The Pro Football Hall of Fame just made history by enshrining two classes in one weekend … and it’s not finished. Before this month is over it will nominate three more candidates for induction to the Class of 2022.
One will be a senior. One will be a contributor. And the third will be a head coach.
Now let’s make something clear: That doesn’t mean they’re elected to the Hall. They’re simply proposed as candidates for induction, with the Hall’s 49-member board of selectors voting on them in January.
So who are the favorites? That’s why we’re here. What follows is a roundup of the leading candidates:
Definition: Players who retired more than 25 years ago.
The skinny: This is the deepest category, and one that deserves more attention. Once upon a time, the Hall had two senior candidates per year (2004-14), but that ended with the creation of the contributor category. Now, it’s down one, and if you were listening to Hall-of-Fame defensive back Mel Blount during Saturday’s enshrinement ceremony, he said “that’s something we need to correct.”
Here’s why: According to our Rick Gosselin, there are 58 seniors who were all-decade players, including 53 never discussed. That means there are 58 seniors who were the best at their positions for 10 years, yet can’t get into Canton. As you can imagine, the field is loaded – with stars like Cliff Branch, Roger Craig, Al Wistert, Eddie Meador, Tommy Nobis, Sterling Sharpe, Maxie Baughan, Ken Riley, Ken Anderson and Randy Gradishar waiting to hear their names called.
Riley was the first runner-up to Drew Pearson as this year’s senior candidate, but there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes politicking going on for Branch. Gradishar is someone else who should be in the mix, but for some reason he doesn’t seem to register with voters. Not yet anyway.
Riley is the favorite for three reasons: 1) He had 65 career interceptions, tied with first-ballot Hall-of-Famer Charles Woodson (Class of 2021) for fifth all time; 2) there is only one other Bengal in Canton, and that’s Anthony Munoz and 3) he pulled more votes than everyone but Pearson the last time a senior was chosen.
The pick: Riley in a photo finish with Branch.
Definition: Only head coaches need apply. No assistants. The category was created this year and lasts through 2024 when it will be revisited.
The skinny: This is the easiest category to predict. Buddy Parker should have been one of the two Centennial Class coaches for 2020 but wasn’t. Don’t ask me why. All he did was send the Lions to three consecutive NFL championship games, win two and build a third title team before exiting just before the 1957 season. Now the kicker: That team was the Detroit Lions. The last time the Lions were in a championship game was 1957, the team Parker built, and let’s be honest: He was the Jimmy Johnson of the 1950s. Except he wasn’t. He went to three straight title games, beat the legendary Paul Brown and was responsible for three NFL championship teams.
He had a .671 winning percentage in Detroit before leaving for Pittsburgh to coach a Steelers’ team that hadn’t had a winning season in seven consecutive seasons. He was 51-47-6 there. His 104 wins are more than Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh, Tom Flores and John Madden. His .581 winning percentage is better than Hank Stram, Weeb Ewbank, Sid Gillman and Marv Levy.
They’re in Canton. Parker is not. I have a feeling that changes next year.
If there’s an outside threat it should come from Don Coryell, a six-time finalist for the Hall. No coach has been a finalist more often. If you respect the queue, Coryell is next in line. But he really isn’t, and that’s partly because Parker is still out there and mostly because the senior committee (which also handles the coaches) emphasizes playoff records and championships, and that’s fine if voters ae consistent.
Coryell was 3-6 in the playoffs, with no championships. George Allen was 2-7 in the playoffs, with no championships. Allen is in the Hall. Coryell is not. Someone please explain.
Prediction: Parker. No contest.
Definition: Non-coaches and players – i.e., scouts, GMs, personnel directors, owners and, in one instance, the head of NFL Films. The category was created in 2014.
The skinny: In seven years (2015-21) the contributor category has yielded four GMS, three owners, one personnel director, one scout, one commissioner and Steve Sabol, president of NFL Films. Three of the first seven choices were owners, but none have been among the last four.
Once upon a time the Hall allowed two candidates every other year (2015-19), but now it’s down to one per – with a tight field at the top. Among the favorites: NFL founding father Ralph Hay, official Art McNally and front-office executive Bucko Kilroy … with Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft a longshot.
Hay is another who should’ve been acknowledged by the Centennial Class of 2020, but he wasn’t. His resume speaks for itself: He organized the first meeting of teams that would become the American Football Association, later the National Football League. So, without him there’s no NFL. Sounds like a no-brainer for election.
McNally is a former director of officiating for the NFL who also served nine years as a field judge and referee. OK, nothing remarkable there, except … except he’s considered the father of instant replay, too. I don’t care what you think of replay, but it’s changed the face of sports – all sports. The individual who first implemented it as an officiating tool changed the game … not just the NFL but all games … and McNally is that individual. There are 16 referees in the NBA Hall of Fame and 10 umpires in Cooperstown. There’s one NFL official in Canton, and that’s Hugh “Shorty” Ray, elected in 1966
Kilroy served in the NFL for 64 years as a player, coach, scout and executive, and if that seems like a long time it’ because it is. Only Wellington Mara exceeded him. As a player, he was regarded as one of the game’s toughest and dirtiest. As a scout he played a pivotal role in the Cowboys’ draft of Roger Staubach and is credited with creating the NFL scouting combine. As a personnel director with New England, where he later served as GM, he found John Hannah, Darryl Stingley, Sam Cunningham and Ray “Sugar Bear” Hamilton in the 1973 draft. He also drafted Steve Grogan, Mike Haynes, Russ Francis, Steve Nelson, Raymond Clayborn, Stanley Morgan and Pete Brock and was so instrumental in the success of later Patriots’ teams that former Patriots’ VP of player personnel Scott Pioli required scouts to visit him regularly. Bottom line: He had an enormous impact on the NFL and at least two of its teams.
Kraft I don’t need to tell you about. He saved the Patriots from leaving Massachusetts and oversaw the greatest dynasty in modern-NFL history, with six Super Bowl victories and nine appearances in 19 years.
Kraft is 80. McNally is 96. That could be meaningful. There are some who believe that, if candidates are close, lean toward those still alive while they can appreciate their inductions.
The pick: Flip a coin: Hay or McNally.