SI senior writer Paul Zimmerman, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee, will join 37 colleagues in Atlanta on Jan. 29 to choose Canton's Class of 2000 from among 15 candidates: Harry Carson, Dave Casper, Carl Filer, Marv Levy, James Lofton, Howie Long, Ronnie Lott, Joe Montana, Mike Munchak, Dan Rooney, John Stallworth, Lynn Swann, Dan Wilcox, Ron Yary and Jack Youngblood.
Before I became a Hall of Fame selector in 1992, I thought the Hall elected too many members each year. Then I did a one-eighty and realized it didn't bring in enough. How will I vote this year? I've got seven favorites, one over the limit, plus Wilcox, the Seniors Committee's candidate. Sorry, but I simply can't break the tie.
I chose Wilcox as my strongside backer when I selected my alltime NFL team (SI, Aug. 30). No other linebacker ever did as good a job against tight ends. Wilcox stifled them. Mike Ditka said that Wilcox was a big reason why he retired as a player in '72. It was rare that any team ever tried to sweep Wilcox's side. I never saw him hooked to the inside.
Montana probably will produce the shortest discussion of the day when the selectors meet. Who could vote against him? Lott is close behind, but I hope he isn't presented as a free safety. He had his greatest years at cornerback.
Long is my top defensive end of the trio up for consideration. He was a sacker but also took great pride in stopping the run. He played his career on the strong side, constantly fighting the double team. If he'd had a chance to work on the open side, away from the tight end, his sack figures would have been out of sight. Jack Youngblood, a relentless pass rusher, is the other defensive end I'd bring in, a guy with a nonstop motor and an unbelievably high pain threshold.
I've always been in wide receiver Lynn Swann's corner. Not enough numbers, the selectors have said. Quality over quantity has been my answer. He saved his best plays for when the stakes were highest. I'm also voting for Harry Carson, who ran a great Giants defense for many years. One of the finest goal line linebackers ever.
Finally there's Dave Casper, who blocked like the tackle he'd been at Notre Dame and caught passes deep or short through the forest of legalized muggings that constituted pass defense in his era. I consider him the best tight end in the history of the game.