(EDITOR’S NOTE: To access the David Baker interview, please click on the following audio attachment: Ep 16: Conversation With The President/CEO of the Pro Football Hall of Fame David Baker | The Eye Test for Two (spreaker.com)
Peyton Manning and Charles Woodson headline the 15 finalists for the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s modern-era Class of 2021 chosen this month. Now that group must be pared to five inductees … and, not surprisingly, in this – one of the most extraordinary of football seasons – it will be done “a little bit differently,” said David Baker, the Hall’s president and CEO.
Speaking on “The Eye Test for Two” podcast on fullpressradio.com, Baker outlined several changes with this year’s voting process – beginning with the actual election. It will happen next Tuesday, Jan. 19, instead of Feb. 6, as previously scheduled. The reason? At least half of the board’s 48 voters said they did not plan to attend Super Bowl LV in Tampa.
“We thought this was the best opportunity to do it,” Baker said.
The meeting will be done virtually, not in person, as is the custom -- a change that demands no explanation amid the COVID pandemic. But instead of beginning at 7 or 7:30 a.m., as is usually the case, voters will convene on line at 9:30 a.m., Baker said, to accommodate those on the West Coast.
OK, so far, so good.
Now to the actual voting. Usually, it’s accomplished by hand, with the Hall’s 48 selectors marking their choices with pens on paper collected by a group of accountants. That won’t happen this year. Instead, voting will be done electronically, as it was with for the Hall’s finalists and semifinalists.
But then what? Ah, that’s where it gets sticky, and let me explain. Under normal circumstances, immediately after the vote, Baker is notified of the results. Then he knocks on hotel doors of those who were elected and telephones those who were not. After that, the inductees are marched to that evening’s NFL Honors show and presented to a national TV audience.
But the vote this year is Jan. 19. The NFL Honors show is Feb. 6. So now the question: Will inductees be notified next week or later?
“The rest of the world,” Baker said, “will find out about this, the way they normally do, at the Honors show. But we’re working on a number of processes as to how to do this. This is a lot of work in this environment right now, especially with COVID and everything else. ”
Good luck. Because when it comes to the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame news cycle, word travels fast … and almost always in advance of embargoes. Case in point: When the 15 modern-era finalists were announced earlier this month, there was a 6:45 p.m. blackout to coincide with a 6 p.m. telecast on the NFL Network.
However, at 5:15 p.m. that day a website announced the results accurately. Nobody knew where they came from nor how. The news just broke, and that’s more the rule than the exception – with inductees each year breaking the news on social media in advance of the NFL Honors show.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” said Baker, “and we’re going to need all of our selectors’ assistance to do that. And normally they’re very, very good. It’s important because we want to make sure that guys are treated well and respected. There are any losers in this; there are only people who are honored. And some are selected.”
Understood. But those selected can’t wait to tell the world, and that’s understandable, too.
“How we’re going to do it?” Baker said. “I don’t know. Yes, it’s a real challenge. It’s an unnatural act, but the only thing I can think is that we have 48 guys who are incredible selectors … and I know all of you guys … people don’t understand: It’s not just that day; you’re working on it year ‘round. And you’re in the business of spreading the news; of not keeping it quiet. So it’s an unnatural act.”
So what’s the solution?
“The only thing I can do,” said Baker, bringing levity to the situation, “especially with guys who are competent, strong willed, intelligent, independent guys like (our voters) … is remind you that I am 400 pounds, and you’re not.”
That should do it.