I was stunned, but not overly surprised when Bob Hayes didn’t make it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this year. As a member of the selection committee, I was in the room and part of the discussion about Hayes’ credentials when his name was presented in front of the full committee. The Senior Committee selected Hayes and offensive lineman Bob Brown as the two senior candidates this year, culling them out of a long list of deserving candidates who’s career’s ended more than 25 years ago.
“Some guys just slip through the cracks, “ is how committee member Paul Zimmerman explained it to me years ago.
The voting procedure doesn’t allow just a blanket vote on everybody’s who’s eligible. As the rules are now, a maximum of six can be elected into the Hall each year (it used to be seven). So if there are a bunch of offensive linemen, or a couple of slam dunks, like John Elway and Barry Sanders this year, some guys get pushed to the side. Eventually, their eligibility runs out, and they have to come out of what has been described as a “morass” of old-timers.
Hayes had never made it to the final selection phase before, so his credentials had never been discussed in front of the whole committee until Saturday, 29 years after he played his last game. In the league for 11 years, Hays averaged 19.9 yards per catch and still holds the Cowboy record for most touchdowns at 71. He scored a touchdown about one of ever five times he touched the ball. Pretty impressive numbers, but not enough for some of the selectors.
“I just don’t think he has the numbers to be in the Hall,” one selector told me after the vote. “There are 25 other guys who are more deserving in that senior mix.”
A real analysis of his stats shows that Hayes had some spectacular years, and some ordinary ones and no production in the post season. “He wasn’t brilliant all the time, like the great ones are,” another selector told me. “He didn’t make one big catch in one big game, and that’s the difference for me.” Perhaps true, but didn’t he change the game? Didn’t he cause defensive coordinators to invent the zone defense?
One voter put it this way: “It’s been said that you can’t write the history of the NFL without Bob Hayes in it. And that’s true, but that alone doesn’t qualify you for the Hall of Fame.” I disagree, and said so at the meeting, rather vociferously. I agree that Hayes’ career numbers don’t jump out when you dissect them, but as a career, it’s hard to ignore 71 TD’s and nearly 20 yards a catch. Plus if you “change the game” then you do deserve a spot among the immortals. Hayes’ nomination was the most discussed in the meeting and even though there were some negatives, I thought the tone was generally positive.
The voting procedure starts after all of the candidates are discussed. The 39 voters are asked to vote for their top 10 out of the original 15, eliminating five of the candidates. When Hayes made that cut, I thought the arguments for getting him in had had an effect. Next we’re asked to cut down to six, which was, and always is the hardest part of the voting. Guys have gotten out of the main pool, into the final list and past the first cut are great players, all with credentials worthy of consideration. Now we have to eliminate four of them before the final vote.
When Hayes made it to the final six I thought he was definitely in. Jack Buck once told me, “I came here to put guys in the Hall, not keep them out.” And I agree. If a player has gone through that process and there has been that much support for him among the other electors, why should I keep him out? So with a rare exception, I vote yes for the guys who make it to the finals. Once the final six are announced, we’re asked to vote yes or no on each candidate. With 39 selectors, it takes 8 “no” votes to keep somebody out of the Hall. So apparently the negative feelings about Hayes’ career and his post season numbers were strong enough to sway at least 8 votes to the no side.
I do think the vote was very close, but it won’t put Hayes any closer to the Hall. He has to come out of the senior committee again, and there’s no reason the committee should bring him before the same committee members just to have the same 8 guys vote no again. “It’ll be 5 or 10 years before Hayes is back before the committee,” I told Zimmerman in the hallway after the vote was announced. “At least,” he sighed.
Bob Hayes was wronged in that room, I really believe that. If you’ve got the support of so many committee members that you make it to the final six, it takes some kind of grudge or quirk of personality (as in I know things that you don’t) that allow you to vote “no.” That’s strange to me, but it’s the dynamic of the committee. And until that changes, until most of the committee will think of Hayes as an historical figure, his chances of getting in the Hall are slim. The committee does change, but some what at a glacier pace. The average age is 57 years old, so it’ll be a few years before Bob gets another chance.