There’s been a lot of speculation lately about a proposed Centennial Class for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a one-time body of inductees -- many of them from decades past – to join Canton as part of the NFL’s 100th anniversary celebration.
Well, forget about speculation. The Centennial Class is a plan that “is going to happen,” according to Joe Horrigan, the Hall’s former executive director who retired this month after 42 years.
How it will be accomplished … how many players, coaches and contributors will be chosen … how they will be chosen … who that group is and how it will be honored … essentially, the “details,” as Horrigan put it, has not been determined.
Nevertheless, having the idea itself accepted is a significant step toward reducing a backlog of qualified seniors, coaches and contributors that only increases with each year. According to our Rick Gosselin, there are seven first-team all-decade players in the senior pool, and only one – former Dallas safety Cliff Harris – has been a Hall-of-Fame finalist.
Worse, that happened just once (2004).
“Let me put it this way,” Horrigan said on the Talk of Fame Network broadcast that aired Wednesday night, “It has been, in principle, approved. Our board meets later this month – our Hall-of-Fame board of directors – and we’ll go to them again with more detailed plans different from what we produced for them two months ago.
“But I will tell you this: We do not have the final blessing on it, only because we have to work out details. Now the question of whether or not they support the idea that everybody does (isn’t really a question) … Now we just have to come down with what the size of the class would be, how they will be selected and who will do it.”
Too often, qualified candidates wait decades before hearing their names called. It took guard Jerry Kramer, a member of the NFL’s 50th anniversary team, 45 years to be elected in 2018. Safety Johnny Robinson waited 43 years to be inducted this summer. Quarterback Ken Stabler was enshrined 27 years after retiring and one year after his death.
But others never move forward, one reason the senior pool has been labeled “the abyss.” With no more than three seniors eligible for election every two years, the list of qualified candidates can barely be scratched by the Hall’s 48 selectors. According to Gosselin, there are 65 all-decade “position” choices (i.e., no kickers or return specialists) who aren’t in the Hall … including 58 who haven’t been discussed as finalists.
I’m sorry, but that’s just not right. And, apparently, the Hall agrees.
So it has come up with an idea that’s as welcome as it is sensible. Celebrating the NFL’s 100th anniversary in 2020 by having what some call an “amnesty class” (a term the Hall loathes) helps to do what voters could not – take a bite out of the ranks of qualified candidates who have been forgotten, ignored or both.
“Without going into too much detail,” said Horrigan, “I think it will be a way in which we honor those players, coaches and contributors who participated in the game’s first century that have been … through no fault of their own …overlooked.
“We want to make sure that they get their fair shake before we start moving into the next century and have this continuing, growing backlog of players who, through no fault of their own … others than just the mere numbers game … (have trouble) getting elected.”
One likely target would be former NFL star Duke Slater, a six-time All-Pro who played in the 1920s and was the first African-American lineman in NFL history. On the latest Talk of Fame Network interview, Horrigan reiterated something he said months before in a previous interview with us … and that’s that, if he had a voter, he would make Slater his first choice for Canton.
Slater played for the Milwaukee Badgers, the Rock Island Independents and the Chicago Cardinals. He later was instrumental in forming an all-star team of African-American players and coached black semi-pro teams in the late 1930s and in 1940.
He is, as Horrigan said, “a perfect example” of someone who has been overlooked.
“When he was in Chicago,” said Horrigan, “he played a position that was difficult for people to understand -- even today -- as a lineman in an era when even that was less understood. In the ‘60s, when they (voters) were trying to pick players from the ‘20s, that was a very tough task.
“There are just so many more factors that move into consideration for players like Duke. (But the bottom line) is: The Centennial Class is going to happen. Exactly how many and how … we haven’t worked out. We have a couple of different proposals there. But I’m looking forward to it.”
Follow Clark Judge on Twitter @ClarkJudgeTOF