Hall of Fame selection process -- always the wrong five?

Rick Gosselin

Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings
Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings

(Andersen photo courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings)

(Owens photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers)

By Rick Gosselin

Talk of Fame Network

There is only one certainty for the 48 of us on the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame selection committee who will convene in Houston the first weekend of February to select the Class of 2017. No matter which five modern-era players and/or coaches we select for this class, it will be the wrong five.

That’s the nature of this process. The screams are always louder than the cheers.

Let’s examine the 18-candidate slate. There is one stand-alone senior candidate, safety Ken Easley, and two contributor candidates, Jerry Jones and Paul Tagliabue. They will be discussed and debated, elected or rejected, before the discussion even begins for the 15 modern-era candidates.

So a potential Class of 2017 can consist of one senior candidate, as many as two contributor candidates and as many as five modern-era candidates. The election of an Easley or Tagliabue would not come at the expense of a LaDainian Tomlinson or Jason Taylor. Their voting is separate.

There are 14 players on the modern-era slate, plus coach Don Coryell. Of those 14 players, 11 were selected to NFL all-decade teams. Those all-decade teams are chosen by this same Hall-of-Fame selection committee. As an all-decade choice, you are considered one of the best players of your generation. You are a worthy Hall-of-Fame candidate, a deserving Hall-of-Fame candidate.

But there are only five modern-era spots in the Class of 2017. So a minimum of six all-decade players will be turned away at Canton’s door. If Coryell is elected to this class, at least seven all-decade players will not make the cut this year. If Kurt Warner is elected to this class – and he’s one of the early favorites – as many as eight all-decade players might not make the cut this year.

Warner was not an all-decade selection.

Morten Andersen is the only two-time all-decade player among the finalists. He was honored for both the 1980 and 1990 decades. He’s also the NFL’s all-time leading scorer. That gives him the best resume of any candidate on this ballot. But because he’s a kicker, he’s a longshot.

Historically, this committee does not favor special teamers. There are only two pure kicking specialists enshrined in Canton and it took one of them, punter Ray Guy, 23 years to muster enough support for election ... and only then as a senior candidate.

This is Andersen’s fourth time as a finalist. Running back Terrell Davis and wide receiver Terrell Owens also were all-decade selections. Davis is a former NFL MVP and 2,000-yard rusher. But he has been in this room twice previously as a finalist and been rejected. Owens ranks eighth all-time in receptions (1,078), third all-time in touchdown (153) and second in yardage (15,934). Yet he is 0-for-1 as a finalist.

Photo courtesy of the Denver Broncos
Photo courtesy of the Denver Broncos

(Terrell Davis photo courtesy of the Denver Broncos)

All four offensive-line candidates – tackles Tony Boselli and Joe Jacoby, guard Alan Faneca and center Kevin Mawae – were all-decade selections. They combined for 26 Pro Bowl appearances. It’s doubtful all four will make it. Two of the four would be an optimistic projection for this group.

Pass rusher Jason Taylor and safety Brian Dawkins were all-decade selections, and both are first-ballot finalists. Ty Law is another all-decade selection and also a first-time finalist. But this is his third year of eligibility. Wide receiver Isaac Bruce and safety John Lynch are the other two finalists. Like Warner, they were not all-decade selections.

The selection committee has already eliminated four all-decade players from consideration: Running backs Roger Craig and Edgerrin James, wide receiver Torry Holt and safety Steve Atwater. All were semifinalists who failed to make the cut from 25 to 15. All four are worthy and deserving Hall-of-Fame candidates.

There are at least nine players who are worthy of the Hall of Fame who will not be elected to the Class of 2017. Those nine will have arguments as strong as the five candidates who are voted busts in this class. And therein lies the problem with this process -- there are too many qualified candidates and too few slots. Thus, the annual post-election screams of injustice.


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