As you might have heard, the Pro Football Hall of Fame two weeks ago announced finalists for its Centennial Class of 2020, with 38 candidates chosen by a 25-member panel. What you may not have heard, however, is that we thought we’d try the same thing.
Only without the Hall.
That’s right. We put together our own panel to choose a Centennial Class, and while it won’t determine the Hall’s class it does have legitimacy, with historians, Hall-of-Fame voters, former NFL executives and passionate Talk of Fame Network followers – yes, three of our most knowledgeable and loyal readers – comprising the 13-member board.
Like the Hall’s “blue-ribbon panel,” our board chose 38 finalists … and, like the Hall’s choices, you’ll find many of the same names. But there are differences. In some instances, big differences.
Such as? Keep reading:
Al Wistert, Duke Slater, Ed Sprinkle, Verne Lewellen and Lavern Dilweg are among the pre-modern (prior to 1960) choices we share with the Hall’s “blue-ribbon panel.” But Maxie Baughan, Del Shofner and Gino Cappelletti are not.
They made our list. They didn’t make Canton’s.
In fact, Baughan, a star linebacker named to nine Pro Bowls in the 1960s, was one of our leading vote getters. That contrasts with last week’s results, with Baughan left off the Hall’s list in a move that caught some of our voters by surprise. Here’s why: Though he wasn’t an all-decade choice, Baughan was named to one less Pro Bowl than all five of the linebackers combined chosen to the 1960s’ team.
In all, there are 14 seniors we share with the Hall – including Wistert and Slater, heavy favorites to be named to the Hall’s Centennial Class. But that means there were six that weren’t, including Baughan. That’s significant.
Surprises: Baughan was joined by quarterback Ken Anderson, offensive lineman Bob Kuechenberg, linebacker Chuck Howley, wide receiver/kicker Gino Cappelletti and wide receiver Del Shofner as choices that made our list but didn’t make the Hall’s. Anderson and Kuechenberg each have been finalists for Canton, with Anderson discussed twice (1996 and 1998) and Kuechenberg eight consecutive years (2002-09).
Disappointments: Jimbo Covert, a first-team all-decade choice (1980s), failed to make it. Also falling short was former Steelers’ safety Donnie Shell, whom Hall-of-Fame coach Tony Dungy has said would be his first choice for Canton. But there were others: Packers’ safety Bobby Dillon, former Green Bay star Cecil isbell, San Francisco running back Roger Craig and Eagles’ receiver Harold Carmichael. Ken Riley didn’t make this list, but he didn’t the Hall’s list, either. I mention him because he’s second among pure cornerbacks on the NFL’s list of all-time leading interceptors. He had 65. Only Hall-of-Famer Dick “Night Train” Lane had more.
The bottom line: As with the Hall’s process, history was recognized -- with seven of the 20 seniors having played before 1960 and 15 starting their careers prior to the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Dallas had the highest representation with three choices (Howley, Drew Pearson and Cliff Harris), which differed from the Hall’s list where Green Bay led the field with four. We also have two AFL representatives (Winston Hill and Cappelletti) where the Hall has one (Hill).
Ken Anderson, QB – Cincinnati Bengals (1971-86).
Maxie Baughan, LB – Philadelphia Eagles (1960-65); L.A. Rams (1966-70); Washington Redskins (1974).
Cliff Branch, WR – Oakland/L.A. Raiders (1972-86).
Gino Cappelletti, WR/K – Boston Patriots (1960-70).
Lavern Dilweg, E – Milwaukee Badgers (1926); Green Bay Packers (1927-34).
Ox Emerson, G/C/LB -- Portsmouth Spartans/Detroit Lions (1931-37); Brooklyn Dodgers (1938).
Randy Gradishar, LB –Denver Broncos (1974-83).
Cliff Harris, S – Dallas Cowboys (1970-79).
Chuck Howley, LB – Chicago Bears (1958-59); Dallas Cowboys (1961-73).
Winston Hill, OT – N.Y. Jets (1963-76); L.A. Rams (1977).
Alex Karras, DT – Detroit Lions (1958-70).
Bob Kuechenberg, OL – Philadelphia Eagles (1969); Miami Dolphins (1970-84).
Verne Lewellen, QB/HB/FB/P – Green Bay Packers (1924-32).
Tommy Nobis, LB – Atlanta Falcons (1966-76).
Drew Pearson, WR – Dallas Cowboys (1973-83).
Del Shofner, WR – L.A. Rams (1957-60); N.Y. Giants (1961-67).
Duke Slater, OT – Milwaukee Badgers (1922); Rock Island Independents (1922-26); Chicago Cardinals (1926-31).
Mac Speedie, WR – Cleveland Browns (1946-52).
Ed Sprinkle, G/DE/TE – Chicago Bears (1944-55).
Al Wistert, OT – Philadelphia/Pittsburgh Steagles (1943); Philadelphia Eagles (1944-51).
Only one modern-era owner made it as a finalist, and it wasn’t Robert Kraft or Bud Adams.
Meet Carroll Rosenbloom, former owner of the Baltimore Colts and the L.A. Rams. Before there was Kraft, there was Rosenbloom with the NFL’s best winning percentage (.660). And there was Rosenbloom who was part of an inner circle of league owners who negotiated the NFL’s network contracts and concluded the NFL/AFL merger.
Which is to say: He helped make history.
So he belongs in the conversation. But he wasn’t our most popular candidate. Former GM George Young was, and that makes sense. Young has been a contributor finalist the past five years and narrowly missed reaching Canton the past two years.
Another popular choice was Canton Bulldogs’ owner Ralph Hay. He organized the first meeting of teams that would ultimately become the National Football League, meaning … well, meaning that without him there is no NFL. So he tracked well with both boards and has a legitimate shot to make it as a Centennial Class inductee.
Surprises: Aside from Rosenbloom, there were three scouts that made it – the Steelers’ Bill Nunn, Green Bay’s Jack Vainisi and the Rams’ Eddie Kotal. None made the Hall’s leader board.
Disappointments: Bud Adams, one of the original AFL owners, failed to make the cut – though he was close. Owners Art Modell and Clint Murchison, as well as Seymour Siwoff of Elias Sports Bureau, also didn’t make it. All four were among the Hall’s 10 finalists.
The bottom line: This was the biggest shakeup, with 40 percent of the Hall’s choices excluded. Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue made it, but by a slim margin. Tagliabue has been a polarizing candidate in the past, with the Hall’s board of 48 selectors four times voting him down as a finalist. In fact, he’s the only contributor candidate not be enshrined in the five years of that category (2017).
Ralph Hay, owner – Canton Bulldogs (1918-22).
Bucko Kilroy, scout/GM/executive –Philadelphia Eagles (1960-61); Washington Redskins (1962-64); Dallas Cowboys (1965-70); New England Patriots (1971-2006).
Eddie Kotal, scout – L.A. Rams (1946-73).
Art McNally, official/administrator – NFL (1956-2015).
Bill Nunn, administrator/scout – Pittsburgh Steelers (1970-2014).
Carroll Rosenbloom, owner – Baltimore Colts (1953-1971), L.A. Rams (1972-79).
Steve Sabol, administrator/president – NFL Films (1964-2012)
Paul Tagliabue, commissioner – NFL (1989-2006).
Jack Vainisi, scout/executive – Green Bay (1950-60).
George Young, contributor/general manager – Baltimore Colts (1968-74); Miami Dolphins (1975-78); N.Y. Giants (1979-97); NFL (1998-2001).
Our panel followed the Hall-of-Fame’s lead … with one notable exception.
A three-time finalist for Canton, Shaughnessy was absent from the Hall’s list of eight coaches. Yet he was an innovative coach who popularized the T-formation, helping to transform the quarterback from a glorified blocker to the game’s most important position, and who developed blitzing defenses to attack that offense, as well as three wide-receiver sets.
Which is another way of saying: He changed the game.
Yet he didn’t make the Hall’s cut to eight, and I can see why. He was a head coach for only two years, fired when then-Rams’ owner Dan Reeves thought he caused “internal friction.” Nevertheless, he won a conference championship while there … and he also gained plenty of votes from our board.
The top spot went to former Chargers’ coach Don Coryell, followed closely by Jimmy Johnson, Buddy Parker and Tom Flores … and no surprise there. Coryell has been a four-time finalist (2010, 2015-17) and was a Top-10 finalist in 2016. He was also one of two coaches named to the finalists for the modern-era Class of 2019.
Flores was the other.
Surprises: Other than Shaughnessy, there were none.
Disappointments: Former Green Bay and Seattle coach Mike Holmgren did not make the cut, though he was close. He was named to the Hall’s list.
The bottom line: This was where we came close to tracing the Hall’s steps. We disagreed on only one of the finalists. Predictably, Coryell, Flores and Johnson – all former modern-era finalists – pulled the most votes.
Don Coryell … St. Louis Cardinals (1973-77); San Diego Chargers (1978-86).
Bill Cowher … Pittsburgh Steelers (1992-2006)
Tom Flores … Oakland/L.A. Raiders (1979-87); Seattle Seahawks (1992-94).
Jimmy Johnson … Dallas Cowboys (1988-93); Miami (1996-99).
Buddy Parker … Chicago Cardinals (1949); Detroit Lions (1951-56); Pittsburgh Steelers (1957-64).
Dan Reeves … Denver Broncos (1981-92); New York Giants (1993-1996); Atlanta Falcons (1996-2003).
Clark Shaughnessy – Los Angeles Rams (1948-49).
Dick Vermeil – Philadelphia Eagles (1976-82); St. Louis Rams (1997-99); Kansas City Chiefs (2001-05).
We intentionally avoided all voters on the Hall’s “blue-ribbon panel,” but included the two members of the Hall’s senior committee who were not part of the panel and two contributor members. In all, there are 13 voters: Four historians, four Hall-of-Fame voters, three of our most loyal readers and two former league executives. They are:
n John Turney, Pro Football Journal.
n TJ Troup, historian, published author and football coordinator/consultant for the movie “Leatherheads”.
n Todd Tobias, Tales from the American Football League.
n Ken Crippen, president of the Professional Football Researchers Association.
n Ira Miller, member Hall-of-Fame senior committee.
n Ron Borges, member Hall-of-Fame senior committee.
n Clark Judge, member Hall-of-Fame contributor committee.
n Jim Trotter, member Hall-of-Fame contributor committee.
n Brian Wolf, reader
n “bachslunch,” reader. Name held by request.
n Kevin Lalk, reader.
n Upton Bell, former New England GM, WFL franchise co-owner.
n Robert Wallace, former Rams’ executive VP.
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