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Sports Then and Now

Pro Football Hall of Fame Committee Needs To Do Better Job

Posted on July 31, 2010 by Dean Hybl

If Floyd Little is deserving of Hall of Fame induction, then why did it take 35 years after his retirement for his name to be called?

This is the first of a series of articles we will post this week that will focus on the Pro Football Hall of Fame in preparation for the 2010 induction ceremony on August 7th.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame Inductions next weekend will again be a special event as seven names will be added to the list of all-time greats.

For some players, such as 2010 inductees Emmitt Smith and Jerry Rice, the wait for Hall of Fame selection is limited to only the mandatory five year waiting period. However, for others, including 2010 inductees Floyd Little and Dick LeBeau, the wait for the call from the Hall of Fame can sometimes take decades.

Later this week I will be posting my picks for the 10 players not in the Hall of Fame who are deserving of induction and the 10 players in the Hall that I think don’t really belong. However, in general I think the Hall of Fame committee has done a pretty good job of putting deserving players in the Hall of Fame.

Where I do think the Hall of Fame committee has been very weak is related to how long it often takes them to finally induct someone who we all know immediately is deserving of being in the Hall of Fame. There are far too many cases in NFL history of clearly Hall of Fame deserving players and coaches who have had to wait much longer than justified before being selected and thus not been able to fully enjoy the honor.

While I have long considered Little to be a borderline Hall of Fame candidate (I ranked him as the seventh most deserving running back last year when I picked the top 25 running backs not in the NFL) and I don’t think that LeBeau belongs simply based on his playing career (I ranked him as the 12th best defensive back not in the HOF), if they were going to get into the Hall I have a problem that it took more than 30 years after they became eligible for them to enter the Hall of Fame.

My personal “sniff test” for picking Hall of Famers has always been the following: At the time of their retirement were they considered someone whose Hall of Fame selection seemed inevitable?

Looking at the 2010 Hall of Fame class, I think that was definitely the case for Smith, Rice and John Randle with Russ Grimm, Rickey Jackson and Little squarely on the border. Though he is supposed to have been chosen based on his playing career, it is only through his decades as an assistant coach that LeBeau gains any credible Hall of Fame credentials.

The case of 2009 Hall of Fame inductee Bob Hayes is a great example of my frustration with the Hall of Fame committee. At the time of his retirement in 1975, there was little question that Hayes, once the fastest man in the world and a player who completely revolutionized the receiver position, would one day take his place in Canton.

Bob Hayes revolutioned the wide receiver position in the NFL, but it was 34 years after his retirement before he was selected for the Hall of Fame.

However, it took 34 years after his last reception before Hayes finally made the cut. Unfortunately, Hayes was not able to relish in his Hall of Fame moment as he passed away in 2002.

I know that Hayes had off-the-field issues that probably took him off the radar for a while, but such is not the case for Gene Hickerson or legendary coach Hank Stram. Yet both waited so many years to be inducted that by the time their name was called they were no longer physically able to participate and fully enjoy their moment.

It was especially disappointing for me to watch Stram sit there helplessly on the stage and speak only through comments on the video screen. Because anyone who watched his famous sideline performance in Super Bowl IV or listened to him announce NFL games on television and radio for many years knows that he had the gift of gab. Had he still been in good health, I have no doubt that Stram would have given a performance for the ages.

However, he was not inducted into the Hall of Fame until 2003, 26 years after coaching his last game.

Just this year, 85-year-old Don Coryell, the architect of the famous “Air Coryell” passing attack that is still prevalent in the modern passing offense, was named as a finalist for the first time 24 years after coaching his last game. Ultimately, Coryell was not selected and passed away on July 1st.

Now, if Coryell eventually is selected, he will never have the satisfaction of knowing he was chosen for the Hall of Fame.

But I would argue that due to the fragile nature of life, any wait beyond the mandatory five years should be avoided as much as possible.

Though he was in good health and able to enjoy his moment, Art Monk serves as another recent example of a player whose wait for induction was way longer than warranted. Monk was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008 after waiting through eight years of eligibility. That made absolutely no sense, as from the day he retired everyone knew that Monk deserved to be in the Hall of Fame and would eventually get in.

What if Monk had been in an accident and passed away four or five years after becoming eligible? Then he would have been denied the opportunity to enjoy his moment in the sun for seemingly no good reason.

Is there any member of the Hall of Fame committee who really doesn't think that Shannon Sharpe belongs in the Hall of Fame?

Among recently retired players currently waiting for induction, I would add Shannon Sharpe and Cris Carter to the same category as Monk. Is there really a legitimate question as to whether Sharpe and Carter deserve to be in the Hall of Fame? Yet, this marks the third year for Carter and second for Sharpe that they have been denied their inevitable places in the Hall.

It almost seems like the Hall of Fame voters, after years of being beholden to the players for interviews and stories, finally hold the upper hand and want to make sure the players know it.

It is reported that some media members have such a grudge against former players that they will do everything in their power to keep that player from being inducted. Probably the most famous such situation has been between Sports Illustrated writer Paul Zimmerman and former Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler, but there have been others.

Of the players on my top 10 list of players that I believe deserve Hall of Fame induction, seven have been retired for more than 20 years and a couple have waited 35 or more years. Some of these players have been teased by the Hall voters multiple times while others have never been serious candidates despite watching others with similar credentials receive their ticket to football immortality.

In the future, I would like to see Hall of Fame voters put a special emphasis on getting players into the Hall of Fame as soon after their retirement as possible so that they can enjoy many years of coming back to Canton for the annual induction ceremonies.

If I were in charge (which sadly I am not), I would propose that the Hall of Fame hold one big “Catch Up” Hall of Fame ceremony where they induct every player that is determined to be worthy of selection.

After those 30-40 all-time greats are added, then I would propose that after waiting the mandatory five years following retirement, players would be eligible for the Hall for only five years. Then if the voters really are intent on ensuring the most deserving players are selected, they will stop holding grudges and vote the best players in.

That would eliminate this current system where some deserving players wait their entire lifetime for a call that either never comes or comes too late for them to enjoy it.

Of course that will probably never happen, but at the very least, Hall of Fame voters should make sure every year to elect the maximum number of candidates that can be selected, which is currently seven (though to reach seven both candidates designated as senior candidates must be among the class). The 2010 class marks the first time since 2001 that a full seven inductees have been chosen and the classes in both 2004 and 2005 included only four players.

Being selected for the Hall of Fame is a great honor and one that all deserving players should have the opportunity to enjoy. Hopefully one day the powers that be will figure it out. However, for now we are left with many all-time greats still waiting for their name to be called.

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