Tillman was arguably the only corner in the NFL who was able to consistently contain one of the best receivers in the game.
Tillman was also great as a ballhawk, nabbing 38 interceptions throughout his 14 year career. While 38 picks is impressive, Hall of Famers Deion Sanders and Aeneas Williams had 53 and 55 interceptions respectively. It could even be argued that Tillman was never even the best corner at any one time during his 14 year career with names like Champ Bailey, Charles Woodson, and Darrell Revis often being regarded as the best during the majority of Tillman’s career. Being in the top 5 at a position is great, but not Hall of Fame worthy.
If Tillman’s career were to be judged solely on his ability to cover, he simply wouldn’t stack up to other members in the Hall of Fame. Tillman was great in coverage, but there are a number of people who simply did it better. However, there was an aspect of Tillman’s game that not one player in NFL history can hold a finger to, forcing fumbles.
There are certain things on a football field that are synonymous with particular player. A shovel pass will never be thrown without reference to Brett Farve, and no one will ever high step on their way to the end zone without being compared to Deion Sanders. Tillman has left his mark on the game in this respect. Anyone who is able to punch a ball loose will undoubtedly draw a “Peanut Punch” reference. There has never been a player who has dominated a single stat the way Tillman has with force fumbles. Think of the NFL’s best sack masters. Names like Lawrence Taylor, Reggie White, Richard Dent, and Michael Strahan come to mind. Think of interceptions and names like Mel Blount, Dick “Night Train” Lane, and Deion Sanders usually follow. When anyone mentions forced fumbles, only one name stands out, Charles Tillman. That’s what the Hall of Fame is for isn’t it? To recognize players who went head and shoulders above everyone else? The fact that “Peanut Punch” is an actual phrase embodies the fact that Tillman brought something that not one other player in NFL history can match.
Am I saying that Tillman deserves a bust in Canton just because of his ability to force fumbles? No. The reason Tillman deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame is because he was not only a great corner, but he also brought a talent for forcing fumbles that the NFL had never seen before. The two on their own are exceptional, but not Hall of Fame worthy. Tillman combined an exceptional career as a cover corner in addition to carving a legacy out of forcing fumbles. The sum of everything accomplished throughout the career of Charles Tillman deserves to be enshrined in Canton, Ohio.