Pro Football Hall of Fame: Your Arguments, Ideas and Complaints About Voting Process
- In an all-HOF mailbag, Peter King lets readers air their grievances with everything from which players should be in to whether class sizes should be bigger
- Cases for enshrinement are made for George Seifert, Gil Brandt, Frank Gore, Pat Bowlen, Ken Anderson, Joe Klecko, Jerry Kramer and more
So, for all of you looking for a training camp column here, I’ll be doing more of those in the coming days—including one on Tyreek Hill and the Chiefs, which I thought I’d be writing today. But then the Hall of Fame avalanche came. You had scores of questions about it, and so I decided to do a Hall column, because of your intense interest after the Saturday night enshrinement.
Before I begin, let me explain a couple of things, as one of 48 voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I’ve done it for 25 years.
• I share my opinions because I think it’s important to be as transparent as we can in the voting process. Not everyone involved in the process agrees with me about public discussion. Some voters don’t, and the Hall doesn’t … because of the fear that it would inhibit voting one’s true conscience. But when I speak, I don’t speak as a representative of the Hall of Fame. I speak as 1/48th of the voting committee.
• I deserve the slings and arrows about my votes, and my opinions. It’s okay to send them my way. But I do want you to know, contrary to popular views outside the meeting room, that I try to look at every case with zero prejudice. I don’t care if a guy was lousy to me when he was in the arena. I don’t care if I covered him a lot or barely at all. I try to ask myself if he belongs with the greatest in the game’s history. Period.
• I often struggle with the thought that I’ve done this long enough, and another fresh mind should consider some of those up for election. I believe voter term limits should be considered by the Hall. I stay because I believe I have value to the process. But if someone said, “Time to go,” I’d be thankful for the time I had. It’s an honor to sit in the chair and to be a judge for this illustrious place.
With that said, on with your questions.
TERRELL DAVIS EFFECT
I find it interesting that you talk about the Terrell Davis effect on the HOF selections. Davis rushed for over 2,000 yards in a single season. He was an NFL MVP. He won two Super Bowls. Look at a guy like Jerome Bettis. He never led the NFL in rushing in any of the seasons he played. He never won an NFL MVP. He won a single Super Bowl. But because he is the “most nimble big man” to ever play football (Peter King's words, not mine), he gets in. So you can talk about Terrell Davis lowering the standard for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But know that those standards were lowered the day you let a guy like Jerome Bettis in because he simply had a long career and happened to play for one of the most storied franchises in football. If Bettis had played for Tampa Bay, he'd be in the Hall of Pretty Good.
That’s your opinion, and the opinion of many. What is indisputable is that we just elected a player (and I am absolutely fine with it, by the way) who had three superb years and one very good one and who is the best rusher, arguably, in postseason football history. It all happened in a four-year period. To think that a player who had a four-year run of greatness and nothing else can get in the Hall of Fame and that wouldn’t have an impact on future candidates is foolish. How can it not? Similarly, to totally discount the longevity factor as a factor for inclusion in the Hall is foolish. Bettis was good for a long time. That counts.
THE CASE FOR ... GEORGE SEIFERT
Peter, I am sure you don’t want your mailbag to turn into why isn’t “this” person in over “that” person. I should start by saying you guys do a great job overall. But one omission really bothers me, and I was reminded of it when I saw your back and forth with a user on Twitter about the candidacy of Tom Flores. I agree with you that Flores falls short of induction for me, but why do you think George Seifert hasn’t gotten the traction I feel he deserves? I know the two common arguments against him are: 1) He just picked up a team that Bill Walsh built, and 2) he went 1-15 in his final season as a coach. I’m not saying both of those don’t have merit, but they are cop-outs that obscure one of the great careers a coach has ever had. Walsh himself credits Seifert for constructing the defense that formed the backbone of the 1984 and 1988 title teams. Seifert’s groundbreaking use of the “elephant” position was something that had not been done before. Oh and that 1-15 season? Rookie Chris Weinke was his QB. But it’s all Seifert’s fault? I know the standards as a coach are high to get in. But Seifert isn’t mentioned. We appreciate him in San Francisco. I wish the voters like yourself could see it.
—Danny, San Francisco
Good argument, Danny. Seifert is an interesting case. I think he’s hurt, some, by the fact that he won with a totally inherited team. And when he went to Carolina, he coached three years and never had a winning season. Coaches who coach in multiple places should be judged on the totality of their careers and not just in one place. It’s why Bill Parcells is in, in large part: four teams, four teams led to the playoffs, two Super Bowl wins. I think Seifert is hurt by the total wins (114) and the fact that he didn’t do much in Carolina.
... GIL BRANDT
I’ve had the distinct pleasure of listening to Gil Brandt on satellite radio for the past few years. While I’m not surprised by the ignorance of Jerry Jones that Brandt is not in the Cowboys Ring of Honor, I’m flummoxed as to why he hasn’t been chosen for the Hall of Fame. Can you explain the chances of his candidacy?
I think they are good. Brandt is up for inclusion this year as the lone nominee from the Contributors category, and whether it is this year or the next few, I do think eventually his candidacy is strong enough that he will make it.
... ROBERT KRAFT
Why hasn’t Robert Kraft been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame? He has had much more success than Jerry Jones, who was just inducted. Seems rather confusing to fans.
Kraft has built a great franchise and has had a major role in helping the NFL become the dominant sport in America. Jones was not elected because of his record with the Dallas Cowboys exclusively; if so, he would not have made it—even though people conveniently forget he was the owner who fired a tired regime and installed a new and energetic one, which led to three Super Bowl wins in his first six years as owner. Because those titles happened two decades ago doesn’t mean they didn’t happen. But overall, Jones got in for his impact on football; as Washington’s Bruce Allen said, he’s the most significant single figure in the game in the past quarter-century.
... FRANK GORE/PATRICK WILLIS
As a Niner fan watching Willis and Gore, they were the highlights of some very bad teams. Gore seems to have compiled enough stats for consideration. What about Willis? Arguably one of the most dominant players at the position, but his short career might keep him from consideration. However that short career with seven Pro Bowls and five first team all-pros might be enough? What do you think?
I like the candidacy of Gore more than Willis, though I think both have a chance. Let Gore finish his career first; that’s the only fair way to judge him. I think his endurance and his longevity, and the fact that he’s still primed to be the primary back for a team at age 34 this year in Indy, is amazing. And he’s likely to finish in the top five rushers of all time, and he had a 1,000-yard season at age 33. I admire him a lot.
... JERRY KRAMER
What will it take for Jerry Kramer to get the Seniors nomination for the HOF this year? He is the only member of the 50th Anniversary team not in the HOF … five NFL titles … multiple times All-Pro, and made the pivotal block on the play that gave Vince Lombardi and the Packers a third consecutive NFL title.
He may make the cut this year; I don’t know because I’m not on the Seniors Committee, which will nominate two players this year. In the past I have not been a Kramer advocate for a couple of reasons. He has been a finalist 10 times. Ten times he didn’t get the requisite votes to make it. And nine of those times, he was a finalist in the modern era, which means that a jury of his contemporaries—writers and media people who covered him a lot—voted him down. So we, the 48 people now voting, are now supposed to right whatever wrong that was. And maybe it is a wrong. But other than being browbeaten by the general public over Kramer, how exactly would we know that? Not a soul in the voting room right now covered Kramer as a player; no one in there was a football writer in 1960. The Seniors Committee is comprised of people who try to go over players whose cases have been lost in the weeds or ignored over the years. Kramer’s case clearly has not been.
Finally, a few years ago, I asked Bart Starr if there was anyone else he thought had been forgotten unjustly in the Hall process, and he said left tackle Bob Skoronski. He was effusive in his praise of Skoronski. I asked him if he wanted to mention anyone else, and he said no. Did he forget Kramer? I suppose it’s possible. But I gave him his chance, and he didn’t mention Kramer.
... PAT BOWLEN
Love the work you guys do; it makes for the best professional procrastination on Mondays especially. I would be curious to hear your thoughts on Pat Bowlen’s HOF worthiness. I understand Jones has been a front man for the NFL in many ways and is deserving of the award, but I also know for a fact Mr. Bowlen has been a key member of the ownership circle and has contributed a significant amount to the league and the game as we know it today. He has also done it with a fraction of the spotlight and, say, personality of Mr. Jones. Some of us really appreciate the understated professionalism. With Mr. Bowlen’s health failing, it would be awesome to see him recognized.
Drew, I think Pat Bowlen belongs. I am one of the nine members of the Contributors’ Committee. Five sit in the room each August to pick the finalist or finalists. Last year the five-member group advanced Jerry Jones and Paul Tagliabue. We do not see the vote totals, but I thought Bowlen was very close. After the discussion period, I would not have been surprised if he had been one of the two candidates made a 2017 finalist. But he wasn’t. I think this year, he and Gil Brandt along with former GMs Bobby Beathard and George Young—and others, to be sure—are strong candidates and could come out of the room.
... GINO CAPPELLETTI
Followed your work for many years and you are (by far) my favorite NFL writer. As a lifelong Patriots fan from the 1960s, I’ve always wondered why Gino Cappelletti is not in the Hall of Fame. All-time leading scorer in AFL history as a wide receiver and placekicker. Has there ever been any talk of him by the veterans committee?
—David G., Milford, Mass.
Thanks for the kind words, Davis. I am not on that committee, and thus I don’t know if Gino has ever been at the front of the list. But I agree he is a unique candidate. I’d be interested in delving into his case.
... JOE KLECKO
Do you think Joe Klecko will ever get in? Why do you think he’s not already in there?
—@MDiFebbo (via Twitter)
I think he’s not in because some view his career wasn’t long enough. I think 155 games is plenty long, especially when he’s the only player in history to have made the modern Pro Bowl at three positions—defensive end, defensive tackle, nosetackle. I’m an advocate.
INCREASE HOF CLASS SIZE
You've written a lot about how you are a proponent of the limits on Hall of Fame classes because it keeps it special and means more to those who make it. But it’s for the players and the fans. Players that have to wait don’t like the process. Fans don’t like the process. When my kids are old enough I want to take them and show them the stars that got me into football. I don’t want to explain, “Well, Terrell Owens was a great wide receiver, but because of other qualified people he’s still not in.” Up the class sizes. Let the deserving get enshrined.
I don’t agree. I don’t see scores of deserving candidates being held back by the class-size restrictions. It’s hard to get in, and should be. And Terrell Owens is not being kept out by class size. He is being kept out because there are some on the committee—they have voiced their opinions loudly—who don’t think he belongs in the Hall, or who think there are others right now who are more worthy.
VERY GOOD QUESTION, PETE
Are the Patriots going to have HOFers other than Brady/Belichick? Seems odd that nobody from the three-in-four-years run is in yet.
I’d say Adam Vinatieri, when/if he ever decides to retire, has the best chance. Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork have a shot, and of course Ty Law. Not sure if anyone else has a strong case.
THE SPEECHES ARE TOO LONG
I heard you talking to Rich Eisen about limiting the length of the speeches, and I agree. They never used to be so long; it gets worse every year. However, the most offensive was Jerry Jones, who went on for nearly an hour! He is a very entertaining speaker, but it was so disrespectful to Kurt Warner to make him and his fans sit there cooling their heels while he somehow felt compelled to mention or thank every person he has ever come in contact with—including Rupert Murdoch.
—Virginia M., Richmond, Va.
The best speech was LaDainian Tomlinson’s. It lasted 25 minutes. How easy it would be to find three minutes he could have cut out of it, kept the impactful message and made it 22 minutes. In my opinion, it’s absurd to have a 4-hour, 48-minute event. It has to be lassoed.
WISH I’D HAVE SAID THIS
My father was a scholarly Episcopal priest. He was widely acknowledged as an outstanding preacher. I once asked him about the secret to his success. He replied: “If you can’t say what you want to say in 12 minutes, it’s probably not worth saying.” I became a chancellor of three state university systems. Whenever I had to prepare a speech, I began by recalling the wisdom of his advice.
Brevity, John. Thank you.
Why do you think there seems to be a perception among a lot of fans that the media who votes on the Hall of Fame tend to try harder to get former players that are currently in the media into the Hall? Jerome Bettis, Terrell Davis, Tony Dungy and Kurt Warner all come to mind.
John Lynch, Boomer Esiason, Cris Collinsworth, Steve Mariucci, Rodney Harrison, Daryl Johnston, Jimmy Johnson, Chris Spielman, Tedy Bruschi, Rich Gannon, Steve Tasker, Phil Simms and Ron Jaworski all come to mind for me. What do they have in common? They’re TV stars. They’re former football players or coaches, most near the top of their profession. They’re not in the Hall of Fame. That’s 13 prominent TV people. I have never bought the fact that because someone is on TV it gives him an edge for the Hall. Silly talk.
SHOULD THERE BE A SECOND-TIER HOF FOR WARNER?
Long-time reader and admirer of your MMQB column, and subsequently of the entire MMQB crew. Great job all around. Since I follow football closely only since the early 2000s, I can’t really comment on any of the older players who are enshrined, or not. But I was lucky enough to witness the careers of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, who obviously is not finished yet. And their HOF credentials are certainly beyond doubt. But does Kurt Warner really belong in the same class? Of course, his career is an amazing story. But did anyone consider him during his playing days at the same level as Manning and Brady? Should there be a two-tier HOF? I realize that this is not realistic, but it may reflect the reality that in the HOF there is quite a gradient of accomplishments, just as there is in the NFL. And please, let yourself never be silenced by those who ask you to stick to sports only.
—Joerg, San Jose
Thanks for the kind words. The fact that Warner isn’t on the level of, say, Manning or Brady, makes me think of this: Warren Moon is not on their level. Neither is Bob Waterfield. They’re both in the Hall. I don’t think you can create levels of the Hall of Fame. I think you have to give people the credit they deserve. Warner, for instance, is a two-time MVP, the only man in history with three 350-passing-yard Super Bowls (414, 365, 377), and one of the truly unique candidates in Hall history. He had a five-year donut hole in the middle of his career, and came back to be great again. I believe he deserves his bust, even if he’s not Bradyesque. Few are.
WILL EARLY RETIREMENTS AFFECT THE HALL?
We are seeing more players retiring earlier than they used to. Do you think this will affect future HOF voting? I’m referring specifically to Calvin Johnson who was only 29th in total yards, 22nd in receiving TDs and 43rd in receptions when he retired because he didn’t stick around long enough to accumulate more stats. But he ranks much higher in per-game averages and was dominant over a several-year period. Do you think eventually total career stats will be used less and per-game averages will be used more if players continue to leave the game early?
—Charlie A., Detroit
Great question. I do not vote for the Hall on stats alone. I think we have to believe what our eyes saw. Johnson was a truly dominant players, as you say. I like his candidacy.
AN AMNESTY YEAR
Are you in favor of an amnesty year for the HOF to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the NFL?
—@wixieearlwilson (via Twitter)
That’s a great question. Several of my peers want to do that, feeling that, say, a 20-member class in 2020, the NFL’s 100th-anniversary year, would help pay tribute to the greats of all eras. Color me skeptical, but open to listening to the arguments for it.
Should the committee be larger, with more current HOFers as voters?
—@Cowboys832 (via Twitter)
I’ve heard that a lot over the years. I’d be okay with it. Two issues: If, say, a former Steeler gets on the committee, do the Raiders then say, Wait a minute—we want representation too. There’s a danger in making the committee so big that it becomes hard for everyone to have an open discussion. Forty-eight people in a room debating players is a lot. If every team were represented, there’d be about 80 in the room. The second issue is that I don’t buy the sentiment that players would be totally egalitarian about their votes. Some would be absolutely honorable. Some, I fear, would be slanted toward their former mates. Again: I’m fine with whatever the rules are. I think a committee that big would start to become unwieldy.
ON KEN ANDERSON
What are the chances the veterans committee will put Ken Anderson in the HOF?
—@jamiedyke1 (via Twitter)
Anderson’s support is growing. I think he’ll get in the room for finalist consideration in the next few years. When? No idea. But his case has a lot of fans.
Are you guys going to put your petty differences aside and vote in the third-best WR in NFL history? #NoTOinHoFisajoke
I have no petty differences with Terrell Owens and his candidacy. You’ll have to ask some of the others on the committee about their views.
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