CANTON, Ohio — When the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014 announced the creation of the contributor category, it said its new group would split the number of annual nominees with senior candidates — with one category having two nominees every other year, and the other having one.
But it didn’t stop there. It also said it would reassess the idea after five years.
Well, guess what? It’s time for a reassessment.
The Hall won’t do it for another 12 months, with August, 2019 the five-year anniversary of the contributor category. But it’s never too early to look ahead, and with the fifth contributor class chosen here on Thursday the time seems right to start.
So we will.
First of all, let’s define contributors and seniors. A contributor is someone who is not a former coach or player and who made a significant impact on the game. A senior is a former player whose modern-era eligibility of 20 years (initiated in the sixth year after retirement) expired without him having been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
As you might guess, there are more qualified seniors — far more — than there are contributors, with 66 of them former all-decade choices. What’s more, when the senior committee met here last week to nominate a candidate for the Class of 2019 it had to choose one .. one .. from a list of 23 finalists — all of whom were Hall-of-Fame worthy.
By contrast, when the contributor committee sits down Thursday morning it will choose two nominees for the Class of 2019 from a list of 10 candidates.
But that’s the way it goes under the present system. A year ago, there were two senior nominees (Jerry Kramer and Robert Brazile) and one contributor (Bobby Beathard). But that’s not the way it should remain.
Which is where our reassessment comes in.
The Hall’s idea of a contributor category was a good and necessary one, and it allowed qualified persons who wouldn’t have reached Canton under the old system to gain entry. And so a Ron Wolf, Bill Polian, Bobby Beathard, Eddie DeBartolo and Jerry Jones were elected in the first four years.
But that system needs tweaking for the future.
Under our revised plan, coaches would move from the modern-era category to the list of contributors, giving them a fairer shot at Canton than competing against players as they do now. And it wouldn’t be just head coaches. It would be all coaches — coordinators, positions coaches, you name it.
But the category would be redefined, too. Contributor nominees wouldn’t have their candidacies confined to non-playing and non-coaching roles. If a GM or scout were a former star player or coach who had an impact on the game, that could — and would — be included as part of the discussion, which it isn’t today.
So someone like, say, former player, coach and Dallas/New England executive Bucko Kilroy would have his complete resume introduced instead of his work only as part of a franchise’s staff. The guy spent nearly 60 years in the game, for crying out loud, and made a considerable contribution to it in a variety of roles — player, coach, scout, player personnel director, GM. But, under present contributor guidelines, he can only be considered for his work as a front-office employee.
The same goes for former Raiders’ quarterback and coach Tom Flores, the first Hispanic head coach to win a Super Bowl (he won two, with two more as a player and assistant). Or Dan Reeves, a former star running back with Dallas and successful head coach who participated in nine Super Bowls — more than anyone but New England’s Bill Belichick.
Under the current guidelines, each is judged as either a player or a coach … but not both. Under the revised rules, that would change.
Now comes the clincher: No more rotation of candidates, with the seniors and contributors each having two nominees every other year. Nope, under the new plan the seniors would have two EVERY year, while the contributors would have one — a shift that aims at reducing the vast number of decorated seniors waiting for calls that never happen because of a shortage of nominations.
Prior to 2014, there were two senior choices every year, which means 10 every five years. But since the creation of the contributor category, the number the next five years (from 2015 through 2019) was reduced to seven … and, granted, it’s not a substantial difference. But tell that to those 66 all-decade stars waiting on Canton.
Green Bay guard Jerry Kramer was one of them, and he waited 45 years to hear his name called. He not only was a first-team all-decade choice and member of five NFL championship teams; he was the only member of the league’s 50th anniversary club (chosen by the Pro Football Hall of Fame) not elected to Canton until this summer.
Then there’s wide receiver Drew Pearson. Another first-team all-decade choice who was a Super Bowl champion and made so many big plays at critical moments that he was called “Mr. Clutch.” He’s waited three decades on Canton but has never been discussed as a Hall-of-Fame finalist.
The list goes on and on — which is why it made no sense to create a contributor category at the expense of the seniors. So don’t. Keep the categories separate and not equal, with the seniors returning to two choices every year and the contributors reduced to one.
I’ve heard talk that the Hall might consider creating a coaches’ category — one that could include head coaches and assistants — and have it limited to one nominee every other year, rotating with a contributor class that would have one candidate every other year, too.
I don’t know about that. I think it’s easier to include coaches with contributors and have the group propose one nominee every year. But I also think it’s worth examining.
So is returning two nominees to the senior pool every year. In fact, I’d start there and work my way back, making sure I did everything I could to maximize the chances for those 66 all-decade seniors — as well as others who are qualified — to get what they deserve.
Namely, a fairer shot than they have now.
All I know is the system is due to be reassessed, and it will be. But it’s also due to be revised. And it should be.