Saturday, June 8, 2019

Ask Not What the HOF Can Do for You, Ask What You Can Do for the HOF

OPINION
By John Turney

Today Emery Moorehead posted this on Facebook
He mentions the rumored "make up" class for the Hall of Fame that could occur next year. The theory is that there are many players that didn't get a fair shot at the Hall of Fame when they were modern-day candidates (many never had ANY shot if they played in the 1920s or 30s and the like).

He also mentioned some teammates (fair enough) that is what good teammates do. And he also mentioned a couple of others.

Of course the comments followed:
And the results predictable. Steelers fans pushing for Steelers, Raiders fans pushing for Raiders, Bears fans pushing for Bears, Cowboys fans pushing for Cowboys. That's what good loyal fans do.

However, not so much with the voters (though there is plenty) but the major media in NFL cities also displays fanlike partisanship. The writers, radio announcers, etc., are always taking shots at the Hall of Fame process and saying it's "a joke" or "laughable" all because 'their guy' from their team is not it. 

I think that makes the critic the real joke.

Don't get me wrong, as I just said, there is partisanship among the Hall of Fame voters. They push for the guys they represent. If a guy (using other league's teams) covered the Memphis Showboats and there is a guy he covered, dines out with, is family friends with, not in the Hall then he's going to push (comment on air, write, post online) that Showboat player.

The same is true for the guy who covered the Portland Thunder. It is to be expected. But, as long as they keep the Hall of Fame in mind first, it's probably okay.

The question every Hall of Fame voters, in my view, should ask is this: "Does the Hall of Fame lack because Player X is not in?". They should NOT ask "Do the Southern California Sun have a fair representation in the Hall of Fame?" or "Are the Birmingham Americans getting screwed in this HOF process?".

The same goes for the media in those cities, not just the voters. When they write or comment on the process they display so much homerism that it's hard to take them seriously even when they may be right about Player X. 

Recently on Twitter, a person with a big website for the Shreveport Steamer let loose ripping the HOF voters and process. And he had a couple of good candidates from the Steamer. But he was not about saying the Hall of Fame was less because his guys were not it, it was that his team was getting cheated. He's asking the wrong questions as so many fans disguised as reporters do.

So, how does one know that a player's absence makes the Hall less than it could be? My view is that if a player was one of the greats at his position, and during his time then he's someone who is missing.

How do you determine that? Well, one thing that does not matter in the least is what team he played for. Or what college he went to. 

Once when John Stallworth was up for the Hall of Fame one voter told me that he was supporting him. The reasons were not his rings, his stats. his skills, or the eye test, though I am sure the ywere factors. He said, "He went to school in Alabama and I am going to support him".  There was an "Alabama connection" and that was enough to tip the scale for that voters. That's B.S. in my view.

So, how is one determined great? There is not one test. There are several. Here are a few examples:

Honors—MVPs, Player of the Years, All-Pros, Pro Bowls, All-Conference
Yes, I am fully aware that if a guy didn't get a lot of honors that he should not be excluded from the Hall of Fame just for that. There are extenuating circumstances such as if there were a lot of great, say, quarterbacks at the time so the competition was stiff. Fine. Understood. But don't throw to baby out with the bathwater.

There are quirks in the All-Pro system, but we advocate using the major All-Pros not the "AP only" approach. The reason? The AP All-Pro team often gets it wrong or are off. Total Football: The Official Encylopedia of the NFL is the best resource because the All-Pro section includes only the major All-Pro teams and the diversity of voters can smooth out oddities.

One oddity in the AP All-Pro team is that from the mid-1980s until recently chose two middle linebackers. They added a slot because in the mid-1980s as many as 25 of the 28 teams used a 3-4 defense and there were players from the late-1970s to mid-1980s who were underrepresented because there was only one slot for inside 'backers. 

However, by the mid-1990s things completely reversed and there were only 2,3-4 teams playing the 3-4 defense. Almost everyone was using a 4-3. And in that time the AP voters were still picking two middle linebackers. One middle linebacker was that "second MLBer" a lot. In fact, had there not been two slots he would have never been first-team All-Pro. 

Additionally, he never made the Writers' or SN (Players) All-Pro teams. This isn't to suggest he's not HOF-worthy, it's just that using the All-Pros with depth and intelligence is a plus because it allows fairness and an apples-to-apples comparison when a case is made.

So, it is understood there are weaknesses in the 'honors system'. But there are also strengths.

Those who vote for All-Pro teams and MVPs etc. are dedicated professionals, many of them are HOF voters. And when the compile their All-Pro/MVP ballots they consult with assistant coaches, head coaches, scouts, etc. Paul Zimmerman, who picked his own All-Pro teams, did that. He'd talk to Mike Giddings, GMs he knew, former players, current players.

So, there is due diligence that goes into the All-Pro and MVP/POY votes. And they have great value when looking at Hall of Fame candidates.

Being an MVP or Player of the Year is the hardest honor to achieve because there is one name that goes on the ballot. A player has to convince a lot of people he's the best or most valuable player in the league.

Next would be consensus All-Pro—making the majority of the major All-Pro teams. After that, just making one of the All-Pro teams is difficult. Next would be Second-team All-Pro and then the Pro Bowl and All-Conference teams.

All have value, but weighting them is also important. Back in the day, Andy Robustelli made a lot of All-Pro teams, but usually, he made only one of the three major teams. Whereas Gino Marchetti usually made them all or the majority. In this way, you can separate the two players.
Marchetti was a consensus All-Pro seven times, Robustelli, twice. But if you look at just being First-team All-Pro it's nine for Marchetti and seven for Robustelli. 

The same can be seen for Jason Taylor (First-ballot HOF) and Michael Strahan (Not first-ballot)
Nothing against Jason Taylor but it is irksome that when one names the first-ballot Hall of Fame defensive ends you say, "Gino, Deacon, Reggie, Bruce, and . . .  Jason". It's a Sesame Street song "One of these things is not like the others".

The simple "consensus All-Pro test" would have answered that one. 

Stats
Yes, stats are important. They can paint a picture over a season, then over a career. "Black ink" stats and "grey ink" stats take it up a level. What are they? I first saw the term looking at Baseball Reference.com. Black ink is when a player led the league in something, say home runs. It would show up in bold—i.e. black ink. Grey ink is when a player was in the top ten in a category.

For quarterbacks, receivers, running backs stats are useful as long as they are era adjusted.  Black ink and grey ink do that, but there is a way to compare the 1970s dead ball receiving stats and the 2010s line ball era, but most people just do it by eye. That's okay as long as do it accurately and don't discount the Swanns, Pearsons, Warfields, etc.

Testimonials
This is the "what they said about" part of a player's HOF resume. Quotes from opposing coaches, players should be given plenty of weight. Quotes from teammates and a players own coaches should be greatly discounted. 

Here are three 'testimonials' about Marvin Harrison. They are from opponents, not teammates and they are from great players who could have said these things about other receivers, but they didn't. That matters.


Those are powerful words. Plain, unequivocal, unbiased. Those 'testimonials' should carry weight.

Far too often we see quotes from a player's coach or teammate and that is part of an online article of podcast rant. I'd simply ask that things be taken in context and sure, use the coach's quote but also discount it appropriately.
Years ago a there was a community board that collected quotes about Hall of Fame defensive end Jack Youngblood and there were excellent examples of testimonials there that were documented from books and article in most cases.

ROGER STAUBACH
"I consider him a phenomenal football player. I'd have to give Youngblood the vote as the best defensive player I ever competed against." -Time Enough To Win, a book by Roger Staubach 

FRAN TARKENTON
“Jack Youngblood was the best defensive lineman in football and the best defensive player I ever faced. -Los Angeles Herald Examiner, August 28, 1985

"I played against Jack my entire career and I can say that he was the most difficult assignment I ever had during my career. He was the most challenging player I ever had to block. No question in my mind."

"He's extremely competitive and extremely strong, a lot stronger than most other ends, Youngblood is the best overall." 

"Youngblood is by far the best defensive end I've ever faced and may be the best all-around end in football." 

"Jack Youngblood is the best all-around defensive end in football and that isn't just pregame buildup. He plays the run really well, he's a tough guy and he's smart. He's the best. Period." 

"Youngblood isn't the biggest defensive end in the league, but he's big enough at around 250 and he's tall. He's quick and strong and has good instincts. I'd say he's been about the best the past couple of years." 

"The guy is just fabulous. He may be the best defensive lineman in football. He's got mobility and strength and he never stops coming." 

"Jack is quicker than I am and just as strong. He's the best defensive lineman in football." 
"In my opinion, he's probably the best defensive end I've ever played against. 

"It's his quickness, his understanding of the game, his great speed. He's a smart defensive end. You can never be overaggressive against him because he comes off the blocks so fast. 
"I've never seen him blocked in a big game.

"I'd have to say Jack Youngblood was the toughest I ever faced. It's his quickness, his intensity, plus he's smart. If he takes a chance, he takes it at the right time. He's so quick he's not afraid to take an inside move when he still has outside responsibilities because he's quick enough to adjust." 

And there were lesser players who said they had their worst game ever versus Youngblood.

Karl Nelson, Tackle, Giants
"During the 1984 season we had gone out to Anaheim and been 
embarrassed by the L.A. Rams, 33-12.

"I had a really awful day against Jack Youngblood, their 14-year defensive
end. He had this move where he'd grab my triceps with his incredibly strong   
hands. If I was in a bad position, he'd just pull me by. If I was in a good position,
he pull me down on top of him and I'd get a holding call.

"That was the worst game of my career. Youngblood had three sacks and
drew three more holding calls. He beat me mentally and then beat me physically”
-Life on the Line, by Karl Nelson, 1993

Cody Risen, Tackle, Browns
"Jack Youngblood gave me fits, in fact, he gave me the worst day of my 
career. I got a lesson that day. I think I got called for holding four 
times. I'll tell you, he was as good as any defensive end I ever faced. 

"He had such great movement and was a great technique guy. He'd keep 
you off  balance with his speed and quickness and his finesse, just a great 
football player"

It's not possible that every player can get so many good testimonials, but if writers would get some closer to these, solid, effusive, and direct it makes a more compelling case.

When there was the Terrell Owens Hall of Fame Brewhaha we challenged the sports writers to get some great testimonials to pair with Owens' numbers.

NFL.com came up with these:
The best one is Sanders, "Man among boys". But it's hardly effusive. Robinson talks about T.O.'s time in Seattle and how the work ethic increased. How long was he in Seattle exactly? David Carr says he's as good as anyone, so that's a good quote. Burleson just says that his numbers make the case. Fine, then if you count his "numbers" the dropped passes were part of the "numbers" and he had an issue. Steve Smith simply said there were guys worse for their teams than T.O., a ringing endorsement.

So, with the pressure on and with all the resources of the NFL Network THAT is what they came up with? We bring it up to show quotes or testimonials are not that easy to get. And when they are done organically, when people go back to old magazines, newspapers, the literature of the day, they can find things that are not 20/20 hindsight or shaded in recentism or the mood of the day.

The testimonials of Proscout Inc. (PSI), are very important as well. They have scouted in-depth—into techniques and skill sets that no one else did. They have advised HOF voters quite a lot, especially when Paul Zimmerman was alive. And they still do in a roundabout way. PSI is not negative on any particular players they just are confident in the excellence of players they think stand out.

So, it is best when PSI, is part of the mix because their work is simply too good, to independent and in-depth to be ignored. They are head and shoulders above others because they have the experience of being players and coaches and having seen trends in the NFL over the last 45 years. 

Eye Test 
This is strictly up to the individuals. Film study is the best way to have a keen eye test. When someone tells me something that I have not seen on film about a player, I check the film if it is available (and TV copies of games can do if there are enough) before I tell them they are making things up. 

What this really means is although there are objective measures (honors, stats, and testimonials) there also is a place for intangibles and a chance to say that in one case or another the player's greatness belies the actual measurables. 

Team Success
It matters. Rings are the thing. "We play to win the game", said herm Edwards. Bill Belichick said, "Stats are for losers". Both true. But also unfair. 

Tem success in terms of Super Bowls and championships have benefitted a lot of players and it still should. But also the success of the unit a player was on. How well did an offensive line do over a 5- or 8-year period and was your guy the best player om that unit?

Look at, over a 5-, 10-year period, the points allowed, the rushing yards allowed, the total yards allowed, of a defense and what your guy's role was in that defense.

There are a few players from a defense that are in the HOF that played on a unit that was pretty good but gee whiz not like one that has a few Hall of Famers on it. At the same time, superior defenses have one or none in the Hall of Fame and they were stellar (call it top 3-5 in most categories).

Yes, the Hall is for individual accomplishments but I think team success when aided by a great player is part of the equation.

Other Intangibles
This could be anything—leadership, toughness, innovations, etc. However, sometimes this is where the bullshit is hidden. Stuff that is said that simply isn't accurate but no one disputes because it cannot be checked. There have been players who have been helped by this kind of thing and it covered some sins, that's for sure, parts of their game that were not Hall-worthy. But they go the credit for some "innovation" that was loosely defined, but still, totally false. 

They shall go nameless because there is no need to embarrass the player once he's in, but the voters who fell for it need to double check things when some sort of "he changed the game" argument is put forth. Usually, it's not true. Usually, it is bogus.

Sometimes the false narratives are not the voters or writer's fault. They are simply repeating what they have read in the past. I have fallen victim of it and have held to those errant stories until I've seen the film that disproves it.

So, everyone, please beware. When you see that someone "changed the game" the onus is on the person saying it to prove it is true, not on us to prove it wrong. But push them, ask them what they mean and how they know it. Right now it's the flavor of the month saying.

A few years ago the flavor of the month was "Can you tell the history of the NFL without mentioning this player" and if you could then he was not a Hall of Famer. What? That makes no sense. How long is this "history" going to be? 1,000 words? 300-page book? What? Sorry to offend but that's more B.S.

The point is this: If all the guys who "changed the game" did so, wouldn't the game be unrecognizable?

The bottom line is this: It's hard to find the best of the best and the Hall of Fame voters have a tough job. However, some, not all, display too much hometown bias, partisanship for their own team and that needs to end.

Put the best players in, even if it means not supporting your hometown player.

Give preference to the players who won the toughest honors, Players of the Years, All-Decade (without screwing people who started their career in the middle of the decade), All-Pros. Give consensus All-Pros more weight than making one of the 3-4 major All-Pro teams.

And if you have a great player who missed out on awards, then get the testimonials, if he was a guard get some defensive tackles who honestly will say, "He was as good as John Hannah" or the like.

It's simply my view that the focus should be about the best of the best getting into the Hall of Fame, not a quota of certain teams and fans and non-HOF voting media and HOF voters alike not judging their team's value by how many Hall of Famers they can get in. This will keep the standards high.

Sure, there is no major formula and all the voters and other members of the media will have their own criteria, but it is my experience they all have criteria that use some form of what was outlined above, it's just that something (perhaps honors) may be weighted more than another thing (perhaps team success), depending on how the voter's criteria is formulated.

So, if a reasonable use of these categories is used the possible makeup class can be great. If the same old debates about players who were weight and measured and found wanting clog up the process for guys who never or rarely made the Final 15, it will be ugly. 

Rant over.

2 comments:

  1. I wouldn't call it a rant. It's an excellent, well-thought-out post.

    ReplyDelete
  2. John, I'm so happy I found this site. If only the Saints had been better before 1986. It's really important to have an historical context for the game.

    ReplyDelete