(The Pro Football Hall of Fame last week announced its 38 finalists for the Centennial Class of 2020. As a prelude to the Hall's choice of 15 inductees, we preview some of the candidates)
When the Pro Football Hall of Fame decided to expand its Centennial Class of seniors, the hope was that it would think big picture and include stars from the NFL’s pre-modern era whom time … and Hall-of-Fame selectors … forgot.
Fortunately, it has. Nine of the 20 finalists played before 1960 and 12 -- or 60 percent – started their careers prior to 1970.
One of them was Max Speedie, and there are Centennial few candidates I feel more passionately about than the former Cleveland receiver. Several years ago, Hall-of-Fame GM Ron Wolf cornered me in Canton and asked why Speedie wasn’t in the Hall. I told him I didn’t know but would do my homework and get back to him.
And I did. I still don’t know.
As Wolf suggested, Speedie should have been inducted decades ago but wasn’t. He was a three-time finalist (1970, 1972, 1983) but never gained enough votes for induction. Then he fell off the Hall-of-Fame radar, buried in the senior pile of decorated and qualified candidates, and never to resurface.
Until now. And thank goodness.
Good things are supposed to happen to good people, right? Well, Max Speedie was more than a good receiver. He was a great one. He played seven seasons with the Cleveland Browns, going to championship games every year and winning five times – four when the Browns were in the All-America Football Conference and a fifth after they joined the NFL in 1950.
He was productive, leading the league in catches … four times … and averaging 800 yards receiving per year, a figure unsurpassed for two decades. He was respected, named to the league’s 1940s’ all-decade team and chosen as the Browns’ 1952 MVP. And he was decorated, an All-Pro in six of his seven years in pro football in the U.S. and an all-league choice in two of his three years in Canada, where he moved after leaving Cleveland.
So what’s missing? Longevity, that’s what. He played seven seasons with Cleveland – four in the AAFC, three in the NFL – before he was offered more money by Saskatchewan of the Western Interprovincial Union, which later became the CFL. But longevity is no longer the obstacle it once was; not with the election of Terrell Davis in 2017. Besides, this is the Pro Football Hall of Fame, not the NFL Hall of Fame. And in 10 years with three leagues, Mac Speedie was so accomplished he was named to eight all-star teams.
“I’ve written letters for years, saying Mac should be in the Hall of Fame,” said former Browns’ teammate Dante Lavelli, who is in the Hall. “I don’t understand it.”
I do. He was blackballed by a powerful and successful head coach who’s also in the Hall.
Paul Brown was a controlling personality who didn’t always get along with his players. So when the free-spirited Speedie brought a pet skunk he named “Paul” to training camp, he was not amused. But when Speedie left for Canada, Brown was infuriated. He sued for breach of contract, charging that the Browns exercised an option to extend Speedie’s deal after it expired in the summer of 1953.
Brown never forgot, and he never forgave. In fact, when the two met at the 1977 East-West Shrine game, he rebuffed his former star receiver.
Speedie once said that Brown told him “he would get even with me,” and he did. He helped keep him out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and he kept him out of the Browns’ Hall of Fame until 1999 when then-owner Al Lerner came to his rescue.
Now it’s time the Pro Football Hall of Fame followed, and it can with the Centennial Class of 2020. Here’s hoping it does what it should have years ago.
Here's our original "State Your Case" on Speedie:
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