MINNEAPOLIS – Privileged to be in the room as the Jacksonville representative during the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame discussions, I’m annually surprised but never shocked at what happens during the selection meeting. When you get 48 people with an opinion talking about the same thing, the winds of change are always blowing. Players you figure going in are locks aren’t always that at all and others who seemed to float into the final 15 without much fanfare turn into “can’t miss” finalists.
It’s unpredictable. Even among the selectors during breaks in the eight-hour meeting the question, “What do you think?” is always met with the same answer, “Who knows?”
Getting to the final 15 to be discussed by the selection committee is extremely difficult. That’s why listening to the presentation for each player is sometimes awe-inspiring and never disappoints. The players were so great during their careers that “I’m voting for that guy” is my first thought when his credentials are laid out.
Of course, of the fifteen, only five will get in, and the cut process from 15 to 10 and 10 to five becomes more and more difficult. Sometimes the cut only comes because the committee figures a player will be back in the room again. Some of it’s a perceived slotting process, with one player waiting on another who’s been a finalist longer.
I know, it seems convoluted and perhaps even unfair, but that’s why it’s so hard to get into the Hall.
This year the three first-time eligible finalists all got in. Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher and Randy Moss were certainly Hall of Fame-worthy players. There’s a thought that when a player of that caliber becomes eligible, he should go in immediately. A “first ballot” Hall of Famer is a line thrown around by everybody as if it’s that easy. It’s not.
While this year’s class is the youngest every selected, where does that leave players who had Hall of Fame careers but didn’t get tagged with the “first ballot” line?
This year, five offensive linemen made up a third of the finalists. Joe Jacoby was eliminated in the first cut, still leaving four in the final 10, including Tony Boselli. You knew they were going to cancel each other out in the next round; it was only a question of whether one might sneak through.
None did, confirming that it’s a logjam that might not soon easily be fixed.
No one questions Boselli’s greatness. He’s considered the second best tackle in the history of the game behind Anthony Munoz. But the credentials of Alan Faneca, Steve Hutchinson and Kevin Mawae are impeccable. All great players, all eventually get to Canton. But when?
You could make the distinction that Tony Boselli is a tackle with the other three interior linemen. But if you pit one against the other, it never works out well.
That’s why all the talk of momentum and who’s on deck is generally wrong. Although he’s the next wide receiver “on deck,” there’s no guarantee Isaac Bruce will get in next year. Same with Tony. Or the other three lineman.
Tony Gonzalez, Champ Bailey and Ed Reed are all first-time eligible players in 2019 and look to be finalists. Do they have the “first ballot” tag that seems to spark outrage when they don’t get in? If so, that leaves two spots for 12 other players, at least four of them offensive linemen.
That’s why the answer inside “the room” will carry outside all year as well: Who knows?