There is nothing ordinary about what happens when the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s board of selectors meets Tuesday morning.
Granted, there are 15 modern-era finalists to be considered, as there always are. There will be first-ballot choices, too, with Peyton Manning and Charles Woodson this year’s slam dunks. Plus, the session is expected to last hours before the final five choices are made.
So nothing extraordinary there.
But wait. This promises to be the rarest of sessions, appropriate for a year where a pandemic … not Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes … made the biggest impact on the NFL.
First, it won’t be held the day prior to a Super Bowl. The 48 selectors meet two-and-a-half weeks before Super Bowl LV. Second, voters won’t meet in person. They will do it virtually by Zoom, as much of the league’s business has been this season. Their votes won’t be filled out manually, either, as is the case when meeting in person. They will be done by computer, as they were for semifinalist and finalist ballots.
Most important, they won’t know whom they elected until later. Much later. The Pro Football Hall of Fame hopes to make its announcement on the Feb. 6 “NFL Honors” show, but who’s kidding whom? There will be leaks before then … only, come to think of it, that’s an annual occurrence.
Anyway, the Hall and its voters are about to embark on a long, strange adventure, and let’s see where it takes them. Here, then, is your scorecard to Tuesday’s vote:
Manning and Woodson are no-brainers. In fact, Manning is such a cinch that I fully expect Mike Chappell, the Indianapolis voter scheduled to present Manning to the board, to limit his speech to two words: Peyton Manning. Anything more, and he should be fined a dollar per syllable.
I have to believe this is Alan Faneca’s year. Given his resume, he’s waited far too long to get this far. Nine Pro Bowls. Eight All-Pros. Super Bowl champion. First-team all-decade. So what’s the problem? This: His position. He plays guard, and Hall voters historically are slow to warm up to them (see Will Shields,). Faneca checked all the boxes, yet he’s still waiting in his sixth year of eligibility. Enough is enough. His time is now.
Tackle Tony Boselli, defensive lineman Richard Seymour, safety John Lynch and linebacker Zach Thomas joined Faneca as Top-10 finalists a year ago. That puts them on the launching pad for Tuesday. If the top three are Manning, Woodson and Faneca, that leaves two spots vacant. Boselli is the most logical because he’s waited the longest. An all-decade choice, he’s in his 15th year of eligibility and been a Top-10 choice the past four years. But if Faneca is elected, that may back off voters who haven’t elected two modern-era offensive linemen since 2013 (Larry Allen and Jonathan Ogden). The knock on Boselli is longevity, but that seems pointless after Terrell Davis’ election in 2017. Boselli played in 91 games, including 90 starts, and if that seems brief consider this: Twenty-five percent of all Hall-of-Fame tackles played fewer than 100. So did 13 percent of all Hall inductees. Lynch is another who may be at the right place at the right time. This is his eighth straight year as a finalist, and that’s rare. So is this: He’s been a Top-10 choice three times. At some point, he either goes forward or goes away. And this may be his year. Then there’s Seymour, who has taken giant steps in only three years as a finalist. I haven’t polled the room, but I know he’s a betting favorite. The longshot here is Thomas, but don’t rule him out. He was a first-time finalist last year, and he made it to the final 10. So he has momentum. But he also has time. This is his eighth year of eligibility.
This category belongs solely to former Green Bay safety LeRoy Butler. He was a finalist last year for the first time and didn’t make the cut from 15 to 10. No problem. I expect that to happen this year. Butler’s resume is too strong. Plus, with Drew Pearson expected to be elected as the Class of 2021’s senior candidate, Butler would be the only first-team all-decade choice from the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s not in Canton. Ironically, Butler and Steve Atwater were the first-team all-decade safeties from the 1990s, and, until Atwater’s election last year, they were the only starters on offense or defense from that team missing from the Hall. Atwater made it in his 16th year of eligibility. This is Butler’s 15th, and voters know the clock is ticking. Basically, it comes down to him or Lynch at one position.
Both are former linebackers: Sam Mills and Clay Matthews. Mills is in his 19th year of eligibility. Matthews is in his 20th and last. The difference: Mills was a finalist in 2020. Matthews hasn’t been a finalist until now, and that makes him the longest of shots. Everson Walls was the last candidate to be a finalist for the first time in his 20th year of eligibility, and he disappeared once the group was cut from 15 to 10. Matthews has a legion of Browns’ fans on Twitter pushing him, and I get it. His 19-year career is worthy of Canton’s attention. Well, he has it. Let’s see if he can pull the upset.
There are two: newcomers Calvin Johnson and defensive end Jared Allen. Both are in their first years of eligibility, and both are possibilities, though I don’t expect either to make it. Johnson is a wide receiver, and voters are slow to respond to them unless they’re named Jerry Rice or Randy Moss. It took Marvin Harrison three tries, for example, before he got in – and he was a Super Bowl champion and first-team all-decade choice. It took Michael Irvin three years, too. Allen is tougher to figure. Frankly, I was surprised he was a first-time finalist. Now, I don’t know what to expect, and here’s why: Voters love edge pass rushers. Nowhere was that more evident than the Class of 2017 when they made Jason Taylor, a second-team all-decade pick, a first-ballot choice. Taylor had 139-1/2 sacks. Allen had 136. Then again, voters also made Kevin Greene – a guy with more sacks (160) than everyone but Bruce Smith and Reggie White – wait 12 years before he was inducted in 2015.
THE LONG SHOTS
Cornerback Ronde Barber and wide receivers Torry Holt and Reggie Wayne fill out the rest of the ballot. Barber is the most electable, but not this year. Teammate John Lynch is ahead of him and waiting at the door. Holt and Wayne are behind Calvin Johnson and until or unless he’s elected, they don’t stand a chance. With the addition of Hall-of-Famers Tony Dungy and Bill Polian, Wayne just added two votes. But it won’t be enough to carry him across the finish line. Frankly, Mills and Matthews belong here, too, but we’ve already addressed them.
Former Cowboys’ receiver Drew Pearson is the senior candidate, Tom Flores is the coaching candidate and former Steelers’ scout Bill Nunn Jr. is the contributor candidate. All three will be presented at the beginning of the session, and all are expected to face little or no opposition. My only question: If and when Flores is elected, are voters treated to a round of Coors Lights? Sorry. Had to ask.