You want to start Hall of Fame debates? You ain't seen nothing yet.
Of all the things that struck me in the wake of Saturday's election of seven men to the Hall's Class of 2011 -- linebackers Les Richter and Chris Hanburger, running back Marshall Faulk, tight end Shannon Sharpe, defensive end Richard Dent, cornerback Deion Sanders, and NFL Films founder Ed Sabol -- I was left to think about how difficult the job of the 44 selectors is going to be in 2013 and beyond. That's when a motherlode of strong candidates will hit the floor over a three-year period. Looking at the leading candidates to become Hall finalists over the next four years:
2012: Drew Bledsoe, Bill Cowher, Bill Parcells, Marty Schottenheimer, Will Shields.
2013: Larry Allen, Jonathan Ogden, Warren Sapp, Michael Strahan.
2014: Shaun Alexander, Derrick Brooks, Tony Dungy, Marvin Harrison, Rodney Harrison, Mike Holmgren.
2015: Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Walter Jones, Orlando Pace, Junior Seau, Kurt Warner.
With five very strong skill-position players left over this year -- running backs Curtis Martin and Jerome Bettis are four-five on the all-time rushing list, while Cris Carter, Tim Brown and Andre Reed stand third, fourth and 10th on the receptions list -- that's going to be difficult to sort through when Marvin Harrison and the Rams receivers, Bruce and Holt, become eligible. That brings me to my first of four points arising out of Saturday's selection meeting, which, at seven hours and 28 minutes, was the longest I've ever sat through:
1. I'm starting to think some men -- some, not all -- who catch 1,000 balls will never make the Hall. I've always thought eventually we'd begin thinning the herd of pass-catchers by putting one of the three big-stat guys (Carter, Brown, Reed) in. Now I'm not so sure. Cris Carter caught 1,101 balls in his career, with 130 touchdowns. Before Randy Moss arrived in Minnesota, he had back-to-back 122-catch seasons, and even when Moss came in, he averaged 90 catches a year for five years. Yet, this was the second straight year Carter didn't make the cut from 15 finalists to 10 on our first vote of the session.
(The way the process works is this: We discuss all 15 candidates, then vote for 10. The top 10 vote-getters then are discussed further, and a second vote is taken, cutting the group from 10 to five. Then each of the five is voted on individually.)
Obviously, the arguments on Carter simply aren't working. And I'm getting the feeling more and more that it's possible receivers are being seen as interchangeable parts in a league in which teams are throwing so much more than ever. I fear Carter and Brown and Reed may end up being viewed as compilers rather than legitimate game-breaking players.
This leads me to think that Marvin Harrison might have a tough road too. Harrison: 1,102 catches, 128 touchdowns, 13.2 yards per catch playing with Peyton Manning ... Carter: 1,101, 130, 12.6, playing with much lesser quarterbacks. So why will Harrison be viewed differently by our group? I'm not saying I agree; I have supported Carter's candidacy because of his acrobatic sideline and end zone ways, and his tremendous hands, and his consistent production. I'm also one of 44.
2. While I support some sort of separation for contributors, I was thrilled, obviously, to see Ed Sabol get in. Currently, we lump all modern-era candidates together -- players, coaches, owners, commissioners, league officials and people like Sabol, whose visionary film-making made legends out of people like Jim Brown and Vince Lombardi at a time when football was struggling to be seen as a sport with the cache of baseball and college football. But Sabol is only the second contributor elected in the past 11 classes.
There are some worthy candidates -- Ron Wolf, Gil Brandt, Paul Tagliabue -- not getting a sniff these days, and I think one of the ways we could remedy this would be to take a contributor's slot, say, once every two years, and in that year, have only one Seniors Committee member put before the selectors instead of the usual two. I don't believe there's enough of a backlog of strong candidates to make it an annual thing. But I would like to see one contributor come before us as a finalist at least once every two years.
3. I'm in favor of total transparency with the voting. In other words, I'd be fine with our votes being made public, which the Hall currently doesn't want us to do. The feeling from Hall officials is if our votes are published, then some voters might vote differently; if a voter from Buffalo, for instance, didn't vote for Andre Reed (and this is only an example, not the truth), he might face a backlash when he goes back to cover his team. Or in some small way it might affect his vote if he or she knew everyone would know exactly how the vote went. I believe it's incumbent on us to not hide behind the privacy of the room. The Hall is a huge deal, obviously, with burgeoning interest every year. If we're going to sit on the committee and sit in judgment of these men for enshrinement, I think you ought to know how we vote.
4. The rhetoric intensifies. The other day, Emmitt Smith was on Sirius NFL Radio, and like many former players, he was highly critical of the selection process of the Hall. Many former players either want players or coaches on the panel, or they simply think we do a poor job picking the classes.
Putting players and coaches on the committee is a dubious idea unless we put 32 of them, one per team, on. That's because if, say, a player who spent most of his career with Pittsburgh is on the committee, Baltimore and Cincinnati fans would cry foul unless there were someone on the panel representing their interests. Let's say you add 32. That brings the number of debaters and voters to 76. Unwieldy, in my opinion.
I have said this for years, and I was glad to see Jim Trotter of SI.com write this after Saturday's vote: If you are inflamed by the result of the vote, take a list of the 15 finalists and strike 10 off as not worthy this year, or not worthy forever. When you look at the list and say, for instance, I believe Deion Sanders and Marshall Faulk and Ed Sabol need to be in, that leaves 12 candidates for a maximum of two slots. And you'd leave off either the fourth-leading rusher of all-time or the second-leading tight end, or a center with more All-Pro nods than any modern center (Dermontti Dawson), or the only player with five Super Bowl rings (Charles Haley) ... and you get the idea.
It's not easy. I want to emphasize that I'm not complaining. I'm saying, simply, that so many of you react to the voting like, "My God! Why can't you guys get it right?'' And I'm not sure that something subjective can ever be "right.''
I don't know what Roger Goodell's talking about
I've thought all along that the majority of fans don't really support the idea of an 18-game schedule. In an injury-free world, they would; who wouldn't? But Commissioner Roger Goodell keeps saying fans favor the 18-game schedule. They only favor it, in my opinion, in order to NOT have four preseason games they have to pay regular-season prices for. But that's a different story than actually saying you want 18 games when so many players are getting hurt every week. And so on Friday, I asked my Twitter followers if they favored either:
a. Two preseason games and 18 regular-season games.
b. Four preseason games and 16 regular-season games.
c. Two preseason games and 16 regular-season games.
The results, over a 40-hour voting period, give us a pretty good sample -- 1,200 votes in all. How the voters came down:
C (2+16): 622 votes, 51.8 percent.
B (4+16): 363 votes, 30.3 percent.
A (2+18): 215 votes, 17.9 percent.
That means 18 percent of 1,200 football fans (presumably they are if they follow me on Twitter), less than one out of every five, want what Goodell says they want. And 82 percent want to keep it at 16 regular-season games.
You can color these numbers any way you want. You can say, Well, King is crusading against 18 games, so his followers would do the same, naturally. Maybe, but you have to read my followers. Seems at least half of them call me names you wouldn't call a rabid dog. I absolutely do not buy that because I favor 16 games that they'd blindly follow -- and certainly not to that overwhelming degree.
"Sick of injuries killing our season,'' wrote a reader who voted "C,'' @cookidge. "Why add increased chance with more reg games? So owners can make more money? No thanks.''
"Anybody with a pulse can tell that too many games will dilute the product, not enhance it,'' tweeted @sethcross21.
The NFL is going to have to come up with a better reason than "fans want 18 games'' to push the 18-game agenda.
One final note: Rumors were flying Sunday of Sean Payton taking some sort of undisclosed role with the Dallas Cowboys immediately. With Payton working the Super Bowl for ESPN, stories started that he was talking to the club about jumping from the Saints. Payton told me this morning he was "absolutely not'' jumping ship, and would be back with the Saints as coach this year. So there you go.
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