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Baffoe: The Case For Charles Tillman Being A Hall Of Famer

By Tim Baffoe--

(CBS) Charles Tillman said in January 2014 that he would retire a Chicago Bear.

"In a perfect world, I will finish as a Bear," Tillman said during his free agency at the time. "I guarantee you I will retire as a Chicago Bear. I guarantee that."

More than two years later, he will make good on that guarantee, as "Peanut" told Laurence Holmes on 670 The Score on Wednesday evening that he would hold his "official retirement ceremony" on Thursday. That would follow his "unofficial" retirement announcement made via a YouTube video Monday that featured family and former teammates and was themed with his trademark "Peanut Punch" move.

Peanut Retires by Peanut Tillman on YouTube

So as Tillman moves on from playing the game after such a great career, an inevitable question arises regarding all fresh sports corpses. We have to quantify players even after they're finished. So is Tillman a Hall of Famer or not?

The reflex of many with a vote is probably that he's worthy of the Hall of the Very Good but not quite the Hall of Fame. I get it, because proper notoriety is something that eluded Tillman much of his awesome career, but that's also a bit irresponsible.  

His personality and charitable efforts are well-known. Likability influences voting (whether that's right or wrong), and Canton promotes itself as promoting "heroes of the game." A player's character would have to factor into an assessment of heroism, no? And with a game that can't escape bad PR with a lot of its participants, Tillman's is one of the more model NFL careers of the 21st century.

Him taking a job doing "Fox NFL Kickoff" show this fall can't hurt etching his unique personality into the minds of more writers and fans nationally.

Certainly, Tillman picked a bad year to hang 'em up when it comes to his initial Hall of Fame eligibility. The Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee's "current ground rules do stipulate that between four and eight new members will be selected each year." Tillman will now be eligible for a bust in 2021. The catch is Troy Polamalu and Reggie Wayne are eligible for enshrinement in 2020, but neither is a guarantee to make it his first year, and some bums named Peyton Manning, Charles Woodson, Jared Allen, Logan Mankins, Marshawn Lynch and Calvin Johnson are part of the 2021 ballot.

There's an argument to be made that Woodson is the best defensive player ever, let alone defensive back or cornerback. I'm not here to compare Tillman to him.

How cool would it be to have one more Peanut vs. Megatron storyline to that induction weekend, though? (That won't happen, but still…)

When we demand that Hall of Fame candidacy requires a player to have been the best at this position for a time, we fall into a sort of logical fallacy in which we forget that pro sports -- the NFL in particular -- involve various super-humans whose careers are going to overlap. By mere chance the "best" at a position for an era happens to play at the same time as someone who is otherwise remarkable. This was Tillman's bad luck for an entire career. He never got top billing in the pundit conversations, but certainly among opponents he elicited an "Aw, damn, I have to go against this dude?" thought.

Statistically since 2003, Tillman has been in a league of his own when it comes to creating turnovers.

Tillman has 38 career interceptions to go with 44 forced fumbles. Nobody else in NFL history has recorded at least 35 and 40 together, respectively, according to football-reference.comEver.

Tillman would likely have more interceptions if opponents threw more in his direction (and if he was more selfish and less concerned with breaking up a pass play first). His 141 passes defended in 13 seasons is indicative of how often quarterbacks didn't make Tillman's side of the ball their first option.

And yet no Bears cornerback has more career picks. His nine career defensive touchdowns and eight via interception returns are each also a franchise best and four fewer each than the NFL record. It's not as though the stats -- those precious numbers that don't tell the whole story of a player but that voters tend to lean on anyway -- aren't there for Tillman, all everything considered.

I keep going back to what defined Tillman's play -- he has a signature move. How many defensive players are known for such a thing? There's Lawrence Taylor coming around the end. There's Dwight Freeney's spin move. And what else? When has a defensive back -- tasked with the job of containing receivers who have pass interference rules in their favor and responsible for absolutely making a tackle lest a shorter play explode into huge yardage -- been defined by a technique?  

Sports Science specifically examined Tillman's signature move.

Sport Science - Charles Tillman by G Harris on YouTube

Tillman has multiple signature moments. There are, of course, those matchups with Johnson, but there was also his rookie play on Randy Moss.

Randy Moss versus Charles Tillman by mbhimla83 on YouTube

Back in November 2006, Tillman shut down Plaxico Burress after the wideout called Tillman out in the media leading up to their matchup. Burress caught just four balls for 48 yards while Tillman broke up three passes and intercepted another.

"I wasn't going to respond to what was said (because) I can show you better than I can tell you," Tillman said afterward. "I'll let you all assess the rest."

Charles Tillman showed us. I think a fair assessment makes him Canton-worthy.

Tim Baffoe is a columnist for Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.

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