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Early call for the Hall

I write this column at about the same time, every year. It's the Hall of Fame's annual telephone directory, a.k.a. the preliminary ballot. It has more names on it than the voting registers of both Denville and Mountain Lakes, N.J., and is about as interesting ... no wait, I didn't write that ... and has some rare and exotic names, some going as far back as Watergate.

Once it was explained to me how the 124 names contained herein were submitted, but it's the kind of thing I forget without much encouragement. I think a phone call or write-in from a concerned observer might swing it. I know the lobbyists have been hard at work, as usual.

Nothing like getting a phone call from an old coach -- "You want me to ever talk to you again? You vote for my guy." Even better are the endorsements from noted public figures, on their letterhead, U.S. Congress, State House of Representatives, Hi-di-ho Box Company, whatever. I like it best when the secretary who has typed this thing is kind of in a hurry, and you find your share of howlers:

"Mr.Boselli in his career was able to amass over 300 tackles and assists ... is that what guards do?"

Enough beating about the bush. Step one of this long process is to submit to the Hall 25 choices, those whom I want to progress to step two, which chops the list down to 15. I have not fully decided in some cases, but I'll share what I have with you.

Quarterbacks. My favorite of the nine, and probably the only one I'll vote for, at this point, is Ken Anderson of the Bengals. There was nothing not to like about him. Accurate, powerful, tremendously courageous, he had Hall of Fame written all over him. The prototype, actually. My second favorite candidate is Phil Simms, and ... what the hell, I'll probably go for him, too. He felt deeply about his profession, cared more than almost any of them. Oh yes, he could also throw the hell out of the ball.

Terrell Davis is my only running back, of the six listed. I'm sure he'll make it to the final 15, which will get him into the selection meeting at the Super Bowl, and the debate will rage long and hard. Shortness of career will be the main negative, although others are in there who have done far less.

He played for seven seasons, only four of which were really outstanding ... dynamic actually ... and that's perceived as a negative. But all you have to do is look at one of the current senior candidates, Marshall Goldberg, to see the lack of logic here. His career stretched over eight years, with only two, repeat, two, functional seasons. How his name came up is a mystery. A joke, actually. But that's another matter.

In the last two years of the glory part of Davis' career, the Broncos rode his shirttails to a pair of Super Bowl titles, the only ones in their history. You could rightly say he and John Elway are the two most important people in the history of the franchise. I think that's enough of an endorsement. Quality over quantity will be my argument when this whole thing comes up in January.

I'm going heavy on the wideouts this year, for some reason. I've always been a fan of the gigantic Harold Carmichael. CrisCarter's numbers are overpowering. I don't see how they can keep him out. Andre Reed has a rough time in the balloting, usually because the competition is so stiff at this position, but I've always been in his corner and I'll continue to be. And now we come to Art Monk.

I'm tired of being a negative. I'm tired of all the impassioned letters asking me what did he ever do to me. I've been thinking long and hard about this. OK, he caught a lot of short passes but he also bought a lot of first downs, and he was a terrific team guy, well-respected and a pleasure from whom to borrow money. Why must I continue to pound a shoe on the table?

"Because the heel is falling off," says The Flaming Redhead. Hey, can't you see this is serious? What's the matter with you?

Where was I? Oh yeah, Art Monk. OK. He's got my vote. D.C. e-mailers can mail their contributions to me, care of the office.

Tight ends. Mark Bavaro. For some reason I'm blanking out. Why hasn't he made it before now? His name certainly has come up. I'd vote for him in a heartbeat. This is mysterious. Have there been negatives? I can't recall any. OK, so he didn't catch as many passes as other guys did, but blocking? Oh my God, he hunted linebackers down. Defensive ends, too. Please, let's get him in there.

But let's not forget about another guy who's eminently qualified, ToddChristensen. He has been bobbing around the edges for a few years now, always backed up by tremendous numbers, never quite getting the votes to put him over. I'll always be a voice on his behalf, mainly because of the fact that for a four-year span, 1983 through '86, he defined the position. He averaged 87 catches a season, and they were a lot rougher on receivers in those days.

And there's still another tight end on this list. Right now I'm undecided. RussFrancis. Twelve years of high-quality performance. We'll see.

Bob Kuechenberg remains my No. 1 project among the moderns, now that Cliff Harris has gone into the Seniors pool. Kooch's problem is two of his Dolphin teammates went in before he had his shot. Larry Little? OK, he was a powerful guard, a friendly guy, jolly, well liked by the writers. A comfortable Hall of Fame choice. Jim Langer, the center? A bit of a mysterious choice. Even Dolphin fans were surprised. A fine player, granted, but he went in before Kooch did? Come on now.

"Kooch was the best of all of them," Don Shula growled at me in his latest phone call. "You've got to do something for him."

I'm trying, coach, Lord knows I'm trying. But what do you do when he makes it to the absolute finals and all that's required is a yea vote instead of a nay, and he still gets dinged? I mean do I call my Corsican friends in the Bronx and have them pay some of these birds a visit?

Two centers get my vote in this round, Dermontti Dawson, the cat-quick pivotman for the Steelers, and Kent Hull, who kept everything kosher up front during the Buffalo Bills' K-Gun era. Still on the O-line list, Tony Boselli bothers me. It's not the relative shortness of his career. I can live with that. It's that ... well, I probably watched more tape on him than any offensive lineman I can remember, and what I saw was a guy who burst onto the scene like a meteor, but during his career did less and less to get by.

Granted, his "less" was more than a lot of other players' "more," but I wanted to see him going after people. I wanted to see some Artie Shell there. Instead, what I saw was a guy who came to work and did his job and never really took it to the highest level. I must warn you. I think I met one other person in my life who agrees with me about this. So all you Jacksonville fans who want to tell me I'm nuts, fine. Go ahead. But I did watch this guy an awful lot.

There's always tremendous quality in the defensive line list and this year is no different. I penciled in three out of the 11 names, and I wish I could have picked more. Joe Klecko, a complete linemen who could play end or tackle, a dynamic pass rusher, a guy who was almost technically perfect against the run, is not loved by my fellow selectors, no matter how much pleading I have done. I think I know what the problem is. They look at his stats and see 24 career sacks. But those encompass the latter part of his career, when sacks became official. How about the 54 he ran up in his first five years, including 20 ½ one season? Ah, what's the use at this point? I'll save my energy for when it counts.

Chris Doleman, yeah. Richard Dent, yeah. Good linemen, fine pass rushers. But neither one of them was as good as Klecko was. You know, it just gets you down after a while.

CortezKennedy's name keeps staring at me from the pages of this fat book. I sure liked big Cortez when he was playing. Powerhouse, bowling-ball type. Looks like I'll have to make room for him, somehow.

Now we come to 17 linebackers, and it was agonizing, trying to trim some of these guys from the roster. Why don't I tell you the guys about whom I'm definite? Top gun is Sam Mills, a genius on the field ... one of those mystical tacklers who just seemed to be drawn to the ball like a moth to a lamp. DerrickThomas was one of the great pass rushers of the era, and the Patriots' AndreTippett was in the same class. And so was Kevin Greene. Ricky Jackson was underrated and overlooked at this level, but he always performed at a very high caliber. That's five I have.

Randy Gradishar is someone everybody else likes better than I do. And I'm talking now about scouts and longtime personnel people who explain to me why he was so good. OK, I'll buy it. Obviously I was missing something, but I'd really like to see the whole thing presented to me as a film study.

Thirteen defensive backs listed, and there's a reverse situation going on at this position, and I mean cornerback. At one time every team had a shutdown corner who could excel in man coverage. Now almost none do. They have cover two guys, players like Ty Law who can hang in forever, protected by the scheme and a good knowledge of the angles. The shutdown corner is a dying breed, which is why most of the names I see in front of me now are part of a rare species, to be carefully protected.

Darrell Green, Albert Lewis and The Rattler, Ken Riley ... in that order. All legitimate Hall of Famers. All terrific players. No one, repeat nobody, comes anywhere near their skill today. And if the H of F would have wanted to include Riley's teammate on the Bengals, Lemar Parrish, on its list, that wouldn't have bothered me, either.

I've allowed myself one coach's selection, and it's Clark Shaughnessy, the guy who perfected the modern T-formation with flanked receiver and man in motion. He only did it 67 years ago, and it remains our basic formation. I tried interesting the Seniors Committee in those qualifications, but they preferred a player who got one vote (Chicago Herald-American) for all-pro, as a defensive back, out of an entire career.

Whenever I see the heading, CONTRIBUTOR, I expect to see a list of donations, as they have in the college alumni reports. OK, my contributor is ArtRooney,Jr., the Steelers' personnel director who conducted drafts the likes of which the league has never seen since. His '74 draft, with Hall of Famers on the first (Swann), second (Lambert), fourth (Stallworth) and fifth (Webster) rounds, remains his monument.

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