No one respects the Hall of Fame voting process more than I do, but something needs to be done about admitting the men who didn't play.
SI's Jim Trotter did a good job writing about this, and I'll echo him here. Currently, the Hall has a maximum of five modern-era candidates who can be enshrined each year, plus two nominees from the pool of Seniors candidates. So that's a max of seven per year. Currently, players, owners, coaches and other contributors to the game (scouts, commissioners) are all considered in one category. If you're a Hall of Famer, you're a Hall of Famer, regardless of whether you played or owned or coached or managed or lorded over the game. But the reality in the voting room -- I am one of the 44 selectors -- is that the process is weighted heavily toward players. As it should be, probably. But let's look at the last 10 years and the pattern of who's made it and who hasn't:
Owners, scouts, GMs, club officials, game officials, commissioners: 1.
The one was Buffalo owner Ralph Wilson, in 2009.
I think averaging five players per year, including seniors, is fair. I think five head coaches in 10 years is probably fair. But one person, among all the architects and owners and miners for talent and the others who have made the game what it is? That's totally unsatisfactory.
What really got my goat this year was when the list of 26 that we've got to whittle down to 15 finalists was disclosed, Ron Wolf's name wasn't on the list. That's ridiculous.
He's one of the best personnel evaluators ever, with the moxie to make some of the biggest decisions in recent NFL history. He landed in moribund Green Bay in 1991, hired Mike Holmgren as head coach, traded for Brett Favre, signed Reggie White in free agency when no one thought any player of consequence would come to a bad team in a tiny city, and piloted the team to two Super Bowl appearances in the '90s. He's personally responsible for making the Packers relevant again, and one of his former minions, Ted Thompson, lords over the team today -- and, taught guts by Wolf, had the stones to choose Aaron Rodgers over a waffling Favre in 2008.
I'll get off my Wolf soapbox now, but I make that point to illustrate that there are too many superb people being shunted to the side by the Hall's voting process.
I'm of three minds how to fix it. Before I give you the three thoughts, know that I'm not a fan of a "Contributors' Wing,'' or some separate category in the Hall for those who didn't play or coach. Not fair. I think Ron Wolf deserves a bust between Wilson (Ralph) and Woodson (Rod) in the main hall of the Hall. The three options to fix the contributor dilemma:
1. Take one of the two Seniors slots and give it annually to a non-head coaching contributor to the game, which wouldn't mean a contributor wouldn't get in every year, but rather that one contributor's case would be heard every year.
2. Take one of the two Seniors slots every other year and give it annually to a contributor.
3. Take the two non-modern-era-candidate slots and make them fit for all other candidates -- seniors, scouts, etc.
I don't say this to dilute the Senior pool. There are still a load of candidates who deserve to have their cases heard -- linebacker Maxie Baughan (nine Pro Bowls in the '60s to Ray Nitschke's one) and safeties Johnny Robinson (only man to lead the AFL and then NFL in interceptions in a season, both times with 10) Ken Riley (the third-leading interceptor of all time). But I do think something has to be done to push along the contributors, and make them distinguishable from the strong pool of player candidates.
Ron Wolf, Ed Sabol, Steve Sabol, Bobby Beathard, Dick Steinberg, Gil Brandt, Bucko Kilroy, Jack Butler, C.O. Brocato (I use the longtime Houston/Tennessee scout to represent all scouts), Red Cashion or Jerry Markbreit (representing officials), Paul Tagliabue and Ernie Zampese or Jim Johnson or Joe Bugel (representing assistant coaches) all deserve better.
While we're on the subject of Ed Sabol ...
I've been an outspoken proponent of Sabol for enshrinement in the Hall. I'm just hoping when the list of 2011 finalists is pared from 26 to 15 this week by the selectors that Sabol's name is on it. I want to see him get a full and fair airing when we gather for the Hall vote Feb. 5 in Dallas, the day before the Super Bowl.
The other day, the ubiquitous Steve Sabol forwarded me a letter his dad got upon his 1995 retirement from NFL Films, which he founded. It was co-signed by former commissioner Pete Rozelle and the commissioner at the time, Paul Tagliabue. The part I'll share with you: "Dear Ed, The league has had its share of special people -- owners such as Mara, Marshall and Rooney, coaches such as Halas and Lombardi, and players such as Staubach and Motley. But there was only one founder and chairman of NFL Films, the organization that has done as much to give NFL Football a special dimension and extraordinary mystique for fans as any group ever association with the league.''
"If it were not for Ed Sabol,'' Vikings president Max Winter said in 1975, the National Football League Films may yet be portrayed as a Mack Sennett Comedy Classic.''
Even at the expense of a very deserving player, it's long past time that Ed Sabol gets in.