(EDITOR’S NOTE: To access the John Turney interview, log on to the following attachment: Ep 24: Super Bowl LV Reaction; John Turney Joins to Talk HOF Class of 2021 | The Eye Test for Two | Spreaker)
The rush to anoint first-ballot Hall of Famers could … no, should … subside next year when the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s modern-era Class of 2022 is elected. That’s because there are no dead-bolt cinches as there were this year when Peyton Manning, Charles Woodson and Calvin Johnson were chosen.
There’s DeMarcus Ware. And Robert Mathis. Anquan Boldin. Andre Johnson. Steve Smith, Tony Romo and Vince Wilfork. In short, no one who should move to the head of the line. Which means ...
Uh-huh, which means the door is wide open. It should be what voters like to call “a clean-up year,” with finalists who waited years to have their names called finally moving forward.
“The mantra for the year should be: Respect the queue,” NFL historian John Turney of Pro Football Journal said on the latest “Eye Test for Two” podcast. “If you guys (voters) liked someone enough to put him in the Top 10, then put him in the Top 5 the next year.”
Makes sense. But it doesn’t always happen … and I call former Jacksonville tackle Tony Boselli to the witness stand.
Nobody has been in line longer. A Top-10 finalist the past five years, Boselli holds the Hall record for the longest consecutive Top-10 finishes without being elected. Former Miami guard Bob Kuechenberg was a five-time Top-10 finisher, too, but not consecutively.
Worse, he was never enshrined.
Boselli should be in 2022, mostly because he can. The glut of offensive linemen who blocked his path are gone, with Kevin Mawae, Steve Hutchinson and Alan Faneca elected. The issue of durability is gone, too. That disappeared in 2017 when Terrell Davis and Kenny Easley were elected.
Davis played in 78 games and Easley in 89. Boselli played in 91.
Then there’s former Green Bay safety LeRoy Butler. Like Boselli, he will be in his 16th year of eligibility in 2022, meaning the clock is ticking on both. All you need to know about Butler is that he’s the only first-team all-decade choice from the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s not elected to Canton.
Oh, yeah, he was also a Top-10 finalist this year.
So were Richard Seymour, Zach Thomas and Clay Matthews. For Seymour and Thomas it’s their second consecutive years in the Top 10. For Matthews, it was his first. Unfortunately, it was also his last year of eligibility as a modern-era finalist.
So he disappears into the senior pool to compete vs. 58 all-decade stars, and good luck.
Butler should not suffer the same fate. He was a finalist for the first time in 2020 and a Top-10 finisher one year later. With the landscape cleared of safeties (11, including seniors, have been chosen in the past five years), he should join Boselli crossing the finish line next year.
“If they’re good enough to be in the Top 10,” said Turney, “they’re good enough to be in the Hall of Fame. There’s no reason to waste any more time with them. Because the more you do the more it becomes a backlog … In other words, respect the queue. I think that would be a wonderful mantra.”
Look, there isn’t a Manning or Brett Favre or Jerry Rice, Ray Lewis or Ed Reed among the Class of 2022 newcomers. There is, however, a handful of finalists who waited on Canton for years while voters pushed first-ballot picks ahead of them.
Three of the past four modern-era classes, for example, included three first-ballot Hall of Famers – or 50 percent of the 2018-21 field. And that’s fine if it doesn’t penalize others. But it does. And it has.
Matthews is the latest example. The former star linebacker waited 20 years to have his case aired by voters. The same thing happened to defensive back Everson Walls in 2018. Washington tackle Joe Jacoby waited 17 to have his candidacy heard and was a Top-10 choice. But, like Matthews and Walls, he arrived too late and moved to the senior pool before he could be elected.
“I don’t know that the younger voters understand that the more people you put in, the less the honor means,” Turney said. ”Because, inevitably, there are going to be people getting in on the first ballot that don’t measure up to some of the people who were all-time greats who didn’t get in on the first ballot.”
Dick “Night Train” Lane was elected on the fourth. Fred Biletnikoff on the fifth. Mike Ditka on the 12th. John Mackey on the 15th.
But that was then. This is now. And now the Hall’s board of 48 selectors has a rare opportunity to clear a line of deserving candidates who waited years on Canton. It should not waste it.