By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts Hanburger Helper
Hearing former Redskins linebacker Chris Hanburger talk Saturday about the unexpected thrill of making it into the Pro Football Hall of Fame was enough to give you goosebumps.
Hanburger was one of seven players inducted into the Hall on Saturday, including two members of our original Cold, Hard Football Facts "Hall of Awesome
" a few years back (Richard Dent and Ed Sabol
). He had a great story to tell. Didn't play organized ball until his sophomore year of high school, never really thought he'd have any type of career, didn't even know there was a player draft when the Redskins picked him. And yet he made it all the way to the ultimate recognition in his sport.
He was humble, classy, and it made you feel great that a quality football player and man would get to put on the yellow jacket as one of the all-time best.
However, it was his offhanded comment about the Hall that really seemed to get to the heart of what makes this annual event both energizing and polarizing: "There are so many great players that aren't there, it was just amazing to me to even be nominated."
And therein lies the rub. How is it that Hanburger (and fellow veterans committee candidate Les Richter) can go from never getting the merest sniff of the Hall of Fame to getting 75 percent of the vote?
We don't want to be negative. There's not a single Hall of Famer that we'd suggest taking out – even the guys that we wouldn't necessarily have chosen were great players who sacrificed more for the game than we could imagine.
Still, it's frustrating that the Pro Football Hall committee is such a small and easily-influenced group that seems to have no real rhyme or reason when it comes to electing fringe players.
It's not as if Hanburger didn't make a name for himself. He played 14 years in the league on a high-profile Redskins team, and was a nine-time Pro Bowler. So why then, when he became eligible for the Hall in 1984, did he not make the list of 15 finalists -- not just that year, but ever?
Maybe it's just the committee's way of making up for its longstanding bias toward offensive skill players. Since 2000, all but four of the senior player candidates have either been linemen or defensive players.
It seems that every year an influential member of the committee talks up a player that had a marginal spot in the game's grandest of histories and rolls them right into Canton – Fred Dean, Charlie Sanders, Hanburger, Floyd Little, all went from 0-to-Hall of Fame. You hear stories about how a small cabal of voters has been conspiring to keep Paul Tagliabue from the Hall, and you have to wonder why that would or could happen.
We've called several times for a revamp of the way the Hall committee does business. The voters have certainly taken notice. HOF voter Rick Gosselin admitted as much to us this week (as Frankie C. noted in his Super Bowl blog this week
). And they've voted in the four largest classes of defenders of the past 40 years in the wake of our expose of the bias against thos defenders.
But setting history straight still seems like a bigger deal to us than to the actual voters, beyond Gosselin and a few others.
But then, perhaps a guy like Ed Sabol would never have gotten in if the Hall did business differently. He and Richard Dent were two guys we've long lobbied for, and feel they deserve their busts. Dent was a champion and a great member of one of the great defenses of all time. And the league simply wouldn't be what it is today without Sabol and NFL Films.
The other three choices were no-brainers.
Marshall Faulk was the best player in the league for a stretch and the MVP of the 2000 season. Deion Sanders was one-of-a-kind, maybe the best athlete to ever play pro football. And Shannon Sharpe had waited long enough to get in; tight end stats have gone through the roof during his era, but the guy was a huge part of three Super Bowl winners to boot. He had to get in.
It really wasn't a big surprise that Jerome Bettis and Curtis Martin failed to make the cut. They weren't as good as Faulk, and the Hall committee obviously takes a first-ballot selection seriously. Willie Roaf's exclusion was more of a shock – the guy was an 11-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro. Perhaps the poor performance of his Saints offenses played a role there – they could barely get in the end zone while he was going to Hawaii every year.
Cris Carter, Andre Reed and Tim Brown continue to wait, and recently retired wideouts like Torry Holt, Marvin Harrison and Rod Smith must wonder if this is going to be a trend that affects them as well.
Oh well. Maybe they'll just have to wait until 30 years after they retire, like Hanburger. Better late than never.