By John Turney
According to the Hall, it is "Presented periodically to an individual who has made significant and innovative contributions to professional football."
Here is a list of the previous winners—
Fred Gehrke, 1972
Arch Ward, 1975
John Facenda, 1986
David Boss, 1992
George Toma, 2001
City of Pottsville, Pennsylvania, 2004
Steve Sabol, 2007
Art McNally, 2012
Joe Browne, 2016
Gehrke won it for creating the NFL's first helmet logo, Ward for creating the College All-Star game among other things. Facenda for his work voicing NFL Films features, Boss for being the creative force behind NFL Properties, Toma for being a genius in terms of groundskeeping, the City of Pottsville (who rejected the award) as recognition for the lost NFL title in 1925 (a discussion for another day), Steve Sabol for being the creative leader for NFL films, Art McNally for NFL officiating leadership and Joe Browne for being the NFL's publicity man for many years.
We've always felt Seymour Siwoff (Elias Sports Bureau) and Merv Corning (artist) deserved the award and as we said among others, though now with the Hall of Fame's contributor category Siwoff deserves induction to the Hall of Fame itself as a contributor.
|Credit: Merv Corning|
Corning's artistry was incredible and so prolific he is deserving of some sort of recognition and the Pioneer Award seems fitting.
|Hefflefinger Credit: Pro Football Hall of Fame|
Trask, Hefflefinger, and Follis did not have professional careers that were distinguished in terms of success by Hall of Fame standards (Hefflefinger is in the College Hall of Fame)—the best of the best or "the truly great" but they, too are deserving of recognition as pioneers, if not the Hall of Fame itself, the Pioneer Award is exactly the fit for their contributions to the game.
|Follis Credit: Pro Football Hall of Fame|
We would encourage the Hall of Fame to not give the award every 4-5 years but perhaps every 2-3 years because, in addition to the 4-5 names here, there are undoubtedly others worthy of an award like the Hay for people who were pioneers who are not Hall of Fame-worthy.