Between 2000 and 2009, the selection committee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame chose for induction a grand total of 54 former player, coaches and league officials. You might think that number reflects exclusivity and ensuring only the “best of the best” are recognized with the highest honor for the sport. However, in a sport with 32 teams and more than 1,600 players every year, the reality was that the committee left a lot of deserving players waiting in the wings.
Because of that, over the last seven years the committee has been playing catch-up. Where a class of six or seven was once an exception (only nine times between 1970 and 2009), every class since 2010 has included at least six inductees and with the addition of eight new members for 2016, there have now been consecutive classes of eight for the first time since 1967 and 1968. Since 2010, 50 former players, coaches and contributors have been selected for the Hall of Fame.
I applaud the current committee for recognizing the mistakes of the past and continuing to grow the HOF, but even with their larger classes there continues to be questions and confusing decisions.
When Brett Favre finally retired (for the last time) following the 2010 season, there was little doubt that he would be a member of the 2016 Hall of Fame class. The other seven people who will join Favre in Canton this August include a few more surprises.
Perhaps the most disheartening thing about the Class of 2016 is that both of the senior selections, Dick Stanfel and Ken Stabler, are not alive to enjoy their day in the sun. Both died within a month of each other during the summer of 2015.
What is especially frustrating is that both players have been eligible for the HOF for decades and in fact had both previously been finalists.
One of my biggest disappointments with the HOF has always been the high number of former players or coaches who wait sometimes for as many as 50 years after they have retired before they get selected.
You would think that if someone is “Hall of Fame worthy” they would be inducted within a reasonable time after retirement, but unfortunately that hasn’t always been the case.
In the case of Stanfel, a former lineman for the Detroit Lions and Washington Redskins, he was first a Hall of Fame finalist in 1993 and then again in 2012. Yet, neither time he earned enough support and instead waited 58 years after playing his last game to be selected.
For Stabler, who won a Super Bowl with the Oakland Raiders and retired in 1984, the wait was not quite as long, but perhaps even more confusing. Stabler was a HOF finalist in his first two years of eligibility (1990 and 1991) and then again in 2003 without being selected. A “rebel rouser” during his playing career, some HOF voters felt Stabler didn’t take the sport seriously or perhaps hadn’t always worked hard to perform at a peak level every time he was on the field.
The most vocal in that group was former Sports Illustrated writer Paul Zimmerman, who reportedly said that Stabler would never get his vote. Zimmerman suffered a stroke in 2008 and is no longer an active committee member, but it appears that it took Stabler’s death last summer before the committee would consider him, which seems to be a shame. That he was inducted so quickly after his death perhaps there was a consensus, much like the case for former baseball manager Lou Durocher, who was selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame the year after his death, that he deserved to be in the HOF, but that there was enough animosity not to allow it to happen during his lifetime.
Of the other five selections, Orlando Pace had the shortest wait. A seven-time Pro Bowl selection as an offensive tackle, Pace retired in 2009 and was in only his second year on the ballot. Many thought he would get in a year ago, so his selection was no surprise.
Wide receiver Marvin Harrison retired in 2008, so compared to the amount of time some other HOF receivers have been forced to wait before getting inducted he actually got off pretty easy. It is interesting that Harrison was selected while Terrell Owens was not chosen in his first year on the ballot. I suspect that Owens will get his HOF bust in the next couple years, but him not being chosen in his first year of eligibility was a clear message from the committee that his on and off the field antics were a factor in the decision.
The selection a year ago of Charles Haley seems to have freed up a place in this class for pass rusher Kevin Greene. Of the five modern era candidates selected this year, Greene arguably is the closest to a “borderline” Hall of Famer, but with 160 career sacks he was definitely one of the best pass rushers of his era.
Former Tampa Bay and Indianapolis Coach Tony Dungy was selected after being a finalist in both 2014 and 2015. I personally think former Cardinals and Chargers coach Don Coryell (who was also a finalist) was more deserving because he was one of the great innovators of the modern offense, but Dungy did win a Super Bowl while Coryell never got to the big game, so it is hard to argue too much.
Rounding out the class is contributor Eddie DeBartolo Jr., who was the owner of the San Francisco 49ers from 1977-2000. Though his tenure ended due to some legal issues, there is no arguing that DeBartolo was one of the most successful owners in NFL history. He was the first to have a team win five Super Bowls, a feat that was accomplished over a 14 year stretch.
Of course, with every selection there are others who are left on the outside looking in. The group of finalists not chosen for the Class of 2016 include Coryell, Owens, Joe Jacoby, Morten Anderson, Terrell Davis, John Lynch, Kurt Warner, Edgerrin James, Steve Atwater and Alan Faneca. With LaDainian Tomlinson, Jason Taylor and Brian Dawkins headlining the 2017 eligible players, it is likely a few of these names (in addition to some surprises among the veteran’s committee choices) will likely get the call from the hall next year.
But for now, we will enjoy the Class of 2016 and their induction in August.