The Pro Football Hall of Fame on Thursday announced its senior semifinalists for the Class of 2023, and it’s not the 25 who made it that caught my attention. It’s two who didn’t.
Linemen Al Wistert and Ox Emerson.
Maybe you heard of them. Maybe you haven’t. It doesn’t matter. All you need to know is that they belonged on this list and were excluded. The reason? Ask the 12 members of the Hall’s Seniors Committee. They’re the ones who voted them off the island.
Wistert and Emerson each played on dominant NFL teams. Both won NFL championships. Wistert was an eight-time All-Pro; Emerson was named six times. And both were all-decade choices.
So what’s missing? You tell me. I’m still looking.
An offensive and defensive tackle Wistert was a captain on a Philadelphia Eagles team that won back-to-back NFL championships (1948-49), the top blocker for the NFL’s record-setting runner, Hall-of-Famer Steve Van Buren and an All-Pro eight of his nine NFL seasons. He also started on a unit that five times led the league in rushing defense.
A guard and defensive lineman, Emerson was the top blocker on a 1936 Detroit Lions team that set an NFL rushing record of 2,885 yards in one season (of 12 games, no less), a mark that wasn’t broken until 1972 by the unbeaten Miami Dolphins. He was also a top defender on a 1934 Lions’ club that allowed the third-fewest points in NFL history.
Oh, yeah, both were among 20 finalists for the Centennial Class of 2020, too.
So they checked all the boxes needed for entry into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In fact, if their resumes were in front of modern-era selectors today, one or both might be first-ballot choices.
Yet neither made the first cut for the Class of 2023.
That’s as appalling as it is shocking. With three senior finalists in line for each of the Hall’s next three classes, I thought one or both a virtual certainty to be among the next nine nominated. Now I know they have no chance, and not because they’re not qualified.
But because they’re as forgotten as they are gone.
Look at the list. Of the 25 semifinalists, only two – the Packers’ Lavvie Dilweg (1926-34) and Cecil Isbell (1938-42) played prior to 1958. Now push that a step farther. Of the 25 semifinalists, all but seven (Dilweg, Isbell, safety Eddie Meador, linebackers Chuck Howley, Maxie Baughan and Tommy Nobis and defensive end Jim Marshall) played the bulk of their careers after 1970.
So it’s a modern-era senior class. Pre-‘60s’ candidates need not apply.
When Wistert and Emerson were excluded from the Centennial Class of 2020, historian John Turney of Pro Football Journal considered their omissions a gross oversight. However, he held out hope that these two “super seniors,” as he called them, would gain another shot.
“They deserve nothing less,” he wrote.
He’s right. They do. But Thursday’s returns speak volumes. They won’t get it.