(EDITOR’S NOTE: To listen to the John Turney interview, click on the following attachment: https://www.spreaker.com/user/fullpresscoverage/eyetest-20211117-1128)
After new Hall-of-Fame president Jim Porter first mentioned he was “absolutely open” to expanding the senior class for enshrinement, he reiterated that message to the Hall's board of selectors.
That was two weeks ago, and it wasn't all. He then consulted those voters for suggestions and promised to act on them.
“That,” said Pro Football Journal's John Turney, “was certainly positive.”
Turney is not a voter. He’s a pro-football historian who for years called for expanding the annual senior class from one finalist, as it is today, to two or more. The Hall once had two finalists, but that was from 2004-14. Then it inaugurated the contributor category and had two seniors one every other year from 2015-19 before including 10 seniors in the Centennial Class of 2020.
But that was unique. It was to celebrate the NFL’s 100th anniversary. Afterward, the Hall’s board of directors voted to create a coaches’ category, with one for each year from 2021-24, and to keep the contributor and senior finalists to one per annum during that time.
Don't like it? Well, there’s reason to believe that could change.
In speaking to voters, Porter signaled that he’s willing to consider suggestions, and Turney has one that includes a jump to three seniors per year. That might seem overly ambitious, but Porter didn’t rule out. In essence, the Hall’s new president made it clear that all options are on the table.
More important, he made it clear he’s willing to listen.
“What would be great,” Turney said on the latest “Eye Test for Two” podcast (fullpressradio.com), “is if they did have a third -- even If it wasn’t every year. If it was every other year, that could be reserved for what I’ve been calling ‘Super Seniors,’ guys who have been overlooked or who are pre-World War II or in that era.
“We’ve talked many times about Al ‘Ox’ Wistert , who blocked for the NFL’s all-time leading rusher when he retired, Steve Van Buren, Or another ‘Ox,’ Ox Emerson, who blocked for Dutch Clark, arguably the best player of the 1930s. Here’s a guy who’s a six-time All-Pro.
“And then you’ve got two Packers that were probably knocking each other off. Oddly they were both elected to the Wisconsin legislature. One was a Republican; one was a Democrat: Verne Lewellen and Lavvie Dilweg. (I) always wondered if that wasn’t part of the problem with either of them being elected, because they were both many-time All-Pros, world champions and so forth.
“There’s not a huge universe of these pre-World War II guys, but it would be something to have them in within a period of maybe five or ten years. That would be wonderful, wouldn’t it?”
A long line of senior candidates would agree. According to our Rick Gosselin there are 58 all-decade seniors not in Canton, including 53 never discussed by the Hall’s board of selectors. Gosselin also said he has a list of 108 Hall-of-Fame worthy players, 94 of whom haven’t been debated.
Bottom line: There are too many qualified candidates waiting on too few openings. That could change, and Turney mentioned a “layered” approach that might satisfy Porter, the Hall's board and all candidates: a division into senior categories per year, such as one for the pre-1950s and one for everything else.
“One of the cautionary things,” he said about the process, “would be the ‘recent-ism.’ I know that’ not an actual word, but it’s used colloquially. People get enamored with the most recent guys, and you would want some recent guys (involved), guys who fell through the crack recently for whatever reason. The Joe Jacobys, the Mike Kenns and people like that. But also you would want to ignore the guys from the ‘50s and ‘60s and what we’re talking about: the ‘Super Seniors’ like the Wisterts, Ox Emersons and the Lavvie Dilwegs and so forth.
“It could be a layered approach, which would be great, and there would be nothing wrong with doing that for five or seven years and then revisiting it in that particular time. These things don’t have to be, in my mind, for time (immemorial). You can adjust and adapt based on what the circumstances are.”
The circumstances are this: The Hall’s board of selectors indicated it wants more seniors included, and Jim Porter indicated he not only understands but will take that message to the Hall’s board of directors. Then, he said, he’s prepared to move – perhaps as early as the Class of 2023.
“Hopefully,” said Turney, “they can do it sooner rather than later.”