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February 8, 2002

by Bill Hogan



It has become an annual tradition for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Board to announce the newest inductees at a ceremony the day before the Super Bowl.

It's a tradition - something that happens every year. Like celebrating Christmas and paying your taxes.


Except the Hall of Fame Selection Board should take a year off every once in a while.

You have to send in your 1040 to the IRS every April. You don't (or at least you shouldn't) have to pick a new class to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame every Super Bowl weekend.

There is nothing written in the Selection Board rulebook that requires them to name a minimum number of new members every year. But, according to the HOF web site (www.profootballhof.com) "the Board's current ground rules do stipulate that between four and seven new members will be selected each year".

As a fan, as a football historian, and as a taxpayer I have to ask why?

The five new inductees, Jim Kelly, Dave Casper, Dan Hampton, John Stallworth and George Allen bring the total HOF membership to 216.

Are the Board members paid by the bust? (Are one or more of them in the bust making business?) Already we know that in 2003 the total will rise to at least 220. At some point being selected will cease to be special. At some point it will become ordinary.

At some point the Selection Board will have to realize that the HOF is not the IRS - there are no have to's.

Jim Kelly looks pretty good when you compare him to the other fifteen finalists and you have to pick somebody.

But what happens if the Board stacks Kelly up against Unitas and Starr and Staubach and Montana? How does he look then?

I think that if you have to "make a case" for someone's selection, then he's probably not a true Hall of Fame candidate.

The thirteen members of the 1963 Hall of Fame Charter Class were all selected unanimously. They weren't just the cream of the crop, they were the crème de la crème. Nobody had to "make a case" for these men.

John Stallworth has been a finalist for induction for twelve years. Like an IRS auditor picking through a really bad tax return, twelve years of indecision throws up a big red flag.

Many are wondering what, in the name of Deacon Jones and "Mean" Joe Greene, Dan Hampton is doing on that list of new members. You can "make a case" for Hampton, but it is the same case that can be made for a dozen other defensive lineman that aren't and shouldn't be in the Hall of Fame.

Hall of Fame members should jump right out at you. When Jerry Rice's name hits the list of nominations, it will leap off the page and slap each Selection Board member upside the head.

When new Hall of Fame members are announced, their career summaries should be dripping with words like 'immortal' and 'legendary'. When I hear 'consistent', 'durable' and 'hard working' (all admirable qualities), I think of a Craftsman power tool and not the next Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee.

The HOF web site states that the Board is "charged with the vital task of continuing to be certain that new enshrinees are the finest the game has produced".

Self-imposing a yearly four-man minimum makes that task impossible. Selecting "the finest the game has produced" gives way to simply choosing the 'best available' from the current nominations.

Future Hall of Fame defensive backs should have their credentials measured against those of Night Train Lane, not Lester Hayes.

Linebackers have to stand shoulder to shoulder with Dick Butkus and Ray Nitschke not Darryl Talley and Matt Millen.

And if they can't bring themselves to mention Kelly in the same breath with Van Brocklin and Jurgensen then they shouldn't bother trying to "make a case" for his selection.

At least they shouldn't have to!

If, at the end of the day, there doesn't seem to be any clear-cut, qualified candidates to include among the best of the best, then cancel the pre-Super Bowl announcement ceremony.

And wait 'till next year. Or the year after that. Sooner or later Jerry Rice and Dan Marino will appear on the nomination list.

Meanwhile, they can pass the time by filing their tax returns early.

Something they have to do anyway.


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