Pro Football Hall of Fame needs to take a good look at former Oklahoma State star Leslie O'Neal

The former Oklahoma State and NFL star will be added to the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame later this year. The Pro Football Hall of Fame needs to follow its lead.
by Jenni Carlson Published: January 16, 2014

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?

Lawrence Taylor.

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.


by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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