White Shoes deseves a bronze bust

By Chris Lawton

Here is a quick trivia question for you. Who is the only member of the NFL 75th anniversary team not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Well done to those of you who listed Billy ‘White Shoes’ Johnson as the response. The kick return specialist is the only missing name.

Which is perhaps not all that surprising when we consider that it is extremely hard for special-teams performers to reach the Hall.

Until 2005 in fact there was only one pure specialist in Canton – former kicker Jan Stenerud. 

He was joined in 2015 by former punter Ray Guy – another name on the NFL’s 75th anniversary all-time team.

The development of the specialists

From the inception of the league in the 1920s up to the early 1940s, most players were similar in size. Surely because substitutions were mostly prohibited. Players often played every down, often covering multiple positions on both sides of the ball. Kickers too played every down at other positions.

But due to the advent of the second World War, the NFL faced a player shortage. Player substitution was the answer. Kickers and punters for example could now specialize. It took a while, but the NFL never really looked back.

Then came Pete Gogolak and soccer style kicking. As the linked article says, “the soccer style of kicking improved distance, accuracy, and fluidity of motion” Which “caused a spike in field goals that led the NFL to move the goal posts from the goal line to the end line in 1974.”

The overlooked players

It is interesting to see how overlooked special teams players have been by the Pro Football Hall of Fame historically.

We can certainly see this when it comes to the all-decade teams.

Starting from the 1970’s let’s see how special teams All-Decade players have fared against their contemporaries.

1970’s All Decade team – This team has sent every first team, and every second team offensive player to the Hall of Fame. As well as every first team Defensive player to the Hall. That is 100% of first team offensive and defensive players. As for special teams? Punter Ray Guy is in the Hall. But Kicker Garo Ypremian, and Kick returner (KR) Rick Upchurch are not. So 2/3 of All-Decade special teams player are not in the Hall.

1980’s All Decade team – This team has every first team offensive player and every first team defensive player in the Hall. That is 100% of first team offensive and defensive players. As for special teams? Kicker Morten Andersen is in the Hall. But, Punter Sean Landeta, and KR Michael Bates, and Punt Returner (PR) Billy “White shoes” Johnson are not. So 3/4 of the All-Decade Special teams players are not in the Hall.

1990’s All decade team – Once again, this team has every first team offensive player and every first team defensive player in the Hall. That is 100% of first team offensive and defensive players. As for special teams? Kicker Morten Andersen is in the Hall. (So he accounts for two separate All-Decade special teams spots). Punter Sean Landeta, and KR Mike Nelms are not. Listed as a Punt Returner, Deion Sanders is also in the Hall from this special teams group. Mind you he is in the Hall as a recognized corner back and PR. Meaning he doesn’t qualify on the criteria on special teams play alone. That being said 1/2 of these All-Decade special teams players are not in the Hall.

2000’s All Decade team – this team is closer to now so there are gaps. Two players on offence are not in the Hall. Full back Lorenzo Neal, and Quarterback Tom Brady. (Who is definitely going in when he actually retires properly). So 10/12 players are in. 11/12 when Brady retires. On Defence only Dwight Freeney is missing and he’s already been a finalist once. So 90% of defensive players are in. As for special teams? Neither Kicker Adam Vinatieri or Punter Shane Lechler are in – but then neither are eligible yet. However KR Josh Cribbs and PR Dante Hall are not in either. Although Hall has been a HOF finalist, that means that none of the eligible special teams player are in.

It is too early to look at the 2010’s list yet. Only three players are in in total! But guess what? Devin Hester, holder of a plethora of NFL records is a two-time finalist as a Kick Returner but has yet to get in. 

White Shoes but no bronze bust

To review then, Billy ‘White shoes’ Johnson is the only player from the NFL’s 75th anniversary team not in the Hall of Fame. 

This is a player who was  a 3 x First Team All-Pro, & went to 3 pro Bowls. he was the MVP of the 1976 pro Bowl in a time when the game was taken way more seriously than now.

Added to which he is a member of the 1970’s and 1980’s All-Decade teams. Alongside being named to the NFL 75th anniversary team and the NFL 100th anniversary team! 

But apparently being one of the best of the league’s first centiry still sin;t enough to get him in. 

It’s time – let the man responsible for the funky chicken clebration into the Hall!



Chris originally started following the NFL with the ‘first wave’ of fans when it was shown on Channel 4 in the 1980’s. He has been a keen supporter of the Miami Dolphins since 1983. Chris first encountered the CFL in 2016 and instantly fell in love with the Canadian game. He has been writing about the CFL 2017. Chris has a degree in history, postgraduate degree in librarianship and can be found on twitter as @CFLfanUK