BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — After hours of lobbying and debate, a new Hall of Fame class will emerge this weekend from a list of 15 modern-era finalists.
What’s interesting about football’s process is that almost anything can happen. Writers rarely have a concrete idea of how the lobbying process will pan out and, at this stage where only a few names remain, everyone is deserving. There is initial debate, a round of voting to narrow the group of players from 15 to 10, a second round of voting to go from 10 to five and a third round of voting on the final five. A player needs 80% to make it in.
So here’s our crack at previewing the action to come, with updates expected throughout the day.
WHO IS IN THE RUNNING?
Tony Boselli, tackle, Jacksonville Jaguars
Isaac Bruce, wide receiver, Rams, 49ers
Brian Dawkins, safety, Eagles, Broncos
Alan Faneca, guard, Steelers, Jets, Cardinals
Steve Hutchinson, guard, Seahawks, Vikings, Titans
Joe Jacoby, tackle, Washington
Edgerrin James, running back, Colts, Cardinals, Seahawks
Ty Law, cornerback Patriots, Jets, Chiefs, Broncos
Ray Lewis, linebacker, Baltimore Ravens
John Lynch, safety, Buccaneers, Broncos
Kevin Mawae, center, Seahawks, Jets, Titans
Randy Moss, wide receiver, Vikings, Raiders, Patriots, Titans, 49ers
Terrell Owens, wide receiver, 49ers, Eagles, Cowboys, Bills, Bengals
Brian Urlacher, linebacker, Chicago Bears
Everson Walls, cornerback, Cowboys, Giants, Browns
WHO WILL MAKE THE FINAL CUT?
This is where it gets tough. Moss, Walls, Urlacher, Lewis and Hutchinson are first-timers, while everyone else has taken at least one spin through the ringer. Ray Lewis, a two-time Super Bowl winner, 13-time Pro Bowler and seven-time first-team All Pro, is probably the safest bet despite a murky past away from the field. While this can’t be considered specifically—voters are tasked with keeping their opinions to the player’s on-field prowess—it may inevitably creep into their minds during the process.
There figures to be a fascinating showdown on the receiver front. Randy Moss ranks fourth in the NFL in receiving yards, 15th in receptions and second in receiving touchdowns. The latter category, touchdowns, is the only one in which he has an edge on Owens. Owens’s candidacy has been hotly contested and he has more career catches and yards than Moss. But post-career Moss has done much more to polish his image than Owens, who has taken the “burn it down” approach to the committee. Regardless of whether or not it’s fair for a player’s legacy to be determined by a small group of writers, Owens’ clamorous career will still give some pause.
This should be a good year for the offensive linemen: Five-time Pro Bowler Tony Boselli and nine-time Pro Bowler Alan Faneca were some of the best up front players of their time. Offensive line play is difficult to quantify, but casual observers have been getting smarter over the years.
Also, don’t be surprised to see at least one of the safeties—Lynch or Dawkins—making a play at the Gold Jacket.
WILL PEOPLE BE SATISFIED WITH THAT?
Of course not. If Moss gets in and Owens does not, there will be intense backlash. If Moss doesn’t get in because of Owens, there will be an even more intense backlash. Moss’s cultural importance gives him the slight edge in my book, though I’m not voting. He was Odell Beckham before Odell Beckham. He redefined the position. His documentary, Rand University, was a deep, painful look at his life and rise from a small town in West Virginia. There is a lot to appreciate there.
At some point, the Hall is going to turn into a generational tug of war. People of a certain age (like myself) are going to have a rabid appreciation for players like Moss, Owens, Urlacher and James because they came up at a time where football players weren’t just football players. They were replica jerseys, hairstyles, video game characters, fantasy football entities and television regulars in our era. Will the arguments evolve as well?