By John Turney
|Credit: Leroy Neiman|
The old school writers had agendas that were odd, unfair and even unsavory. A few years ago Sid Hartman said on radio that the night before the Hall of Fame vote he and a few select writers like "Billy" McDonough, Lenny Shapiro, John Steadman, and maybe a couple of others would meet secretly and "decide who was going into the Hall of Fame the next day".
We don't know it that's 100% true but we captured inklings of that in the 1990s when he began to follow the process closely.
Anyway, on to Namath.
As we know Namath had a big impact on the NFL by taking his Jets team to the Super Bowl and beating an established NFL team. He was a passing maven and first, then injuries took his career path down and especially from 1975-77 he didn't look very good.
He took chances, threw a lot of picks, but he also threw passes (an out from one hash to the far sideline) that teams couldn't cover and no other quarterback could throw.
So for background, the following happens: Namath retires after the 1977 season. After the 1978 season, Fran Tarkenton retires. And then, after the 1979 season, Roger Staubach retired.
After the 5-year wait, Namath is eligible for the Hall of Fame class of 1983 and to voters meet the day for for the Super Bowl to discuss the candidacy of the Hall of Fame finalists.
Namath's case is presented, discussed, and is shot down by the NFL bloc of voters, the ones that represented NFL cities as opposed to the AFL voters, the ones from AFL cities. Apparently it was pretty heated (not uncommon then). Part of the criticisms were not just of Namath's stats or injuries it was that his 4007 yards were "in the AFL" suggesting that even in 1967 the competition was not up to NFL levels.
Though some of the NFL voters were for Namath not enough were so, Namath is not elected.
Now comes 1984. And Fran Tarkenton is up for the Hall of Fame. When his case is presented by the Minnesota voters all the AFL voters crossed their arms in solidarity and sat silently during the discussion—they were making a point.
When to votes were tallied, according to reports, Namath was eight short, Tarkenton nine short. (Apparently, one of the old AFL voters did vote for Tarkention—Remember the Colts, Steelers, and Browns were not AFL teams and the Seahawks were an expansion team so those four don't count so perhaps the Bengals voter wasn't a die-hard AFL guy?).
So, in 1985, Roger Staubach was voted in and so was Namath. Of course, some writers, not on the committee complained.
However, now that the AFL gods were satisfied with Broadway Joe in the Hall of Fame in comes the vote for the Class of 1986. Sid Hartman, the Vikings writer, was confident Tarkenton would be voted in, and he was right. Tark sailed in now that the road was clear.