So this is what we know about the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s plan for its 2020 Centennial Class: There will be 20 inductees, including 10 seniors, three contributors and two coaches, and it is subject to approval of the Hall’s board of directors when it meets Aug. 2.
But that's all we know.
There is no word on how the class will be chosen, when it will be chosen or who does the choosing. Rumor has it that a blue-ribbon panel will be involved, but who that will be and how it is selected also is unclear.
Which means we know little more than what we’ve already been told, and that’s that the Hall has a proposal to reduce – albeit slightly – an excess of qualified seniors waiting to hear their names called and will do it to coincide with the celebration for the NFL’s 100th anniversary.
The burning question, of course, is: Who will be chosen?
So I posed it to the nine members of the seniors committee, hoping to gain insight into the leading candidates. I asked them to name their three top choices for the class and asked how many seniors they would’ve liked to see involved.
Now before we get started, let’s get something understood: This is nothing more than a straw vote. Committee members may or may not be involved in the selection of candidates. I simply wanted a guide from the most knowledgeable persons involved with the selection of seniors.
And here’s what I found: If it were left to the seniors committee, the first candidates off the shelves would be Duke Slater and Maxie Baughan, with Alex Karras, Cliff Branch and Ken Riley not far behind. Others like Drew Pearson, Al Wistert, Randy Gradishar, Mike Curtis, Jimbo Covert, Tommy Nobis, Joe Klecko, Chuck Howley and Cliff Harris were mentioned, too.
Now remember: This is nothing more than informal poll. But it may offer insight into the most crucial step toward forming the Class of 2020.
Slater was the most popular choice, and that makes sense. Shortly before the Hall’s former executive director Joe Horrigan – also known as the NFL’s unofficial historian -- retired after 42 years in Canton he was asked to name the first player he would nominate for inclusion.
He named Duke Slater.
“He was one of the few black men to play in the 1920s,” Horrigan said in a February interview with the Talk of Fame Network, “and had the longest … and, by far, probably the most successful … career.”
Slater was the first African-American lineman in NFL history and one of the top linemen of his era. He was also the NFL’s only African-American player, period, in 1927 and 1929. He not only was a six-time All-Pro but never missed a game because of injury.
He would later go on to coach and in 1960 become the first black member of the Chicago Super Court, then the highest court in the city. He’s been a Pro Football Hall-of-Fame finalist twice – in 1970 and 1971 – but was not chosen.
Baughan was a standout linebacker who was a nine-time Pro Bowler and seven-time All-Pro in his first 10 seasons with Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Rams. He was part of the 1960 Eagles’ championship team and is one of three seniors with nine or more Pro Bowl nominations (offensive linemen Jim Tyrer and Walt Sweeney are the others).
He was not, however, a member of the 1960s’ all-decade team, passed over for five linebackers – Dick Butkus, Ray Nitschke, Tommy Nobis, Dave Robinson and Larry Morris – who went to a combined 10 Pro Bowls in the 1960s … or one more than Maxie Baughan.
Butkus and Robinson are in the Hall. Baughan, a member of the Eagles' Hall of Fame, has never been a finalist.
Wistert, Pearson and Harris figure to be among the favorites, too, for this reason: They were first-team all-decade choices. There are seven of them who somehow slipped through the cracks to the seniors pool, and you have to believe that some (most?) will be chosen.
“I like the idea of getting some of these old-timers off the ballot and into the Hall,” said one senior committee member, “(but) I am curious how they handle the numbers without making these guys feel like second-class inductees.”
Like that individual, all seniors committee members are happy the Hall has plans for an expanded class to celebrate the NFL’s 100th anniversary. But most are disappointed the group isn’t larger.
Some were hoping it would include 17 to mirror the Hall’s 1963 charter class, including one member who said he wanted the expanded class to include only seniors (other than the five modern-era nominees, that is) because “the backlog of seniors is exponentially higher than contributors, who are going in at a much higher rate – per capita, as it were – than seniors or modern-era candidates.”
He’s right about that. There are, according to our Rick Gosselin, 65 all-decade seniors who are not in Canton. Worse, of the seven first-team all-decade choices that are missing, only one – Cliff Harris – has been discussed.
And that was once, in 2004.
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