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Making the case for Karl Mecklenburg for the Pro Football Hall of Fame

What made Karl Mecklenburg so difficult to contain is also what makes his Pro Football Hall of Fame candidacy so difficult to quantify: versatility unlike any other player of his era -- or the ones that have followed.

Mecklenburg is a semifinalist for the 2017 Hall class, which will be one of his last shots from the primary pool of players. If he is not inducted by 2019, his candidacy will pass to the Seniors Committee, as he will have been retired 25 years by that point.

But as the years between Mecklenburg's heyday and the present continue to grow, so do the indelible memories, because no one since his retirement has displayed a comparable skill set and breadth of contributions.

"He's a Hall of Famer because I've never seen a guy and I've never heard of one that's in the Hall of Fame that could play inside and rush the passer," said Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips, who coached Mecklenburg from 1989-94. "It's just a combination that nobody else had."

Sixteen other players had at least 75 sacks, five interceptions and 15 forced fumbles in their careers. But only one of them was also a tackling machine; according to, Mecklenburg is one of just two players all-time with those three statistics -- plus over 1,000 career tackles.

The other, Rickey Jackson, is in the Hall of Fame. Jackson, like Mecklenburg, is a six-time Pro Bowler. But Jackson didn't line up on the defensive line or at inside linebacker like Mecklenburg could.

"He was a tremendous pass rusher. I've never been around anybody that played inside backer as well as he did. He was great at it," said Phillips, who also coached Jackson in New Orleans from 1981-85. "And then on third down, you'd put him outside and let him rush.

"He could have been a defensive end all the time. His stats would have gone up where his sacks are concerned, but he made so many tackles you had to play him inside at an inside 'backer. He was a tremendous, tremendous player and a great effort player and certainly a great person."

Typical metrics don't quantify Mecklenburg's greatness, although three first-team All-Pro selections and six Pro Bowl appearances show the esteem in which he was regarded at his apex.

But the fact that opponents had to adjust their tactics on the fly depending on where he aligned himself on any given play shows his impact. Few defenders in NFL history inflicted more damage on opposing offenses from as many directions as Mecklenburg.

"He played everywhere," recalled Head Coach Gary Kubiak, who played nine seasons with Mecklenburg. "I could remember me being in San Francisco in 1994 and him being the [middle] linebacker against us when we played them."

For a unique player unlike any other, there's one place where he belongs: among the greats in Canton, Ohio.

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