(EDITOR’S NOTE: To access the John Turney interview, click on the following attachment: Ep 51: Rock and Roll HOF, John Turney Joins To Talk Wide Receivers, Senior Committee, and More | Spreaker)
When linebacker Clay Matthews failed to make the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame’s Class of 2021, there was understandable disappointment in Cleveland. First of all, Matthews was enormously popular with Browns’ fans. But, second, and more important, it signaled the end of Matthews’ modern-era eligibility.
And that was a crushing blow to Matthews and his fans.
Here’s why: Hall-of-Fame candidates have 20 years of modern-era eligibility to reach Canton. If, as happened to Matthews, they fail, they then move into a senior category so deep with qualified candidates who can’t find a door out that our Ron Borges labeled it “the abyss.”
So what’s the problem? Simple. The process. The Hall elects only one senior per year. And with nearly 60 all-decade candidates waiting for their names to be called and only one tapped per year, it doesn’t take an Einstein to figure out how long the odds are of getting out. Former Packers’ guard Jerry Kramer was named to the NFL's 50th anniversary team, for crying out loud, and it took him 45 years to be elected to Canton.
Something needs to change, and NFL historian John Turney of Pro Football Journal has a suggestion for the Hall’s decision makers.
“I really think they do need to go back – at the very minimum – to two seniors one year,” he said on the latest “Eye Test for Two” podcast, “and then one senior and one contributor … then two seniors again. I think once we get a few contributors in, which I think was the whole purpose ... as soon as possible it needs to go to 2-1-2 or just plain two every year.”
It once was two every year. From 2004-14 the Hall proposed two senior finalists annually. But that changed when it created the contributor category in 2014 and elected GMs Ron Wolf and Bill Polian as its first inductees the following year.
At that time, the Hall implemented a process that had contributors and seniors alternating two finalists every other year. In 2015, there was one senior (Mick Tinglehoff) and two contributors. The following year there was one contributor (Eddie DeBartolo) and two seniors (Ken Stabler and Dick Stanfel). That continued until 2020 when 10 seniors and three contributors were part of the Centennial Class.
Now, there is one senior, one contributor and one coach per year, and that strikes many observers – including many of our readers – as unfair for the simple reason that there’s a surplus of qualified seniors, while the field is significantly less with contributors and coaches.
Consider, for instance, the Centennial Class finalists. There were 20 of them, with 10 chosen. OK, fine. You knew that. But, under the present process, if the 10 who missed the cut are to reach Canton – and that’s no guarantee – it would take them another 10 years. Something there seems awry.
Turney agrees. And while his proposal is modest and been championed by others, it at least allows more than one senior per year. Plus, it doesn’t penalize the contributors or coaches as severely as the current process has seniors.
“That’s the way to do it,” Turney said. “Because then we wouldn’t have to really consider: Well, we can’t put another Cowboy in because (2021 senior inductee) Drew Pearson just got in. Or we can’t put Cliff Branch in because Tom Flores just got in.
“I say ‘we’ as in fans. I’m not presuming to be any more than somebody who has an opinion. But I think you get what I’m saying there. They just need to return that extra slot so in a five-year period you get three more guys in. And I think that would clear up the backlog and everybody would be happy about it and nobody would complain because you’d still get contributors in.”
The truth, however, is that everybody is never happy, and somebody always complains. However, Turney’s proposal strikes at the heart of what’s wrong with the senior process as it currently stands: There are too many qualified candidates and not enough finalists.