There seemed to be a rush this month to elect the youngest modern-era class in Pro Football Hall of Fame history – three first-ballot candidates, a second-year and a third.
But it came at a cost.
By pushing Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Brian Dawkins to the top of the queue, players with age without any wiggle room for enshrinement were pushed completely out of the queue.
Joe Jacoby and Everson Walls were finalists in their 20th and final years of modern-era eligibility. Both owned Hall-of-Fame resumes.
Jacoby was an all-decade selection with the Washington Redskins, the left tackle on one of the greatest offensive lines in NFL history, the Hogs. Jacoby was a key blocking element on a team that went to four Super Bowls in a span of 11 years and won three of them. That offensive line was the strength of the Redskins — a franchise that would win those three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks and three different feature backs.
Walls achieved feats as a cornerback with the Dallas Cowboys that few players have achieved before or since. He led the NFL in interceptions with 11 in 1981. No player has intercepted as many as 11 passes in any of the 36 seasons since then. He retired after the 1993 season with 57 career interceptions. No player has been able to amass 57 career interceptions in the 24 years since then. And Walls remains the only cornerback ever to lead the NFL in interceptions three times.
If players were voted into Canton based strictly on productivity, Jacoby and Walls would already have their busts. But Jacoby didn’t get into the room as a finalist until his 18th year of eligibility, and Walls didn’t reach the room until his 20th year. The clock was ticking on them the moment they arrived. They wouldn’t have the luxury of 20 years of potential discussions like a Lewis, Moss and Urlacher.
I knew what awaited Jacoby and Walls if they failed to gain induction in the Class of 2018. In addition to my spot on the selection committee as the Dallas representative, I also sit on the nine-member senior committee. We call the senior pool the “abyss” because there are so many qualified candidates … yet we only get to bring out one or two candidates per year.
At the selection meeting, there are two voting cuts. First, the 48-member selection committee cuts the slate from 15 to 10. In the second cut, we reduce the slate from 10 to the five we will elect into the Class of 2018. I voted both Jacoby and Walls on my ballot in the cut to 10. But I was among the few, obviously, who understood the sense of urgency with their Hall-of-Fame candidacies. Both Jacoby and Walls were ejected from the process in the cut to 10.
Now into the abyss they go.
Jacoby and Walls were longshots as finalists. They become even longer shots in the senior pool.
Sure, Jacoby was an all-decade selection. But there are 66 other all-decade selections already in the senior pool, and 58 of them have never been discussed as finalists. Jacoby was a second-team all-decade selection. There are two first-team all-decade offensive tackles in the senior pool who have never been discussed as finalists, Al Wistert from the 1940s and Jim Covert from the 1980s.
Sure, Walls ranks fifth in NFL history among pure cornerbacks with 57 interceptions. But Ken Riley ranks second among pure cornerbacks with 65 interceptions – and he’s never been discussed as a finalist. And Bobby Boyd was an all-decade selection from the 1960s with as many interceptions as Walls – and he also has never been discussed as a finalist.
There are players in the senior pool who went to nine Pro Bowls (LB Maxie Baughan and G Walt Sweeney), eight Pro Bowls (OT Winston Hill and G Ed Budde) and seven Pro Bowls (MLB Randy Gradishar and OLB Andy Russell). All went to considerably more Pro Bowls than either Jacoby or Walls, yet only Gradishar has ever been discussed as a finalist.
I thought Jacoby and Walls deserved greater consideration than they were given this month as modern-era finalists for the Class of 2018. Frankly, I believed there were 15 Hall of Fame-worthy candidates on the ballot, and any combination of five would have constituted a great class.
But we as a committee decided to elect five of the youngest candidates on the ballot. Jacoby and Walls deserved a better fate than banishment to the senior pool.
Charles Haley became the first player in history to win five Super Bowl rings and was a member of the 100-sack club. It took him 11 years to get his bust. Paul Krause intercepted 81 career passes – an NFL record that likely will never be broken. It took him 14 years to get his bust. John Mackey was voted the tight end on the NFL’s 50th anniversary team. It took him 15 years to get his bust. Ray Guy was the greatest punter in NFL history. It took him 23 years to get his bust. The waits didn’t diminish the honor.
So what’s the rush with today’s candidates? Should the latest necessarily be considered the greatest?