Why wait for Hall? Our panel chooses its own Centennial Class for 2020
The Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s “blue-ribbon panel” on Wednesday chose 15 inductees for the Centennial Class of 2020, but don’t ask who they are. The Hall won’t release the results until Jan. 15.
No problem. The Talk of Fame Network’s “gold-medal panel” also chose its Centennial Class this week … but with one notable difference: We’re not waiting to make an announcement. We have the results now.
Among the 10 seniors, for instance, our panel of 13 named offensive linemen Duke Slater and Al Wistert – and no surprise there. Both are expected to be included in the Hall’s Centennial Class, too. But there are others you won’t find on the Hall’s list, and don’t take it from me. Just keep reading.
THE SENIORS (10)
Offense may sell tickets, but those tickets put eight of our 10 choices into the Hall. Surprising? We think so. Seven defensive candidates (including two-way Chicago star Ed Sprinkle) were among the 20 finalists, but only defensive tackle Alex Karras and linebacker Chuck Howley survived. Nevertheless, defense wasn’t the biggest loser. The AFL was. We had two AFL finalists – the Patriots’ Gino Cappelletti and the Jets’ Winston Hill – and neither made it. So who did? Receivers, that’s who. We had three of them -- Cliff Branch, Drew Pearson and Mac Speedie – making the position the most popular in our Centennial Class. Unfortunately for them, there’s no one to throw them the ball. Finalist and former Cincinnati quarterback Ken Anderson finished inches short of the finish line.
Biggest surprises – It’s not that there are three at one position; it’s that the one position isn’t offensive tackle. I thought former New York Jets’ star Winston Hill was a lock. He wasn’t, though he barely missed the cut. That wasn’t the case with Howley, who breezed through the last hurdle … and why is that unusual? Because he was one of several candidates who didn’t make the Hall’s list of 20 finalists. Yet he pulled a large number of votes here. I said, “large,” not most. Duke Slater and Al Wistert did that. But Howley was close.
Biggest disappointments – Any of the three linebackers who missed the cut: Randy Gradishar, Tommy Nobis and Maxie Baughan. I liked Gradishar’s chances, mostly because the guy accumulated about a billion tackles in his career with Denver. He pulled votes, just not enough. Then there’s Dallas safety Cliff Harris, a first-team all-decade choice from the 1970s. The Hall’s board of selectors has warmed up to safeties lately, naming four to Canton the past three years. Apparently, our board missed that memo.
Bottom line – History was recognized, as were the Packers, Lions and Cowboys. Six of our 10 picks are from the NFL’s pre-modern era (before 1960), while Green Bay, Detroit and Dallas led the list with two players each. As mentioned earlier, the AFL wasn’t acknowledged … and the AFC wasn’t far behind. Only the Raiders’ Branch represented that conference.
OUR CLASS …
CLIFF BRANCH, WR – Oakland/L.A. Raiders (1972-85).
LAVERN DILWEG, E – Milwaukee Badgers (1926); Green Bay Packers (1927-34).
OX EMERSON, G/LB/C – Portsmouth Spartans (1931-37); Detroit Lions (1938); Brooklyn Dodgers.
CHUCK HOWLEY, LB – Chicago Bears (1958-59); Dallas Cowboys (1961-73).
ALEX KARRAS, DT – Detroit Lions (1958-62, 1964-70).
VERNE LEWELLEN, HB – Green Bay Packers (1924-27, 1928-32); New York Yankees (1927).
DREW PEARSON, WR – Dallas Cowboys (1973-83).
DUKE SLATER, 0T – Milwaukee Badgers (1922); Rock Island Independents (1922-25); Chicago Cardinals (1926-31).
MAC SPEEDIE, WR – Cleveland Browns (1946-52).
AL WISTERT, OT – Philadelphia/Pittsburgh Steagles (1943). Philadelphia Eagles (1944-51).
THE CONTRIBUTORS (3)
George Young, Ralph Hay and Steve Sabol are our choices, with Young a runaway winner – gaining 10 of 13 votes. The former Giants’ GM, who narrowly missed Canton the past two years as a contributor candidate, was expected to make it. And he’s expected to make it to the Hall’s list, too. But Sabol and Hay? Not so much, though there’s been a behind-the-scenes push within the Centennial committee for Hay, former owner of the Canton Bulldogs.
Biggest surprises – I didn’t figure Sabol as one of these three – and not because he’s not worthy. He is. But because his father, Ed, was enshrined in 2011 and because both worked for the same enterprise (NFL Films), with Steve’s father starting it and Steve perfecting it. Former officiating head Art McNally figured to have more traction, mostly because he’s the father of instant replay. Look, I don’t care what you think of replay. McNally changed the game – in fact, all sports -- by introducing it as an officiating tool. He’s been a contributor finalist every year since that category was established in 2014 and was one of the top finishers a year ago. But he wasn’t here.
Biggest disappointments – Three of the game’s greatest scouts – the Rams’ Eddie Kotal, Green Bay’s Jack Vainisi and Pittsburgh’s Bill Nunn – were in play, and I figured one to make a run. I was wrong. No one was close. Nor was former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who four times failed to reach Canton as a finalist – including once as a contributor nominee (2017). Our voters all but ignored him.
Bottom line – I’m glad to see Hay here. He organized the first meeting of teams that would form the American Professional Football Association --- later known as the NFL – and, yeah, I’d say that was historic. Without it, there is no NFL. I’m not sure why he hasn’t been recognized by the Hall’s board of selectors. But he has by ours. And maybe he will by the Hall’s Centennial Class board.
OUR CLASS …
GEORGE YOUNG, contributor/GM – Baltimore Colts (1967-74); Miami Dolphins (1975-78). N.Y. Giants (1979-97); NFL (1998-2001).
STEVE SABOL, administrator/president – NFL Films (1964-2012).
RALPH HAY, owner – Canton Bulldogs (1918-22).
THE COACHES (2)
Consider this a mild upset. Clark Shaughnessy and Buddy Parker were our winners … which means pre-vote favorites Don Coryell, Tom Flores and Jimmy Johnson were not. That won’t make a lot of people happy. But the directive here was not to win fans. It was to elect the two most worthy coaches, and Shaughnessy and Parker were the choices. Shaughnessy has been a finalist before – three times, in fact (1970, 1975-76). But Parker has not, and that doesn’t make a lot of sense. He was the last guy to put the Detroit Lions on the map, going to three NFL title games (1951-53) and winning two. They haven’t returned since.
Biggest surprises – The Hall’s “blue-ribbon panel” didn’t even make Shaughnessy a finalist, and I get it. He was a head coach of the Rams for only two years. But our panel didn’t care. In fact, it made him the most popular choice, with more votes than any of the eight candidates. I get that, too. As someone who popularized the T-formation and designed blitzing defenses to combat it (he invented the 5-3-3 defense), he changed the game. Of course, so did Parker. He popularized the two-minute offense with Hall-of-Fame quarterback Bobby Layne.
Biggest disappointments – Don Coryell and Tom Flores, come on down. Coryell has been a five-time modern-era finalist and reached the Top 10 in 2016. That was supposed to fast-track him to Canton. It didn’t. He failed to make the cut from 15 to 10 two of the past three years. He and Flores were finalists for the Class of 2019, but neither made it past the first vote. Conventional wisdom said that this was Coryell’s chance to break through, and he came close. But he was nosed out by Parker.
Bottom line – Never was history recognized more than in this category. Parker stopped coaching in 1965; Shaughnessy was removed as a head coach after the 1949 season. There were three modern-era choices who have been finalists before (Coryell, Flores and Jimmy Johnson), but none pushed the needle.
OUR CLASS …
CLARK SHAUGHNESSY, advisor/coach – Washington Redskins (1944-47); L.A. Rams (1948-49).
BUDDY PARKER – Chicago Cardinals (1949); Detroit Lions (1950-56); Pittsburgh Steelers (1957-64).
THE PANEL (13)
We intentionally avoided all 25 voters on the Hall’s “blue-ribbon panel,” but we did borrow from its board of 48 selectors. Included are the two members of the Hall’s senior committee who were not part of the panel and two contributor committee members. In all, there are 13 voters: Four historians, four Hall-of-Fame voters, three of our most loyal readers and two former league executives.
-- John Turney, Pro Football Journal.
-- TJ Troup, historian, published author and football coordinator/consultant for the movie “Leatherheads”.
-- Todd Tobias, Tales from the American Football League.
-- Ken Crippen, president of the Professional Football Researchers Association.
-- Ira Miller, member Hall-of-Fame senior committee.
-- Ron Borges, member Hall-of-Fame senior committee.
-- Clark Judge, member Hall-of-Fame contributor committee.
-- Jim Trotter, member Hall-of-Fame contributor committee.
-- Brian Wolf, reader
-- “Bachslunch,” reader. Name withheld by request.
-- Kevin Lalk, reader.
-- Upton Bell, former New England GM, WFL franchise co-owner.
-- Robert Wallace, former Rams’ executive VP.
Follow on Twitter @ClarkJudgeTOF