After back-to-back seasons with over 1,000 yards from scrimmage to wrap up his college career at the University of Miami, running back Chuck Foreman became the Minnesota Vikings‘ first-round pick (12th overall) in the 1973 NFL Draft. During his eight-year NFL career, he played under Jerry Burns, who helped turn him from a reliable running back into a versatile weapon worthy of Hall of Fame recognition.
Burns served as Vikings’ head coach from 1986-1991, but prior to that he was offensive coordinator under Bud Grant from 1968-1985. The offense he deployed was a pre-cursor to the “West Coast Offense” the San Francisco 49ers ran with great success under Bill Walsh in the 1980’s, and others have later copied right up to now, where running backs are used as multi-purpose weapons in the passing game. Foreman’s skills were a perfect fit for such a system, and he was able to remain productive as a pass catcher even when his rushing production dropped and his role was reduced a bit.
He made an immediate impact in his first year in the league, rushing for 801 yards while catching 37 passes on his way to being named AP Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Foreman had another solid season in 1974, with 777 rushing yards, 53 receptions and 15 total touchdowns (nine rushing, six receiving), but the 1975 campaign saw him emerge as one the best running backs in the league. Foreman topped 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his career (1,070) while leading the NFL in receptions with 73 and scoring 22 total touchdowns (13 rushing, nine receiving; second-most in the league).
Foreman set a career-high with 1,155 rushing yards in 1976, and he remained a prolific touchdown scorer (13 rushing touchdowns) and pass catcher (55 receptions for 567 yards) as well. He was top-10 in the league in rushing for a third straight season in 1977 (1,112 yards-sixth), but he did not find the end zone as much with just nine total touchdowns and his catch total dropped to 38.
Injuries began to hamper Foreman in 1978, but he still had 749 rushing yards and finished tied for seventh in the league with 61 receptions. A dismal 1979 season (223 rushing yards) led to the Vikings trading Foreman to the New England Patriots, and he spent the 1980 season there before calling it a career after eight seasons.
Foreman was an integral part of three Vikings’ teams that went to the Super Bowl, and he made five consecutive Pro Bowls (1973-1977). He was also named to multiple All-Pro and All-Conference teams by various media outlets…too many to list here really. The Vikings put Foreman in their Ring of Honor in 2007.
Foreman is third in Vikings’ history with 5,887 rushing yards, and he’s also tied for second in team history with 52 rushing touchdowns. Foreman’s pass catching prowess has also held up, as he is still ninth in franchise history with 336 receptions along with being in the top-15 in receiving yards (3,057-14th) and receiving touchdowns (23).
2015 will be Foreman’s 30th year of Hall of Fame eligibility, so his fate as a potential finalist down the road is in the hands of the Hall of Fame’s Senior Committee. That committee has already nominated one of his teammates, former Vikings’ center Mick Tingelhoff, for induction in 2015, so Foreman will have to wait at least one more year to get a bust in Canton. I had blindly assumed Foreman was already a Hall of Famer, prior to hearing him in a recent radio interview, since there is no question in my mind he is deserving of the honor alongside many of his former teammates.
Simply put, Foreman was a pass-catching running back before it was popular to be one. His arrival in Minnesota was well-timed with Burns’ willingness to use running backs as pass receivers, and the re-acquisition of quarterback Fran Tarkenton a year earlier. Foreman was in a very good situation from the start, but I have no doubt he would be among the best running backs in the league if he were playing today. Foreman would not have to come off the field very often, and that alone would make him a rare commodity with the three-down workhorse a dying breed around the league.
I may listen to an argument that Foreman was not good enough for long enough to be a Hall of Famer, with only eight seasons on his resume and the fact he was highly productive for six of those seasons. But I’ve now put him at the top of my list of Hall of Fame snubs, regardless of sport.
Foreman earned the nickname “The Spin Doctor” for his ability to elude would-be tacklers, and I’m hoping to take the wheel of the bandwagon that will eventually lead to his long overdue inclusion in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.