Monday, May 29, 2017

Strictly Personal: HOF Voting Committee, Would a Little Soviet-style Central Planning Be So Bad?

By John Turney
Bold denotes first ballot
In any given year getting voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame is a zero-sum game, there are only five slots and there are 15 finalists who are, in the end, voted in at above a 90% rate, so they are worthy of the HOF, but have to wait.
Some folks (and I am one of them) agree with Bob Costas who once told me that there is extra cachet to being a first-ballot Hall of Famer in any sport. So, the challenge for voters is to take extra care to ensure those who truly rose above their peers get that honor. For football, it's the likes of Jim Brown, Johnny Unitas, Jerry Rice and next year, likely Ray Lewis and many other greats.

There have been some in the media who say "A guy's a Hall of Famer or he's not". They say it as though it's scripture or carved in stone atop the mountain where the football gods reside. It's not. Sometimes players have to wait, as was the case for Terrell Owens. He will get in, but he had enough "dings" to warrant exclusion from being a first-balloter.

For those who say the Hall of Fame should include as many qualified players as there are, and expand the maximum number from five to . . . whatever is suited for the year. Perhaps that could happen for the 100th Anniversary of the NFL, a special circumstance, but Year-in, year-out? No.

Remember the Hall of Fame is a real thing, it's bricks and mortar and not something just on paper or on a website. If all the critics want to take a couple of weeks off (or more) and volunteer in Canton to make sure that nine, ten, or twelve HOF inductees all get the special attention they need for the celebration, then maybe. They can drive people around, make hotel and flight reservations, prepare the parade, the festival, then go ahead, maybe it could work with all of the critics doing those things to help those who already do it for the five current players and the senior and contributors.

The real world, outside the Internet, has budgets, time constraints, limited manpower, limited room accommodations. And if an inductee is from Pittsburgh or Buffalo, look out. It's going to be standing room only at all the events. So those not familiar with the Hall should be a bit more humble when suggesting that they expand the current size a potential current player Hall of Fame class if they don't know what it takes to put on the Hall of Fame week. Maybe, just maybe the Hall of Fame officials have good reasons for having the current player classes capped at five.

So, let's focus. If recently, over 90% of those who make the Final 15 list for induction into the Hall of Fame (and it is higher than that, I've done the math) then why not make sure they all get in while also preserving the extra honor to those who deserve to be first ballot inductees? That means making sure good, qualified candidates who have been on the Final 15 or SHOULD have been do not get overlooked any further and go into the Senior's Pool, often called "Senior Swamp" where it's hard for those candidates to get another look. Sadly, there are many great players in that category. Some of that was because of (and this in my personal opinion) in-fighting and localism and esoteric concerns by less enlightened voting committees of yesteryear. Yes. I said it.
Okay, how does this apply now?  Well, to make sure all of the 10 Finalists who didn't get inducted plus the newcomers and a couple players who are coming to the end of their eligibility in the modern player category it will take four or five years. That means some players and their fans and presenters will have to wait, but in my view, that is no dishonor, getting in is an honor.

So here is the convivial suggestion: The voters can prioritize players less by parochial concerns and on a more open evaluation that includes stats, honors, testimonials, etc. to really give first-ballot to those whose "resumes" are almost flawless and allow other great players to wait and not be offended by it.
So, let's take the wide receivers. Terrell Owens has been dinged for a couple of years. Vote him in in 2018 and he'll be a third ballot guy, same as Marvin Harrison. Then, ding Randy Moss a year. There is enough of his "dogging it" and "I play when I want to play" in his numbers and performance to reasonable say he's not in the same category as Jerry Rice, the last first-ballot wide receiver.

Yes, his fans will scream and rip apart the voting committee like they did for Owens and other wide receivers over the years, but they will get over it when he's elected in 2019. Then the "receiver" space is open for Isaac Bruce, who's qualified but gets lost in the shuffle. Three receivers in the next three years. No more backlog, no one waits too long, qualified greats of the game get into the HOF. That clears the deck for when Megatron and others recently retired receivers become eligible, which always come faster than it seems they should. Five years goes by fast, it seems.

Now, the tackles. Joe Jacoby is considered the best lineman of the three-championship Redskins and he was a starter in all three of those Super Bowl wins. The upcoming vote in 2018 is his last year before being relegated to the "Swamp". Jacoby's resume is not as strong as some recent tackles like Jonathan Ogden or Walter Jones, but it is certainly strong enough to warrant election and not put in a place where it could be decades before he's pulled out. Solution: Vote him in.
Then, in 1994, and this is imperative, keep Mike Kenn from going into the Swamp. In 2019 he, if the voters see fit to vote for him, will have his first chance at induction and last chance before becoming a senior. Like Jacoby, he's too great a player to have that fate. He played 17 seasons and started 17 seasons. Jackie Slater, for example, played 20 and was a full-time starter in about 14-15 of those. Kenn was an All-Pro in 1980 and in 1991, eleven years apart (what offensive tackle can make that claim?). He was All-Pro and Pro Bowl player in between those two seasons, too. He also ranked very high during his career by one pro scouting service's grades, was rarely called for penalties, gave up fewer sacks per 16 games that some of the recent tackles (though it was close). Kenn has the goods.

Of course, this will upset the Jaguar fans who have a fine tackle of their own who made it to the Final 10 in 2017. However, his final season was in 2001 so he can wait without being cast into the Swamp. So, with Jacoby, then Kenn, then Boselli the deck is cleared for others like who are waiting.

Brian Dawkins didn't get in last year, but he's (in my view) one of the best two free safeties of the last three decades. Ed Reed, in my view, is the best free safety ever, though clearly, others will disagree, in either case, he;s worthy of being one of those rare players who have no flaws on their resume to speak of and being voted into the HOF right away. So, any delay on Dawkins only gums up the works for him. Then, in 2019, Reed gets in. In 2020 in this proposed "defensive back spot" Ty Law could get his due. Law was a key to the early 2000s Patriots defenses and was a tremendous cover corner. Surely those Patriots were more than just Tom Brady.

As mentioned, Ray Lewis should get a first-ballot spot in 2018 (meaning Brian Urlacher will have to wait), then in 2019 Tony Gonzales should get that honor as well, and in 2010 I think Troy Polamalu should also get the same treatment, though debatable.

Now for the interior line. It comes down to if Steve Hutchinson is a first-ballot guy or not. To me, it's close, but there have been great guards who had to wait. Maybe the interior linemen get undervalued in the HOF process and perhaps other factors. To me, he's the top left guard of the new century, but if he had to wait like some of the wide receivers it would be as big an injustice as some other players.

So, perhaps Alan Faneca in 2018, skip a year for interior linemen and put in Urlacher in 2019, then Hutch in 2020 and then Kevin Mawae in 2021.

That could make a potential awesome class for 2021. Peyton Manning is a first-ballot lock and Charles Woodson may (should) be, then Mawae, Champ Bailey (with all the other DBs having already included) and leaves a spot for the one of the best but on of the most overlooked defensive tackles ever—Bryant Young.
No offense to Warren Sapp, but Bryant Young was a, more complete tackle. Sapp played 3-technqiue, Young had to play both the shade tackle and the three-tackle. Sapp had 96.5 sacks, Young 89.5. Hardly a difference. Young played the run better, just solid in every way. Obviously, voters disagree, but in any case, it seems clear Young deserves a shot in the "room".

In 2022 John Lynch can get his due, getting all the players from the 2017 Final 15 into the Hall of Fame. Nothing against him, but compared to Dawkins, Reed, and Polamalu, Lynch would rank fourth and with great corners available and space limited someone has to wait. And that opens up things for Ronde Barber and Edgerrin James, Richard Seymour, Antonio Gates and others.

Now, of course, I am going to get slammed for this post. But look at the bright side, I am just a blogger, nothing more. The "who does this guy think he is" and "he's planning a conspiracy" or other things I may hear are going to be well-deserved. What I've done is try and take concerns of cities, teams, and fans out of it and focus on the resumes of each player as I see them.

Resumes, in my view, consist of honors like All-Pro, Pro Bowl, All-Decade, Player of the Year, etc., testimonials such as "Moss dogged it" or "I could never cover that guy" or "No on was tough to block than", team success, intangibles (toughness, courage, intelligence), and statistics (both standard and advanced) and other factors and try and come up with fair classes that won't create new backlogs and will keep great players from going into the Swamp and honors the truly great with first-ballot accolades.
If this is offensive to fans of Moss or Urlacher or others my post "snubs" then, well, blast me in the comments section. Your views are every bit as valid as mine. And there is some tongue-in-cheek here (see title of this post).

Additionally, this is not, I repeat NOT any kind of indictment to the HOF Voting Committee like so many bloggers level. My view is they do a tough, thankless job and 99% of the time get it right. Sure, there have been a couple of first-ballot players that didn't meet the criteria of what I thought was a first balloter, but that's simply my opinion. It matters little. My guess is they will take this polemic in the spirit intended, one of suggestion or idea and not a criticism of their work.

In my interactions of the voters, they do want to get the best players in but they also have a duty to present cases for players from the teams they cover and that is when, sometimes, the parochial concerns can set in and cause a logjam here and there and that's all that we're addressing by suggesting this one thing:  Don't fill the swamp with more good players.


  1. Great blog John, you're so right the many people don't understand the PFHOF. It's been my argument that the hall really doesn't have or understand the definition of a first ballot HOFer so guys like Jacoby fall through the cracks...see Jason Taylor for the most recent example!!

  2. Interesting post Mr. Turner. Unfortunately, i don't see Mike Kenn getting a shot at all. I'd be stunned if he even made the Finalist list. Along the same line - I've wondered why Chris Hinton, who had quite a unique career, was overlooked. Not too mention - Lomas Brown or Richmond Webb.

    Kris -