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Will the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee Make it Two in a Row?

Posted on February 03, 2012 by Dean Hybl

Will 2012 finally be the year that Cris Carter earns Hall of Fame selection?

There are few things in sports that frustrate me more than the selection process for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Thanks to a combination of egos, inconsistency and often personal, geographic or team biases, there are many deserving former NFL stars who have never made it into Canton while others of lesser quality have a plaque of their own.

In the three years I have written this blog I have spent a significant amount of time each year chronicling the inconsistencies and offering my own ideas for who should be in the Hall and how they should be selected.

But last year a very strange thing happened. Instead of picking names out of a hat, it appears that the Hall of Fame selectors actually had a thoughtful and constructive discussion on who belonged in the Hall of Fame. The result was a Hall of Fame class that in my opinion was the most deserving class that the selectors have ever chosen.

So, my question entering their annual meeting coming up on Saturday is “Can they do it again?”

Sadly, I still am enough of a skeptic to believe that last year was just an example of the blind squirrel theory and with candidates like Marshall Faulk and Deion Sanders among those eligible it wasn’t overly difficult for the voters to get it right.

In fact, you could argue that the Hall of Fame voters have already put themselves in a negative situation for 2012 because unlike last year when it was very hard to argue that there were players just as deserving left out in order to enshrine the class of 2011, regardless of who enters as the class of 2012 for almost all of the finalists there is at least one player not on the list who you could easily argue is as deserving as the player who made the list of finalists.

We can start that discussion with the two “senior” nominees. These are players who have been eligible for the Hall of Fame for at least 25 years and therefore are no longer on the regular ballot. Last year the two senior candidates were Chris Hanburger and Les Richter and both were selected into the HOF.

In fact, at least one senior candidate has made it into the HOF in every season since 1997 (when there was only one senior nominee). Ironically, the candidate who didn’t get in that year was former Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Jerry Kramer, who was a finalist for the 10th time in 1997. For some unfathomable reason (see my initial comment about biases), Kramer continues to be on the outside looking in for the Hall of Fame despite the fact that over the last 15 years 14 offensive lineman (many with much less impressive resumes than Kramer) have earned their place in the Hall of Fame. In a 2010 column I labeled Kramer as the most deserving former player not enshrined in the HOF.

It is likely that at least one more will get in this year as there are four offensive linemen among the 17 finalists, including senior candidate Dick Stanfel.

In seven NFL seasons, Stanfel was a five time All-Pro and helped the Detroit Lions to three straight NFL Championship Games and two titles. In comparison, Kramer was part of five NFL Championship teams and was a five time first team All-Pro during 11 seasons with the Green Bay Packers.

This marks the second time that Stanfel has been a Hall of Fame finalist though he has been eligible for the Hall of Fame since its inception in 1963.

Interestingly enough, that is one more time than the other senior nominee, Jack Butler. A three-time first team All-Pro for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1951-1959, Butler had 52 interceptions playing primarily for bad Pittsburgh teams. While his numbers are somewhat impressive, it seems strange that he would suddenly emerge as a serious candidate after 50 years. Either the Hall of Fame voters have been very negligent in overlooking him for all these years or they are yielding to pressure from fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers (who have made a concerted effort in recent years to get Butler elected to the HOF) to consider someone whose career was considered and properly dismissed as not being worthy decades ago.

Though he retired from the NFL in 1959, Jack Butler is a Hall of Fame finalist for the first time in 2012.

The inclusion of Butler follows the same pattern as that of Richter a year ago. Though he hadn’t played since 1962, Richter was a finalist for the HOF for the first time in 2011 and was selected to the Hall of Fame just six months after his death.

Fortunately, the 84 year old Butler is still alive and hopefully will be able to enjoy his selection if he is included, but my question to the HOF selectors each year is why couldn’t they have been more diligent years ago if these players are indeed worthy of a plaque in Canton.

In recent years there have been several candidates including Gene Hickerson, Hank Stram, Bob Hayes, George Allen and Richter who had waited so long for the call from the Hall that they either had passed away or were so incapacitated that they couldn’t enjoy the moment in the manner they would have 10-20 years earlier.

I am a firm believer that the Hall of Fame needs to have a one-time giant class to right the wrongs of the Hall of Fame selectors of the last 25 years and induct all the players who played before 1985 who are deemed to be worthy of induction. Then, they could go to a system where players have a 10-15 year window to get inducted and if they are not selected then they will know they won’t ever get in and not live the next 20-30 years wondering if this might be the year.

While Richter, Stanfel and Butler had good careers, I have a hard time seeing them as more deserving of selection than Kramer, L.C. Greenwood, Cliff Harris, Drew Pearson, Johnny Robinson, Donnie Shell, Jim Marshall, Lester Hayes, Chuck Howley, Cliff Branch and Lee Roy Jordan.

Of the other candidates, there are a number that if they get in you will say, “yeah, he deserved it”, but by the same token if they don’t get in you will probably say “yeah, I thought they were just a bit short.”

First year eligible offensive guard Will Shields is a good embodiment of the potential class of 2012. Shields was a 12-time Pro Bowl selection for the Kansas City Chiefs and certainly one of the best at his position during his era. But, he was a first-team All-Pro only twice and the Chiefs never made it to the Super Bowl and the only time they even advanced as far as the AFC title game was during his rookie season.

Every other candidate has some similar faults that make him vulnerable.

Of all the returning candidates, the three who would seem the most primed for inclusion in the class of 2012 are Cris Carter, Curtis Martin and Willie Roaf.

Another thing that has always bothered me about the Hall of Fame selectors is that they like to send messages to players. Some of the best players in NFL history have been left out of the HOF during their first year, or first couple years, of eligibility for seemingly no reason other than the voters want to send players a message that they are now in control.

If the voters were selecting seven candidates (the maximum allowable number) every year, then I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with that. However, part of the reason we have such a glut of candidates from the pre-1985 era is because the voters spent a decade under-selecting candidates.

From 2002 through 2009 there was never a full class of seven inductees chosen for the Hall of Fame. In fact, in both 2004 and 2005 only the minimum number of inductees, four, were chosen. Yet, since 2005, 22 people who were eligible to have been selected during either of those years have subsequently been selected to the Hall of Fame.

I would love to ask the Hall of Fame voters exactly what those 23 individuals did after 2004 and 2005 that made them suddenly worthy of a Hall of Fame vote after having not been chosen during those years.

It seems likely that former Saints and Chiefs offensive tackle Willie Roaf will get into the HOF in 2012.

Last year Martin and Roaf were eligible for the first time and both were finalists. There is little question that both players deserve a spot in the Hall of Fame and it would seem likely that now that they have served their obligatory year of penance, the voters will allow them to take their just place.

It is a little more complicated for Carter. The former Vikings great is one of three wide receivers who all played about the same time and that have similar numbers that has been on the ballot for the last few years.

Hall of Fame voters have a history of making great receivers wait an exceedingly long time for induction. Don Maynard, John Stallworth and Art Monk were each chosen in their eighth year as a finalist, while it took Charlie Joiner and Fred Biletnikoff five times each. Greats like Bob Hayes and Tommy McDonald were not chosen until they were senior candidates and even Michael Irvin, Shannon Sharpe and Charley Taylor waited multiple years before receiving their just place in the Hall.

Of course it took 14 times as a finalist for Lynn Swann to get into the Hall of Fame, but it has been well chronicled that it is a travesty that he is now a Hall of Famer and Drew Pearson, Cliff Branch and Otis Taylor are not.

Among the other finalists for 2012, former Cardinals and Rams defensive back Aeneas Williams is a finalist for the first time though he has been eligible for the last three years. While Williams is a four-time first team All-Pro who certainly has the credentials to be a Hall of Famer, it seems likely that he could have a long wait since several defensive backs with similar careers, including Lester Hayes, Cliff Harris, Johnny Robinson and Donnie Shell, are not yet in the Hall of Fame.

Bill Parcells took both the Giants and Patriots to Super Bowls and could get the HOF call a day before his former teams meet in the title game.

In addition to the eligible players among the finalists, this is an intriguing year because you have former coach Bill Parcells eligible for the first time since formally retiring from coaching in 2006 as well as former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartalo, Jr. I expect one of them will probably make it into the Hall this year, but probably not both.

So, what will happen when the voters gather on Saturday?

Well last year I provided my desired class and what I thought was the likely class. Shockingly, all six of the people I suggested should get into the Hall of Fame did, along with Les Richters, who I slightly questioned as a senior candidate.

This year, I would be okay if for the first time since 1993 (ironically, the last time that Stanfel was a HOF finalist) that neither senior candidate receive the support needed for induction. I just don’t see either Stanfel or Butler as worthy of induction, especially given all the players with better careers who are not in the Hall. However, it is unlikely that neither will be selected.

I just hope that of the modern candidates, that the voters choose the maximum number of five. If not, they will simply be adding to the glut of deserving players who are not in the Hall of Fame.

Of the 15 modern candidates, it is my opinion that all have a legitimate claim to getting into the Hall of Fame, though I would argue that Kevin Greene, Tim Brown, Dermontti Dawson and Charles Haley are at the fringe end of that list.

If I had a vote, the five folks that I would be selecting are Bill Parcells, Cris Carter, Curtis Martin, Willie Roaf and Cortez Kennedy.

But, it is unlikely that the Hall of Fame voters will follow my choices for the second straight year, so I expect that they will probably only agree on four modern candidates and they will be Parcells, Martin, Roaf and Dermontti Dawson. If they do select five modern candidates I could see them going with either Jerome Bettis or Carter as the fifth one. However, the voters seem to have a thing for pass rushers, so they could choose Greene, Haley or Chris Doleman to round out the class.

As always, it will be interesting to see how the voting ends up this time around. As the Hall of Fame moves towards its 50th year in 2013 I would love to see them realize past errors and have a huge celebration class in 2013 to fix their past mistakes, but I seriously doubt that will happen. I’m just hoping the voters don’t add to the problems with their choices (or lack of choices) this time around.

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