(EDITOR’S NOTE: To access the Jim Porter interview, please click on the following attachment: Ep 78: New Hall of Fame President Jim Porter Joins | Spreaker)
Jim Porter has been the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s president for less than a week, taking the job after former CEO and president David Baker abruptly stepped down last weekend. Nevertheless, it didn't take Porter long to make an impression.
It took one conversation.
OK, so it’s a small step. But what he said on the latest “Eye Test for Two” podcast (fullpressradio.com) should encourage the Hall’s 49-member board of selectors … as well as fans everywhere … that the Hall is open to changes in the voting process – including, and most especially, the senior selection.
For far too long, seniors (defined as players out of the game 25 years or more) faced overwhelming odds reaching Canton. Jerry Kramer and Johnny Robinson, for example, recently were elected after waiting over four decades … and they’re the lucky ones. More often, seniors sink so deep into a morass of Hall-of-Fame worthy talent that they never escape what has been aptly coined "the senior abyss."
Consider, for instance, former Philadelphia lineman Al Wistert. He played nine seasons, was an eight-time All-Pro, a first-team all-decade choice and two-time NFL champion. Credentials like that would make him a first-ballot cinch today. But he played in the 1940s and, regrettably, has been forgotten.
Wistert isn’t the exception. According to our Rick Gosselin, there are 58 all-decade players in the senior pool, most of whom were never discussed as finalists, and that’s a problem. The Hall’s rules allow only one senior candidate per year – one -- until the Class of 2025, yet there are far more Hall-of-Fame worthy seniors than coaches and contributors.
That needs to be addressed, and Porter isn’t waiting.
“I don’t think I have necessarily any thoughts on will that number grow,” he said of seniors, “but I think what I’d really like to do in the very near future is get the opinions of all of you guys – the 49 selectors – and say, ‘What are we doing well, and what can we do better?’ And go from that route.
“Because I think the folks who are doing this ought to have some good input on what that looks like. So that’s a discussion I’m absolutely open for.”
“For me,” said Porter, a life-long Canton resident who spent 33 years in the newspaper business, “whatever is easiest for everybody. But my guess (is that it) would probably be a Zoom call so that we can discuss it among ourselves and not get lost in an e-mail string somewhere.”
From 2004-14 the Hall considered two senior finalists annually. Since then, however, there have been only three years (2016, 2018 and 2020) where more than one senior was proposed. When the Hall created the coaching category this year, there was hope that would change. It didn’t. Instead, the Hall decreed that there would be one senior, contributor and coaching finalist annually through 2024.
That may seem fair, but it’s not. As I’ve said, there’s a glut of Hall-of-Fame worthy seniors. There isn’t of coaches and contributors. Critics of the process have called for change, but there’s been no sign of movement.
Until now. At the very least, Porter signaled that one is possible.
If there’s an increase in senior finalists – and there’s support within the board of selectors for it – it shouldn’t affect Canton’s annual enshrinement ceremony. The Hall this year limited induction speeches to six-to-eight minutes, and the results were encouraging. Enshrinement ceremonies for the Classes of 2020-21 moved with haste, leaving ample time to accommodate one or two more inductees.
“But that’s not why I want to do it,” Porter said of a possible increase in numbers. “I want to do it because it’s the right thing to do. It’s going to be hard to get 49 folks to agree on everything, but the conversation has to happen. And then we figure it out from there, right?”