The Pro Football Hall of Fame expanded its board of selectors this year from 46 to 48, adding Hall-of-Famers Dan Fouts and James Lofton to the group of media members. Both were observers last year, but now that they're voters they can ... and will ... contribute to debates on the Class of 2017.
"I anticipate being asked my opinion," Fouts said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast, "and because I am polling some of the Hall of Famers that want to contribute, I'm sure you guys will want to know: 'Hey, what do the Hall of Famers think?' And I think that’s the real value of being in the room ... to just give the members a voice and to hear their side of the story on each guy."
He's right. We do want to know what Hall of Famers think. So we asked him about senior candidate Kenny Easley. The Seahawks were in the Chargers' division when Easley starred at safety, and he was tough on Fouts – once intercepting him three times in a 1984 game.
Now, of course, he's not only a senior candidate and a favorite to make it to Canton as part of the Class of 2017. But that doesn’t mean there aren't speed bumps. He hasn’t been a finalist before. And he hasn’t been a semifinalist.
"He was very smart. He had great range. Great instincts. He made plays."
"I was surprised," said Fouts, "just because when I think of senior candidates I think of guys who have been finalists or members or all-decade teams or just plain older. But having played against Kenny I can tell you I always thought of him as a great pain, and that’s a compliment from a quarterback.
"He was very smart. He had great range. Great instincts. He made plays. Big hitter. Big safety and all those things. I knew at the time that he was somebody I had to concern myself with if I was to going to be throwing the ball over the middle or even down the sidelines because of his range."
The knock on Easley is longevity. Critics contend he didn’t play long enough to merit inclusion in the Hall, and Fouts admitted that longevity is something "that matters more than you think. It’s a physical grind. It’s a mental grind. How a guy finishes is important."
Easley and contributor candidates Paul Tagliabue and Jerry Jones are the first candidates presented to the board on Feb. 4. Unlike the 15 modern-era candidates, there is no process of winnowing. They either are or are not admitted. The others are reduced, first, to 10 and, then, to five.