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Can Pro Football Hall of Fame Voters Keep Their Winning Streak?

Posted on February 01, 2014 by Dean Hybl
Will this be the year that five-time Super Bowl champion Charles Haley adds the Hall of Fame to his resume?

Will this be the year that five-time Super Bowl champion Charles Haley adds the Hall of Fame to his resume?

It is that time of year again, when some of the great players we enjoyed watching on the gridiron receive their much-deserved place in pro football immortality.

With very few exceptions, the players considered each year are all among the NFL all-time elite and worthy of Hall of Fame induction. So, to me judging whether the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee does a good job has become less about which players, coaches or contributors they select, but more about how many they allow into the Hall of Fame each year.

Though the rules say that up to seven worthy candidates can be selected into the Hall of Fame each year, between 1988 and 2009 the Hall of Fame selection committee enshrined the maximum number of candidates only twice (1990 and 2001) while on six occasions choosing only four candidates, the minimum number allowed in a year.

The thing you must understand is that it isn’t like keeping the Hall of Fame classes so small for all those years was in some way preserving the elite status of the HOF.

Between 1988 and 2009 there were a total of 113 players, coaches and executives inducted into the Hall of Fame. Only 36 (31.9%) were inducted in their first year of eligibility. That means nearly 70% of all those who were eventually inducted were passed over at least once.

What this horrific and totally unnecessary display of incompetence did was create a back-log of worthy candidates. It also meant that some players whose careers were eventually recognized as Hall of Fame worthy were deprived of that honor until either after their death or far later in their life than necessary.

While the Baseball Hall of Fame selection process has some major problems, with only a few exceptions through their veteran’s program, most of those who are going to be honored as Baseball Hall of Famers receive the recognition no more than 20 years after their retirement.

In just the last five years there have been eight Pro Football Hall of Famers inducted more than 30 years after their retirement. Heck, Jack Butler, who was inducted in 2012 and passed away in 2013, finished his playing career in 1959.

I am not at all suggesting that these players should not have been inducted into the HOF, but rather that had the Hall of Fame selection committee been doing their job more efficiently for more than two decades these players would have received that honor earlier and thus would have been able to enjoy the recognition longer.

Fortunately, beginning in 2010 the Hall of Fame committee seemed to start understanding the mess they had made and since then have done a good job starting to reduce the backlog.

In the last four HOF voting cycles the HOF class has included the maximum seven members three times and six members once.

Now I don’t think the Hall of Fame should plan on picking the maximum number every year in perpetuity, but there are still many players in what is considered the seniors division (players who have been retired for 25 years or more) who are clearly deserving of a spot among the NFL’s all-time greats.

With several worthy candidates also becoming eligible every year, I think it is essential for the Hall of Fame to continue to induct at least six people every year for at least the next few years. If the voters ever go back to their old ways and have a couple small classes again, it would badly damage the positive gains that have been made the last four years to reduce the backlog.

One thing that is always interesting is to look at first-year eligible candidates and try and predict which newcomers will go right into the HOF and which will be given a year or two of penance before receiving their bust.

Derrick Brooks seems to be a likely first-year eligible inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Derrick Brooks seems to be a likely first-year eligible inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In 2013 there were three first-year eligible players (Larry Allen, Jonathan Ogden and Warren Sapp) inducted. This year there are three players (Derrick Brooks, Marvin Harrison and Walter Jones) and one coach (Tony Dungy) among the 17 finalists who are eligible for the first time.

Of those four, I think there is little doubt that all three players will eventually earn a spot in Canton. The question is whether they meet the standards voters seem to have set for first-year candidates.

I think it will be very difficult to justify excluding Derrick Brooks from the Hall of Fame this year. I don’t see five other modern era candidates (up to five modern era and two senior era candidates can be inducted each year) more worthy of being called a Hall of Famer than the former Tampa Bay linebacker.

I’m not quite sure if the same can be said for either Harrison or Jones. Both were great players and will eventually be inducted, but is Harrison more worthy of selection than other offensive skill position candidates Andre Reed or Jerome Bettis? The Hall of Fame committee has been notorious about making wide receivers wait for a while before getting the call. Since 1995, 11 wide receivers have been inducted into the HOF, but only Steve Largent and Jerry Rice were selected in their initial year of eligibility.

Offensive linemen tend to do better with first-year induction (five since 1995), but I am not sure if Jones stands out that far above fellow nominees Will Shields, Charles Haley, Michael Strahan, Aeneas  Williams and John Lynch to get the nod.

Because of his reputation as a great person and his credentials as a Super Bowl winning coach, there will be many supporters for Tony Dungy, but I am not sure he is a Hall of Fame lock. Considering that Bill Walsh, Joe Gibbs and Bill Parcells all were not selected in their first year of eligibility and that Hank Stram and John Madden had to wait for more than two decades for induction, I am not convinced that Dungy will be receiving a bust anytime soon.

One thing that is very unusual this year is that there are two kickers amongst the finalists.

Ray Guy is the only pure punter ever to be a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Will the eighth time be the charm?

Ray Guy is the only pure punter ever to be a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Will the eighth time be the charm?

It has been expected for years that Ray Guy would become the first pure punter ever inducted into the Hall of Fame, but despite being a finalist seven times prior to 2014, Guy has never reached the finish line. Now that he is being considered as a senior selection, this could be the last chance for quite a while for Guy to be selected.

In only his second year of eligibility, it is a bit of a surprise that Morten Andersen has made it into the finalist category and seems to bode well for his eventual induction. Statistically, Andersen compares extremely favorably to Jan Stenerud, the only pure kicker currently in the HOF, but kickers don’t typically receive a lot of support from the Hall of Fame.

This could finally be the year for a pair of defensive players who made their mark rushing the passer. Both senior nominee Claude Humphrey and modern nominee Charles Haley are HOF finalists for the fifth time in 2014. Like Guy, this could be the last chance for a while for Humphrey. Haley, who earned five Super Bowl rings during his career, had a very comparable career to recent inductees Chris Doleman, Fred Dean and Richard Dent and would seem to be on track to eventually earn a bust in Canton.

There is also a case to be made for former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie Debartolo Jr., but I will be surprised if he takes a spot away from a player.

Regardless of which candidates are selected, I just hope that the Hall of Fame committee continues their recent streak of high-number classes as the magic of the Pro Football Hall of Fame isn’t as much that it is elite (though it is), but that all those who are enshrined contributed to the magic, mystique and greatness of professional football and will forever be remembered for their brilliance.

My Predictions:

Who I think should be inducted: Jerome Bettis, Derrick Brooks, Ray Guy, Charles Haley, Claude Humphrey, Andre Reed, Aeneas Williams

Who I think the committee will select: Derrick Brooks, Charles Haley, Claude Humphrey, Walter Jones, Will Shields, Michael Strahan

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