Hall of Fame selection process — always the wrong five?

Terrell Owens photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers
(Andersen photo courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings)
(Owens photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers)

By Rick Gosselin

Talk of Fame Network

There is only one certainty for the 48 of us on the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame selection committee who will convene in Houston the first weekend of February to select the Class of 2017. No matter which five modern-era players and/or coaches we select for this class, it will be the wrong five.

That’s the nature of this process. The screams are always louder than the cheers.

Let’s examine the 18-candidate slate. There is one stand-alone senior candidate, safety Ken Easley, and two contributor candidates, Jerry Jones and Paul Tagliabue. They will be discussed and debated, elected or rejected, before the discussion even begins for the 15 modern-era candidates.

So a potential Class of 2017 can consist of one senior candidate, as many as two contributor candidates and as many as five modern-era candidates. The election of an Easley or Tagliabue would not come at the expense of a LaDainian Tomlinson or Jason Taylor. Their voting is separate.

There are 14 players on the modern-era slate, plus coach Don Coryell. Of those 14 players, 11 were selected to NFL all-decade teams. Those all-decade teams are chosen by this same Hall-of-Fame selection committee. As an all-decade choice, you are considered one of the best players of your generation. You are a worthy Hall-of-Fame candidate, a deserving Hall-of-Fame candidate.

But there are only five modern-era spots in the Class of 2017. So a minimum of six all-decade players will be turned away at Canton’s door. If Coryell is elected to this class, at least seven all-decade players will not make the cut this year. If Kurt Warner is elected to this class – and he’s one of the early favorites – as many as eight all-decade players might not make the cut this year.

Warner was not an all-decade selection.

Morten Andersen is the only two-time all-decade player among the finalists. He was honored for both the 1980 and 1990 decades. He’s also the NFL’s all-time leading scorer. That gives him the best resume of any candidate on this ballot. But because he’s a kicker, he’s a longshot.

Historically, this committee does not favor special teamers. There are only two pure kicking specialists enshrined in Canton and it took one of them, punter Ray Guy, 23 years to muster enough support for election … and only then as a senior candidate.

This is Andersen’s fourth time as a finalist. Running back Terrell Davis and wide receiver Terrell Owens also were all-decade selections. Davis is a former NFL MVP and 2,000-yard rusher. But he has been in this room twice previously as a finalist and been rejected. Owens ranks eighth all-time in receptions (1,078), third all-time in touchdown (153) and second in yardage (15,934). Yet he is 0-for-1 as a finalist.

Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos, November 24, 1997

(Terrell Davis photo courtesy of the Denver Broncos)

All four offensive-line candidates – tackles Tony Boselli and Joe Jacoby, guard Alan Faneca and center Kevin Mawae – were all-decade selections. They combined for 26 Pro Bowl appearances. It’s doubtful all four will make it. Two of the four would be an optimistic projection for this group.

Pass rusher Jason Taylor and safety Brian Dawkins were all-decade selections, and both are first-ballot finalists. Ty Law is another all-decade selection and also a first-time finalist. But this is his third year of eligibility. Wide receiver Isaac Bruce and safety John Lynch are the other two finalists. Like Warner, they were not all-decade selections.

The selection committee has already eliminated four all-decade players from consideration: Running backs Roger Craig and Edgerrin James, wide receiver Torry Holt and safety Steve Atwater. All were semifinalists who failed to make the cut from 25 to 15. All four are worthy and deserving Hall-of-Fame candidates.

There are at least nine players who are worthy of the Hall of Fame who will not be elected to the Class of 2017. Those nine will have arguments as strong as the five candidates who are voted busts in this class. And therein lies the problem with this process — there are too many qualified candidates and too few slots. Thus, the annual post-election screams of injustice.

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  1. Anonymous
    January 19, 2017

    There needs to be more people in the HOF. The Football and Baseball HOF’S have similar numbers. There are about twice as many players on a football team as a baseball team, it doesn’t make sense.

    • Rick Gosselin
      January 19, 2017

      Agreed. There are more teams (32) than any other pro sports league and more starters (22) than in any other sport. Logically, there are more worthy candidates than any other sports league. Yet the spots remain few.

  2. bachslunch
    January 19, 2017

    There will always be complainers angry that their candidate didn’t get priority. But given the five maximum regular candidate limit, somebody will always have to wait, perhaps longer than they or their supporters would like. Unless the number allowed to be elected is raised, that’s going to happen. I actually think the regular candidates are handled well, certainly as well as can be done given the limitations. By the way Rick, very good BBHoF ballot! I routinely criticize the voting process for that HoF, but folks like you who turn in good ballots are definitely a bright spot here.

    • Rick Gosselin
      January 19, 2017

      Thanks. Wish we could vote 10 in football like we do in baseball.

  3. Mark
    January 19, 2017

    I think the frustrating thing for me is that it seems as if there can never be multiple players chosen that played the same position.. primarily the WR position. I will never understand how Irvin was selected before Reed and Monk. Monks stats didnt change over the years, those who qualify should be in.

  4. bachslunch
    January 20, 2017

    Mark, I think Irvin got elected before Reed and Monk because he was seen as having a better peak. Reed and Monk were compilers, and they often take longer. Besides, they all did get in — my feeling is that whether it’s on your first or 15th try doesn’t matter. In is in.

  5. Anonymous
    January 24, 2017

    Joe Jacoby has to be a lock this year. When you talk about the most accomplished OL in the history of the NFL, you have to include him. Joe started in four Super Bowls winning three with three different quarterbacks. Now ask yourself, if a quarterback started in four Super Bowls, and won three with three different LT, would he not be a first ballot hallof famer?

    • January 24, 2017

      No one is lock, though Tomlinson as close as you can get. Warner next most likely. Then wide open. Believe Jacoby will make it, however, based on his enormous leap last year and that his eligibility as modern-era candidate running out.

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