Marvin Harrison’s Hall of Fame Case: The Ink Test

I shouldn’t have to make a case for Marvin Harrison for the Hall of Fame.

It shouldn’t be necessary.

Harrison’s ticket to Canton on the first ballot should be a foregone conclusion thanks to 1,102 catches for 14,580 yards and 128 touchdowns.  I shouldn’t have to defend an 8 time Pro Bowler and 3 time All Pro.

Unfortunately, a Hall of Fame voter, and an influential one, publicly doubts Harrison’s inclusion.  I’ve written about Peter King’s ill-informed assault on Harrison on multiple occasions, but today I want to address a specific complaint he has.

He has argued Harrison is too similar to Chris Carter, Tim Brown, and Andre Reed to be a lock for inclusion.  There are many ways that King misses the boat on this point, but let’s start by comparing the raw career numbers for the men.

Games Rec Yards TD YPR Pro Bowls All Pro
Harrison 190 1102 14580 128 13.2 8 3
Carter 234 1101 13899 130 12.6 8 2
Brown 255 1094 14934 100 13.7 9 0
Reed 234 951 13198 87 13.9 7 0

On the surface, King has a point.  Carter and Harrison’s numbers are virtually indistinguishable.  All four men have a lot in common.  The major difference comes from the games played column.  Harrison had a much shorter career than the other three.  He played 44 fewer games than Carter or Reed. That’s the equivalent of more than two and half full seasons.  He played 65 fewer games than Tim Brown, which means he put up more catches and touchdowns and almost the same number of yards in FOUR fewer seasons worth of games.

Harrison was more intensely productive than any of these other three players, and there’s a great way to prove it.  The ‘black and grey ink tests” have been around for a long time, especially in baseball. The idea is to count up how many times a player lead the league in key statistical categories. This is known as the ‘black ink test’.  The grey ink test does the same thing, but counts players’ rank in the top 5 or 10 in key categories.  These tests are a great way to find out which players were truly dominant and which players merely compiled stats thanks to long careers.

There is another major advantage to the tests: they allow us to compare players from different eras. We know that the NFL passing game has changed dramatically. It’s impossible to compare John Stallworth to Marvin Harrison based on receiving numbers.  However, the black and grey ink tests show us how dominant a player was compared to his peers.  No matter how many games were in a season or what rules were in place, leading the league in receiving is an accomplishment.  Being consistently in the top 5 in touchdowns or catches is an accomplishment.  These tests show us how dominant a player was in relation to the other players they played against.

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