It's good to be able to sit and think for a while after the Super Bowl. Gives us all time to think about the season and all the things that go with it. So I've been giving my role in the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection process some thought. It's a good time to give it some thought, too. I just finished my 20th year deliberating the immortality of retired pro football greats.
I've been thinking of stepping down from the committee of 44 selectors. Many of you are right. Twenty years is a long time. I've stated my case -- in favor or opposed -- for many who've been elected and many who haven't. And I've thought, independent of the argument some have proposed for term limits for Hall voters, that maybe it's time for someone else to sit in judgment of these great players, coaches and league and club officials. Fresh voices are good things.
In 20 years, sitting on the panel has gone from an honor to equal parts burden and honor. I never got in this for pats on the back. I got in it to try to do the right thing by my conscience. Sitting in judgment of the all-time greats is an often-intimidating job, because you realize you're acting as judge and jury to a man's career. When Chris Doleman got in this year, he said that night that the only thing better in his life would be when he died and met his maker. Don't think that's lost on me. It's an honor -- with a heavy weight attached. And the weight gets heavier every year.
In the last few years, I've lost count of how many people in the game and on the street have told me, in various ways, "You're an idiot, you're incompetent, you stink at this, and how can you leave [fill in the blank] out of the Hall of Fame?" And after a while, you just start thinking, Why am I doing this anyway? I figured the other day that I spend the equivalent of about four days of my life each year on the Hall of Fame -- asking former coaches and players and officials about the cases of certain candidates. I know how important it is. I try to do the best and most conscientious job I can, knowing that there are, in almost every class of 15 modern-era finalists, more candidates I'd vote yes on than no.
This year, when all the discussions in the room were finished, I looked down my list and checked 11 men I'd have voted for and four I would have turned down. But we whittle the list from 15 to 10, and then from 10 to five, before we vote yes or no on individual candidates. That means, on my list this year, six deserving men wouldn't get in.
So when you look at the list of those who got in and ask how could I not have voted for so-and-so, the answer in many cases is simple: I supported so-and-so every step of the way, but it's a democracy. Majority rules.
The four I don't think are Hall of Famers? It has nothing to do with some bias I have against them. None of them was rude to me. None turned me down for an interview. The 11 I favor? It's not because I covered them or worked on TV with them; I have twice voted against men I respect and covered as a team beat writer. It's not because they are my friends. One of the men I opposed never spoke to me again after he learned of my vote. That's life.
I believe all votes should be made public, because we should stand behind our opinions. I believe the committee should be expanded to include a conscientious player, coach or club official from the existing 32 teams. But if you think that's going to end the arguments and the perceived biases, you're crazy. It would, however, give the vote more legitimacy, in my opinion.
I try to be as honest in my writing as humanly possible, and I don't write this today to engender any sort of pity party. It's a tremendous honor to be asked to be a Hall of Fame voter. I have a lot of thinking to do about this. It might be time to make it someone else's tremendous honor.
So, after all the negatives, why am I still on the fence? It's simple: This is such an important task. I love the game. I love the history of the game. I have such great respect for the Hall of Fame. I know how much I put into it, and I believe strongly I do the job honestly and with conviction. I'm torn because it IS so important, and because I'm confident that in a sea of very difficult decisions, I make them for the right, and honest, reasons.
While I deliberated in the last few days, an e-mail from a fellow voter came to me. I won't name the voter, but I asked if I could share the sentiments, and the voter said yes. This voter is having some of the same doubts about the process as I am.
Now I'll turn the floor over to you, as I do every Tuesday:
THE HALL CAN CHANGE THE RULES, YES.
Good question, Joe. I wouldn't mind seeing the max number of modern-era candidates go up by one. But I also would favor a coach/GM/scout/administrator/commissioner category, with one slot per year going to that group. I'm really bothered by the fact that Ron Wolf, who I believe strongly is a Hall of Fame GM and scout, can't even make the final 15 list.
Good question. I don't have the answer for it.
RE: TERM LIMITS.
This is interesting, Zeke. Very interesting. I'll forward your suggestion to the Hall.
I THINK THIS IS A NICE WAY OF SAYING, 'WE'RE ALL SCREWED UP.'
A lot to digest. No matter how often I say this, people aren't going to believe I vote my conscience, regardless of my relationships with people. But I do understand your skepticism about it. The fact is, most people we're judging are no longer active in the game -- and we don't "need" them to make our stories. I'm not in favor of fans having a say. Fans are fans. They're not impartial. We need as much impartiality on the panel as possible with these votes.
BILL WANTS TO BLOW THE WHOLE THING UP.
Thanks for writing.
BRAD'S POINT IS LOUDLY MADE.
Make my case. Hmmm. On what, exactly? Does it matter to you that Doleman has 39 more sacks/forced fumbles/recovered fumbles in his career than Michael Strahan, and had a 15-sack season at age 37? Or that Kennedy was the Defensive Player of the Year on a 2-14 team, and two noted coaches have told me he is the toughest linemen their interior line had to block, ever? And on the subject of "first-ballot Hall of Famers," that I believe it's the most overused cliché in all of pro football, and that if every person described thusly were put it on the first ballot, the Pro Football Hall of Fame would have approximately 3,496 bronze busts today?