In its Pro Football Hall of Fame Commemorative Issue, Sports Illustrated Presents mistakenly illustrated a story about Hall of Fame inductee Rayfield Wright of the Dallas Cowboys with a photograph of another player. SI regrets the error.
"Your assignment," my editor told me, "is to list the guys who will be Hall of Fame shoo-ins for this era, and which picks you agree with and which you don't."
Shoo-ins? How could I tell him that there are no such things? O.K., Jerry Rice, I'll give you that. And Emmitt Smith. And Deion. There, those are three right there, and yes, I'll agree with all three choices, but the rest of them...?
Is Brett Favre a shoo-in? How about if he throws another 29 interceptions this season? And the whispers start -- maybe he never was that good to begin with. You think this is impossible? You don't know how quickly a great old star can fall from grace.
Understand that it's a pretty special thing to be enshrined on the first ballot. You'd think that Bill Walsh would have been a shoo-in, right? He was passed over when he was first eligible. So was Howie Long. Lee Roy Selmon, one of the most inspirational defensive linemen who ever lived, failed to get out of the preliminary round of voting and reach the final 15 for five straight years. Jimmy Johnson, the 49ers' great cornerback -- I mean, JJ and Deion Sanders were the two best I've ever seen -- died in the prelims for 12 years. Finally he let the world know that he didn't want to be nominated anymore. Then he made it.
The things that happen in that selection meeting are stunning. I've come out feeling weak in the knees, and the first words on my lips were, "How could you ... ?" I don't want to show the white feather,
So here are my potential first-round ballot selections of the era and how I view them, and by era I mean a period of the last 13 years, which stretches from today's young superstars on the rise to the recently retired.
Deion should enter on the first ballot, and I agree with that. No corner in history had his catch-up speed. But that would use up my entire quota of DBs. In my 13-year era only one has made it in the first season he was eligible: Ronnie Lott.
But then what about Rod Woodson (class of 2009), who has already been selected to the NFL's alltime team? I would vote for him, although I rank him third behind Deion and still another corner, the Redskins' heroic little Darrell Green. He'll come up with the class of 2008. The major competition will be Cris Carter and Tony Boselli. Yes, I'm 100% in Darrell's corner.
There have been 20 people who got in the first time they were eligible, true first-ballot choices, in this 13-year period, and seven were QBs. The Selection Committee is very friendly toward QBs. I have singled out five potential first balloteers: Favre, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer.