This article originally appeared earlier today at Talk of Fame Two
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Each year, the Pro Football Hall of Fame asks a former player, coach, GM ... someone connected to the game ... to serve as a consultant to its committees. This week, it had historian and colleague John Turney serve as the consultant to the seniors committee for the Class of 2024. It was a first for Turney, and he was asked to relate what he experienced. This is his story.)
It was a surprise. And an honor.
When I was contacted earlier this month by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I was asked to be an advisor to the seniors committee meeting that would narrow a list of 12 semifinalists to three -- with those three presented to the Hall's 50-member board of selectors next January.
I didn't know what to say.
After all, advisors had almost always been Hall members, players, coaches or contributors. So this would be one of those unusual times that an outsider would provide information to the committee "in the room"... or, more accurately, "on the Zoom," as it were.
I would be sitting in a chair that had been filled previously by Chuck Noll, Jack Youngblood, Dave Robinson, Bob St. Clair, Bill Polian and countless others.
Clearly, this was a prank, right?
Since the 1990s, I've done research for voters who asked for data or a quote from one of the volumes in my library to help with their presentations. It was informal -- just a football fan helping a presenter. This, however, was different. I was to prepare and comment on all 12 candidates and people I respected would be watching.
So, it was daunting.
The discussions we had were confidential, as are the cutdown votes. But there are a few things I can say about what I learned:
First, the voters have a thankless job.
No matter which three players emerged, there would be nine fan bases angry with them. And sure enough, that happened. Terms like "robbed", "snubbed", "disgrace" and "joke" were slung around on Twitter (X), all referring to the nine players not fortunate to make the final three.
Yet, year-in and year-out, voters do what they're asked. They meet, go through a lengthy process, choose the finalists and take the abuse and insults. Then, they return to do it all over again the next year.
That is not easy. It takes thick skin.
Second, the process was orderly.
In retrospect, it makes sense. And I should have known. But as a newbie, I really wasn't sure what to expect. What I found is that Hall-of-Fame officials ran the meeting much like any business conference you've attended.
There was a roll call and welcome. Then a reading of the purpose of the meeting in the verbiage of the by-laws. The voting process was covered, with the notation that an accounting firm will do the tallying - not the Hall of Fame. Then, the rules of the meeting -- such as how long speakers have to present candidates (five minutes is recommended), the order of the presentations and so on -- were articulated.
There was even a point-of-order question raised and answered by Hall officials.
Third, the voters were clearly skilled writers and presenters.
Though styles differed in terms of narratives, these are 12 voters who made a living writing and broadcasting about pro football, and their experience sometimes dates back to before anyone heard of a dial-up connection or a website.
Among them were journalists who work ... or worked ... at newspapers, and all can tell more than a story. They can cite the familiar "who, what, when, where and why' of that story and include the data necessary to support an argument.
Of course, they have no choice. They're allotted just five minutes to make their case.
However, there's unlimited time afterward for discussion with others - a give-and-take as a candidate's merits are dissected. Supporting speeches or endorsements by other committee members can occur to augment the presenter's case. Plus, questions can be asked and points rebutted.
Fourth, voters' access to former players and coaches allows them information unavailable to fans/critics.
Fans may complain when their favorite candidate is, as they perceive, "snubbed." And they may post on Facebook or Twitter (X) the basics of why that candidate should be in the Hall -- things most football fans know.
But that information is perfunctory, a jumping-off point to get a conversation started. Afterward, the presentation goes where the fan cannot. He can't get on the phone with a Hall-of-Fame coach or player and ask about a particular individual or field off-the-record comments.
The Hall-of-Fame voter can. And does.
Remember, not all comments are necessarily positive. But because of voters' experience and access, their presentations were thorough and thoroughly vetted.
Fifth, it struck me how cordial and professional the voters were.
These were people who had known each other for a while. So, when someone would ask a pointed question about another's candidate, it wasn't taken personally.
Finally, the voters were open to outside information.
I opened by saying I respected these people and that I would do my best to put aside personal preferences and provide equally strong information for all candidates .. plus, make sure that, when statistics were presented, they were done in an apples-to-apples fashion.
For example, I informed the committee that I distinguished between consensus All-Pro (a player who made a majority of major All-Pro teams in a given year), first-team All-Pro (made at least one, but not a majority), and second-team All-Pro which, in my view, is a slightly lesser honor. I also said that, when comparing statistics, I do it on a per-game basis for players with careers in different eras.
Things like that.
My perception was that my input was accepted and not seen as interloping, and I was made to feel welcome. I have no idea if I did well or not -- that's up to the voters and the Hall -- and I fully admit to being nervous and occasionally speaking too quickly. But that's just my reaction to a situation like this.
I also have no idea if the Hall will continue this practice. But I do know that it was a privilege to be invited. I also know that, having seen what this process is like from the inside, the results were reached in good faith and through sincere diligence.
And that's all that can be asked - the critics be damned.