The choices to get tougher in HOF contributor category
The Pro Football Hall of Fame nominated a scout for the very first time for its Class of 2021.
The Hall’s contributor sub-committee tabbed Bill Nunn of the Pittsburgh Steelers as its one nominee for this class. His selection underscores the original purpose of the contributor category – to shed a light on those who didn’t necessarily play but still had a lasting impact on the game with their contributions outside of the white lines.
Scouts are the lifeblood of professional football. They find the players. Nunn built a pipeline between the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and the Steelers in the 1970s that helped produce four Lombardi Trophies and three Hall of Famers. He joins four NFL general managers, three owners, a commissioner, a personnel director and a film wizard as contributor candidates since the category was established in 2015.
And that was the purpose – to spread the wealth around inside of this category. But there are still a few bases that need to be touched. There’s a founder, a referee and, of course, Bucko Kilroy who still need to be addressed.
The dicey part is that there are only three more guaranteed contributor slots. The Hall’s board of directors will review the value of the category after 2024 and decide if contributors are still worthy of an annual slot, a rotating slot or no slot at all.
Still remaining in the queue are several owners (Bud Adams, Robert Kraft, Clint Murchison and Carroll Rosenbloom), a general manager (Jack Vanisi), a personnel director (Dick Haley) and a couple more scouts (Eddie Kotal and Lloyd Wells). Expect competition for these next three spots to be fierce.
Let’s start with the founder – Ralph Hay. Had not Hay summoned the owners of football teams from several leagues and several states to his auto dealership in Canton in 1920, the Hall of Fame certainly wouldn’t be in Canton and there wouldn’t be an NFL. At least not for who knows how many more years.
Hay bought the Canton Bulldogs in 2018 at the age of 27 and won championships in three of his first five seasons. But few football teams were succeeding financially at the time. So Hay decided there was power in numbers and, at his meeting, invited teams from neighboring states to play under one umbrella. That umbrella would become the NFL.
Has anyone made a greater contribution to the NFL than the guy who founded the league?
The Halls of Fame of other pro sports have countless umpires, referees and officials enshrined. But the NFL has only one such official – Shorty Ray, who served as the league’s supervisor of officials from 1938-1952. Missing are any on-field officials – and the two with the most standing appear to be Art McNally and Jim Tunney.
McNally served as a referee from 1959-68 before becoming the NFL’s supervisor of officials in 1969. He remained in that capacity before retiring in 1991. He returned to the league office in 1996 to serve as an assistant supervisor of officials and remains in that capacity today.
Tunney served as a referee from 1960 through 1990, working 29 playoff games including three Super Bowls. He is the only referee to work consecutive Super Bowls in the 54-year history of the game.
Kilroy is the definition of the word “contributor,” excelling in several aspects of the game. He was selected to the NFL’s all-decade team as a player in the 1940s, helping the Eagles win two championships with his blocking.
Kilroy became a scout for the Eagles in 1960 and picked up his third championship ring that season. He moved on to become a scout with the Dallas Cowboys and was instrumental in the selection of Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach. He became general manager of the New England Patriots in the 1980s and built the franchise’s first Super Bowl team in 1985. He then served as a scouting consultant for the Patriots from 1994 through 2006, helping to build four more teams Super Bowl teams and collecting three more championship rings.
All three deserve consideration for those coveted contributor nominations the next three years. But so do Vanisi, Kraft and Wells, among others.
The 12 selections of the contributor category to this point have been smart. Going forward, the choices will become tougher.