Pro Football Hall the Toughest

This is my 24th year on the Selection Committee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  It’ll be the third straight year I’ve presented Tony Boselli’s case as a candidate for induction into Canton.

This year, 102 former players were nominated for the Class of 2019. That list was sent to the 48 members of the selection committee. Those selectors represent the 32 NFL teams, the Pro Football Writers Association, at-large journalists who cover professional football, and two current members of the Hall. The list has grown with NFL expansion as well as the desire of the Hall’s Board of Directors to include more “national” broadcasters and writers who don’t necessarily cover one team.

When I first joined the committee in 1995 there were thirty-two selectors. At the time, pro football coverage was still dominated by the “legacy” writers and broadcasters of the game. Jack Buck, Will McDonough, Edwin Pope, Tom McEwen, John Steadman and Furman Bisher were all regulars. They were a tight knit group who traveled together, drank together and had definite opinions about who was worthy of induction to the Hall.

There wasn’t really a hierarchy, but certain members provided a little more clout than others. It always helped a candidate if they spoke up on their behalf. And almost always sank their candidacy if a negative opinion was offered.

There’s a confidentiality agreement that goes along with being a member of the Selection Committee, so I’m limited as to what I can say about what happens in those meetings. But I can tell you the meetings are thorough and honest.  And whittling the list down to just five inductees each year is very difficult.

Two things were certain in the early years of my membership: As the new guy I’d get lobbied by some other members to be a part of their cause and Jack Buck would always end the meeting with a hilarious, profane joke.

The average age on the committee was 56 years old in the late nineties. It relied on some statistical analysis, but mostly on the “eye” test: Either a guy was a Hall of Famer or he wasn’t.

Now, the committee is younger, more broadly informed about everything that goes along with pro football and while the “eye” test is still a good gauge, statistics have a larger role in a player’s career and his candidacy for the Hall.

From the 102 on the original list this year, the members of the committee were asked to cut that list to 25, and then to 15 via email. In the vernacular of the committee, they get “into the room.” We’ll meet in Atlanta on Super Bowl Saturday to discuss those fifteen finalists as well as the two contributors and the one senior candidate.

The meeting used to start around 7AM and ended at noon because that’s when the press conference was scheduled for the announcement. Over the years the announcement has been pushed back to accommodate the meeting, and television. They used to serve coffee and pastries before we got going. Now the Hall of Fame staff provides two full meals.

Each player is presented to the committee by the media member from the city where he played the majority of his career. The presentations are supposed to last about 5 minutes.

Once the presentations have ended, a vote is taken to cut from 15 to ten, and then from ten to five. Even after going through the gauntlet to get to the final five, those five are subjected to an up or down vote. Eighty percent approval of the committee is necessary for election to the Hall.

I used to sit at the meetings between Furman Bisher of Atlanta, Tom McEwen of Tampa and Edwin Pope of Miami. Furman loved to talk about golf in North Florida, which courses he liked and what PGA TOUR players he had no use for. He joked that he talked about golf since he didn’t have any Falcons to present to the selectors for the Hall.

I can remember Furman making presentations for Deion Sanders and Claude Humphrey as players who spent parts of their career in Atlanta. By contrast, it seemed that Edwin was up and down in every meeting presenting the numerous Miami Dolphins who had made it into the final fifteen.

Boselli has made the first cut to 10 but has been eliminated in the cut to five twice. Sometimes that means a player has the support of a big part of the committee, other times it doesn’t. Sometimes there’s carry-over, sometimes there isn’t.

Will that matter? No prediction here out of respect for the entire process but I do think Boselli belongs in the Hall based on the criteria presented. With fifteen worthy players, including four offensive linemen on the ballot, for only five spots, the competition, like every year, is very tough.