For the second consecutive year there were audible gasps and arched eyebrows Saturday when Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, John Randle, Rickey Jackson and Russ Grimm -- as well as senior-committee nominees Dick LeBeau and Floyd Little -- were announced as this year's inductees. The reaction inside the Broward County Convention Center had as much to do with who didn't make the cut as who did.
If the fact that Shannon Sharpe, Richard Dent, Cortez Kennedy, Andre Reed and Dermontti Dawson were each eliminated in the final round of cuts didn't shock onlookers, the announcement of Cris Carter, Don Coryell, Charles Haley, Tim Brown and Roger Craig failing to make the first cut certainly did.
Think about that for a moment: Carter ranked second in league history with 130 touchdown catches at the time of his retirement; Coryell changed the way offense and defense are played with his innovative passing attack; Haley won a player-record five Super Bowls as a pass-rushing force; Brown had 10 consecutive seasons of at least 75 catches and nine straight 1,000-yard seasons; and Craig was the first player to gain 1,000 yards as a rusher and a receiver in the same season.
And none made the first cut.
As I wrote in this space a year ago, get used to surprises. There is a backlog of deserving players that gets deeper every year. Next year will be no exception considering the first-time candidates will include Deion Sanders, Marshall Faulk, Curtis Martin, Jerome Bettis and Dick Vermeil. There's a lot of history and nobility in that group. But enough of that for now.
Some thoughts about Saturday:
• Just as senior-committee nominees are voted on separately from the modern-era players, it's time for the Hall to create a similar designation for coaches and contributors. The reason is simple: Selectors I've spoken with are reluctant to use their votes on coaches or contributors because there's such a backlog of deserving players. That means candidates such as Coryell, whose fingerprints are all over the modern game, both offensively and defensively, will have an extremely tough time making the first cut on the Saturday before the Super Bowl, let alone the final one. Ditto Steve and Ed Sabol, whose NFL Films company has been instrumental in the chronicling, promoting and branding of the NFL. All of these men deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, but I fear it won't happen with the number of deserving players growing larger every year.
• It's dangerous to make predictions about when someone will be inducted, but the wait for Reed and Dent looks to be shorter than longer. There is growing support for both, and the fact that each made the cut to 10 this year should bode well. Also helping the cause for Reed, who missed the first cut last year but made it Saturday, is that current Hall of Famers are coming to his defense. Michael Irvin and Rod Woodson both said Saturday they would vote in Reed, the Bills' standout wideout, ahead of Carter. Said Irvin: "Andre Reed didn't just catch passes, he caught passes that counted. His catches led his team to four Super Bowl appearances."
Such comments are being heard with greater frequency regarding Reed.
• According to the guidelines provided to each of the 44 voters, we are supposed to consider players based on what they did on the field. Nothing else. But voters are human like everyone else, and after seeing Haley fail to make the first cut it's hard not to wonder if his boorish behavior with the media during a standout 12-year career had something to do with it.
Haley is the only player to win five Super Bowls (two with San Francisco, three with Dallas) and was an integral player in each. He finished his career with 100.5 sacks, was a two-time NFC Defensive Player of the Year, and claimed 10 division titles in 12 seasons. Still, he failed to make the first cut. I can only draw one conclusion: Some voters weighed his behavior more heavily than his performance, because his statistics and championships cry out "Hall of Famer."