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Who Would Have Thought? Pro Football Hall of Fame Voters Get It Right

Posted on February 05, 2011 by Dean Hybl

After being eligible for nine years, Richard Dent finally was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

For the last two years I have been a very vocal critic of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. I have articulated in numerous articles that I think for much of the last decade they have been inconsistent in their selections often picking small classes when there were plenty of deserving candidates and then when they do select players for the Hall of Fame often choosing borderline candidates when more deserving people were waiting in the wings.

We will see in the coming years if it is a seed change or a one-time blind squirrel kind of thing, but I must give the voters credit for doing a tremendous job in selecting the Hall of Fame class of 2011.

In an article I wrote last night, I outlined the six people I thought deserved to be inducted in 2011. Shockingly, all six were inducted with veteran’s committee choice Les Richter making the seventh member of the class.

With the exception of Deion Sanders and Shannon Sharpe, the class of 2011 doesn’t include any players on the short list for best ever at their position, but all seven were solid NFL veterans who are deserving selections for the Hall of Fame.

While there are still a number of tremendous candidates who have been waiting for far too long like Jerry Kramer, Ray Guy, Roger Craig, Chuck Howley and Cliff Branch, at least the class of 2011 doesn’t include some of the head scratching choices of recent years.

I am especially glad that Sharpe finally was selected in his third year on the ballot. He is clearly one of the best tight ends ever to play the game and in my opinion should have been selected without having to wait.

Ed Sabol may be the most deserving member of the 2011 Pro Football Hall of Fame class.

Perhaps, the person who most deserves to be among the class of 2011 is the one member who never wore an NFL uniform. Ed Sabol had the vision nearly 50 years ago to recognize that professional football translates very well to television and that there were many possibilities beyond simply showing games on television.

NFL Films has developed into an amazing company that is as responsible for the huge popularity of the NFL as any player, owner or administrator other than perhaps Pete Rozelle.

I am also very pleased that in the year of the 25th anniversary of the 1985 Chicago Bears, the Hall of Fame voters finally chose to add Richard Dent to the Hall. He was as integral to those defenses as Mike Singletary and Dan Hampton, both of whom were inducted very soon after becoming eligible, but for some reason was on the ballot for nearly a decade before finally earning a spot.

One of the things that has frustrated me about the Hall of Fame voters for many years is that instead of making sure that as many deserving players as possible are inducted each year, they have been very picky in their selections, which has created a backlog of worthy candidates.

In 2004 and 2005, the Hall of Fame voters chose only 13 candidates each year, yet with the selection today of Dent, Richter and Hanburger, there now have been 16 players inducted into the Hall of fame in the subsequent years who were eligible in those two years.

This backlog has meant an increased number of players waiting 25 years or more for induction and in some cases being either too sick or having passed away before they could enjoy the moment in the sun that most knew they deserved long ago.

An eight time Pro Bowl selection, Les Richter retired in 1962, but passed away in June of 2010 before receiving the call from the Hall of Fame.

Les Richter was an eight time Pro Bowl selection who played his first game in the NFL in 1954 and his last in 1962. Over the next 49 years Richter didn’t play in another NFL game or make another tackle, but finally in 2011 was chosen as a Hall of Fame finalist for the first time.

While perhaps a borderline candidate because he played only nine years in the league, Richter’s record was comparable to many Hall of Famers and it seems very strange that it took so long for him to even reach the stage of being a finalist.

I am sure he spent many years wondering if he would ever receive the call. Sadly, when the call finally came, Richter wasn’t there to answer as he passed away last June.

In my opinion, he is a great example of why the Hall of Fame selection process needs to be altered so that there is a sense of urgency on the part of the voters to make sure that deserving candidates are selected for the Hall of Fame while they are young enough to enjoy the honor and relish in their designation for years to come.

One of the poster boys for what is wrong with this system is former Green Bay Packers great Jerry Kramer. He was first chosen as a Hall of Fame finalist in 1974 and it seemed likely that he would soon take his rightful place with other Packers in the Hall of Fame. Between 1974 and 1987 Kramer was a Hall of Fame finalist nine times, but didn’t get enough support for induction in any of those years.

Finally in 1997, after a decade without being a finalist, he returned to the finalist list this time as a senior nominee. Inexplicably, he was not selected as only four candidates were chosen that year. Interestingly, of the 15 finalists in 1997, only Kramer and Ray Guy (who has been a finalist seven times) have not yet earned a bust in Canton.

Now 75 years old, if Kramer is ever selected for the Hall of Fame will he still be around to make his own acceptance speech? Let’s hope he is, but he should have been guaranteed that many years ago and allowed the opportunity to return each year and bask in the glory of being a Hall of Famer.

Fortunately, Chris Hanburger, who last played in the NFL in 1978 and will be 70 years old later this year, was around to answer the call when it finally came.

A nine-time Pro Bowl selection and four-time first team All-Pro linebacker for the Washington Redskins, Hanburger also was never a Hall of Fame finalist until this year.

Because most NFL players are done with their playing careers by the time they are 35 years old and thus eligible for the Hall of Fame when still relatively young, it is inexplicable that so many former players who are in their 60s and 70s are being inducted.

It does not seem fair that they should have to wait sometimes 30 or 40 years for induction when their numbers haven’t changed.

My belief has always been that players should be selected for the Hall of Fame based on whether they deserved induction at the time they retired, not 20, 30 or 40 years later.

Going back to Kramer, I think had there been a poll taken in the mid 1970s of whether he deserved to be in the Hall of Fame the results would have been overwhelming. Yet, as the memory of his greatness started to fade away and others captured the attention of the voters, his merits suddenly became in question and he has not been able to gain entry.

I know some argue about watering down of the Hall of Fames, but I believe in football there have been so many great players over so many decades that there are somewhere between 25 and 40 former players who are eligible today and just as worthy of induction as many who are in the Hall of Fame.

My suggestion would be for the Hall of Fame to have one big “catch-up” class where they induct every former player that at the time of their retirement were considered legitimate Hall of Famers.

Then, I propose that once all the “senior” players are taken care of, they change the selection process so that a former player is eligible for the Hall of Fame for only 10 years, similar to the 15 year range in baseball. This way then you won’t have former players waiting until they are 80 years old, as Richter would have been had he still been alive today, before they are selected for the Hall of Fame.

I salute the Hall of Fame committee for doing a great job in 2011, but hope they will not rest on their laurels and make sure the Pro Football Hall of Fame continues to induct all its deserving candidates.

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