I’ve written about Bob Hayes’ nomination, rejection and subsequent selection to the Pro Football Hall of Fame a few times in this space. And as I’ve said, and written, many times, I always feel honored and privileged to be one of the selectors on the HOF committee.
When I first joined the committee in 1994 it was smaller but over time we’ve expanded it to now 44 selectors. While I’m the “Jacksonville” representative, the Times-Union’s Vito Stellino joined the committee two years ago as an “at-large” selector. Vito has a long history as a beat reporter in the NFL and was a natural selection when the committee size was increased.
It is interesting to be on the committee. From my perspective I’m looked at as a real outsider by most of the other members. There are only a couple, and I mean year in and year out, two non-beat writers on the committee. I’ve been characterized (and chastised) as “the TV guy” by certain members. Most recently, some of the better-known members tried to marginalize my opinions at the meetings referring to Jacksonville as “a mistake the league knows it made.”
As the “TV guy” I’ve watched the presentations for the last 15 years by various writers from around the league. Some of the members are hacks, others just bitter but don’t get me wrong, some are very professional, thoughtful people who are professional journalists. As credible as any news reporter, and usually a bit better.
I read with amusement Gene Frenette’s column on Saturday about Paul Zimmerman and the selection and induction of Bob Hayes this year. Zimmerman played a big part in Hayes being brought back to the full committee through the senior committee in 2002. But having been in the room, I can tell you there was a bit of rancor in the discussion when Hayes’ credentials were presented.
While I’m sworn to an oath of confidentiality, I’ll just say that one prominent journalist killed Hayes’ chances with his comments at the end of the presentation. It was as if the air was let out of the room.
Gene’s correct about Zimmerman’s reaction. He was furious and resigned from the Senior Committee.
When Hayes was re-introduced this year, the sentiment had obviously changed and Bob was elected. As the presenter “Goose” Gosselin from Dallas did an excellent job of outlining Hayes’ accomplishments.
There are a lot of things that go on in those meetings, confidentially, but suffice to say that when the announcement was made, Goose and I shook hands and I gave him hearty congratulations.
While some of the selectors might not have seen him play, the average age on the committee is 56 years old. So Hayes isn’t a mystery by any means to the men and women who vote. They decided in 2002 that his credentials weren’t good enough. Honestly, I thought about resigning from the committee after that vote. Bob had made it to the final cut that year but was voted down by a small number of “assassins” as Zimmerman would call them. (It can be a tough meeting.
When the late Will McDonough came to the meeting the year after the Lawrence Taylor vote was quoted chapter and verse in several publications, McDonough broke the parliamentary rules at the beginning of the meeting, stood up and looked around the room wagging his finger and said, “If I ever find out which one of you m—–er f—–ers did that, I’m going to kick your ass.”
I’ve always figured that if a player makes it to the final cut: Down from 90 to 25. Down from 25 to 15 and then to the final 6 (or seven depending on the year), then most of the people who I respect in the room think he deserves recognition in the Hall. That’s usually good enough for me. (I voted against Lawrence Taylor at the time for different reasons.) So I vote yes.
But some guys think they’re smarter than everybody else in the room. Or have a personal grudge against the player and vote him down no matter what. So I can see why Paul was furious. (He and I usually sat together over the last 10 years at the meetings, sometimes sharing our love of history.) I’m sure Zimmerman, who has been debilitated by a series of strokes, is pleased that Bob is finally in the Hall.
There are a lot of factors that kept him out over the years: racism, his off the field issues, animosity toward the Cowboys, the Ice Bowl and others. But I had a chance to smile today because he’s now where he belongs.
Among the greats.