(Andy Piascik is a long-time member and former officer of the Professional Football Researchers Association. He's authored two books on football history, chairs the PFRA's Hall-of-Very-Good committee and contributed to this site before. He also isn't a fan of all-decade teams).
By Andy Piascik
Here are three categories of players. See if you can figure out what all of those in each category have in common.
Group 1: Randy Gradishar, Jim Ray Smith, Chuck Howley, Jimmy Patton, Dick Schafrath, Karl Mecklenburg, Ken Gray, Lou Rymkus, Gene Brito, John Niland, Michael Dean Perry, Duane Putnam, Leon Gray, Cornell Green
Group 2: Howard Mudd, Gaynell Tinsley, John David Crow, Bill Lee, Eddie Meador, Whizzer White, Dave Butz, Frank Cope, Larry Morris, Frank Minnifield, Boyd Dowler, Bill Osmanski, Joe Fortunato, Bobby Boyd, George Christensen, Lester Hayes, Joe Jacoby, John Anderson, Bobby Walston, Bill Fralic, Levon Kirkland, Vic Sears, Carl Banks, Mark Stepnoski, Jamal Lewis, Gary Collins, Richmond Webb, Ben Coates, Marshawn Lynch, Dick Anderson, Neil Smith, Jack Ferrante, Deron Cherry, La’Roi Glover, Harvey Martin
Group 3: Jim Covert, Drew Pearson, Russ Grimm, Paul Hornung, Bryant Young, Jack Butler, Ray Nitschke, Harold Carmichael, Ken Stabler, Ed Sprinkle
All of the players in Group 2, which I intentionally made the biggest of the three, have been selected to all-decade teams. All of those in Group 3 also made all-decade teams and are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. However, none of the players in Group 1 were named to all-decade teams. and none are in the Hall of Fame.
Based on voting patterns and things that have been said over the years, including by some Hall-of-Fame voters, having those from Group 3 named all-decade was an important reason they were enshrined in Canton.
I would argue that every single player in Group 1 is more deserving of the Hall of Fame than all of those in Group 2 and most … and probably all ... of the players in Group 3. Yet if there continues to be great emphasis on all-decade teams, the players from Group 2 are likely to get more attention in Hall-of-Fame voting than those from Group 1.
That is ridiculous, unfair and a complete travesty of Hall-of-Fame justice.
It also exposes the absurdity of factoring all-decade teams into Hall-of-Fame voting. Going one step farther, I think the only possible conclusion is that all-decade teams should play ABSOLUTELY NO ROLE WHATSOEVER in determining who gets elected to the Hall of Fame.
I am not saying that every player in Category 3 does not belong in the Hall of Fame; some do. Nor am I saying that every player in Category 1 belongs in Canton. What I am saying is that it is a shame that any of those from Category 3 got elected while ALL of those from Category 1 remain on the outside looking in.
Important Positive Changes
The recent move by the Hall’s trustees to increase the number of senior finalists to three in each of the next three years is an important one and why a frank assessment of the role all-decade teams play in evaluating players is essential. All-decade teams are decorative pieces good for water-cooler discussion and nothing more. They should have no role in determining who does or does not get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
I mean no disrespect to any of the players in Groups 2 and 3. All were at least good or very good … and some great at times. In the context of the Hall of Fame, that’s not enough. It’s clear from examining a century’s worth of all-decade teams that some players who were selected weren’t deserving. That is true for virtually every one of the official all-decade teams.
All-Decade Teams Have a Mandated Minimum of Players
Beginning with the 1970s, the all-decade teams generally consisted of a predetermined number of two players at each of 22 regular positions for a total of 44 full-time players, plus special teamers. Teams picked for earlier decades were a little different, but the idea of picking the best at each position (or trying to anyway) was the same.
If an era is lacking in great players at a particular position, then picking an all-decade team with a mandated minimum leads to the inclusion of players who are somewhat less than great – and sometimes significantly so. That is one more fact that shoots down the notion that anyone who makes an all-decade team should automatically get HOF consideration, or that he should get special attention from the voters.
Another reason to pay no attention to all-decade teams in the context of HOF elections is that we have over 100 years of All-Pro teams we can use to evaluate and compare players. For most of that time, we’ve had a rich mix of All-Pro teams selected by players, coaches, writers, scouts, general managers, personnel evaluators and others. Players who consistently rate highly in all or most of these categories stand out.
While it’s possible that all voters might miss a great player or regularly overrate a sub-par one, it’s highly unlikely. The same goes for all-conference teams, the combined all-AAFC/NFL teams of 1946-49, the combined all-AFL/NFL teams of 1968-69 and, to a lesser extent, the Pro Bowl.
Thus far, that makes three big reasons why all-decade teams should not be factored into HOF voting: 1.) Many mistakes have been made; 2.) Certain eras are lacking in great or even very good players at various positions; 3.) We already have better ways of evaluating and comparing players in the All-Pro teams.
Decades Are Completely Arbitrary Time Frames
Decades are completely arbitrary time frames, which brings us to the fourth reason -- the one most obvious as to why all-decade teams should be completely irrelevant: They penalize players who have multiple great seasons in more than one decade but not enough in any one decade, while rewarding players who have fewer great seasons but have them all in a single decade.
A number of those from Group 1 at the beginning of this article -- Smith, Gradishar, Patton, Rymkus, Green, Mecklenburg, Niland, Perry – are among those who had multiple outstanding seasons in two different decades. In my opinion, all are more deserving of the HOF than a number of those enshrined in Canton, including some who had all of their best years in one decade and made an all-decade team. That doesn’t seem to be the least bit complicated or controversial.
As mentioned, recent HOF voting history points to all-decade teams continuing to play an important role. This article is one attempt to stop and reverse that trend. The Hall of Fame and many Hall-worthy players deserve better. So one more time, all-decade teams should play absolutely no role whatsoever in determining who gets elected to the Hall of Fame.