Leslie O'Neal will be inducted into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame later this year.
Now, if only the folks at the Pro Football Hall of Fame could follow that lead.
On the day when our state's sports hall announced the next class that will be added to its honor roll, O'Neal was easily the most decorated. The defensive end was a two-time All-American and three-time All-Big Eight selection at Oklahoma State. Then during a 13-season NFL career, the fearsome pass rusher was a six-time Pro Bowler.
He finished his pro career with 132.5 sacks.
Only nine players in NFL history have finished with more. Of those nine, five are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, two are hall finalists this year and two are not yet hall eligible.
What about O'Neal?
He didn't even make the hall's initial cut for modern-day candidates this year. There were 126 players on that list, including 10 defensive linemen, but O'Neal was nowhere to be found.
How is that possible?
I decided to ask O'Neal on Thursday — why isn't he in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? — and he had a very diplomatic answer.
“You know, it's a business,” O'Neal said, “and so, if things work out that way, they do. If they don't, it's not something I can push or do anything about.
“The hay is in the barn, as they say.”
O'Neal put up a lot of hay, though.
If you want to go by numbers, O'Neal will wow you. His career sacks tied him for 10th all time in the NFL.
The man with whom he's tied?
The lifelong Giant is widely considered among the most terrifying sackmasters of all time.
O'Neal ranks even with LT, ahead of Jared Allen, Rickey Jackson and Derrick Thomas, and behind John Abraham, Richard Dent and John Randle. Most folks would say all of those guys are hall-of-fame caliber guys.
If you aren't impressed by numbers, O'Neal has more to his story.
For starters, he injured his knee late in his rookie season with the Chargers. (He had such a great season that he was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year anyway despite missing the last three games.) His torn ligaments were bad enough that doctors weren't sure that medical advancements in 1986 would be enough to ever get him back on the football field.
Heck, they weren't sure he'd even be able to walk normally.
He missed all of the 1987 season and a good chunk of the 1988 season, but over the next nine seasons, he had had least 10 sacks seven times.
Making O'Neal's numbers all the more impressive are the teams on which he played. In nine seasons in San Diego, two in St. Louis and two in Kansas City, he enjoyed only five winning seasons. That means O'Neal wasn't lining up with the Monsters of the Midway or the Purple People Eaters. He was often the best player on the defensive side of the ball, and that brought double teams and extra attention.
He still wreaked havoc, squaring off against the likes of Willie Roaf and Jonathan Ogden and Anthony Munoz, hall of famers all.
O'Neal deserves to join them in Canton.
You would think hall of fame voters would look at those career stats and realize that at the very least, O'Neal needs to be on the initial ballot. But clearly, that isn't happening.
So, does someone need to lobby?
It seems that O'Neal would go into the hall as a Charger. That's where he spent the bulk of his career and the team with which we identify him. But if the Charger organization needs to make a push for O'Neal to get in the hall, he might be in for a long wait.
O'Neal isn't even in the team's hall of fame.
Only six other Chargers played in as many Pro Bowls as O'Neal, and with the exception of Antonio Gates, who is still playing, all of them are in the team's hall.
Has that SoCal sun baked some brains out there?
This guy belongs among the NFL greats the same way he belongs among the sports greats that have come through Oklahoma. He will officially join the state's hall later this year. Here's hoping pro football's hall will one day follow suit.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.