By Scott Kacsmar
Cold, Hard Football Facts first-ballot Hall of Famer
Last season our 2012 Hall of Fame predictions
hit on only two of five picks (Cortez Kennedy and Willie Roaf), but that’s not to say the voters made the best choices.
Hall of Fame voting is a tricky beast, and selections of Curtis Martin, Dermontti Dawson, Chris Doleman and senior selection Jack Butler were not that improbable.
Each year creates more finalists and more difficulties to navigate in the selection process that has no real rhyme or reason to it. Chris Doleman, eligible since 2005, was a finalist for only the second time and made it in this year, while teammate Cris Carter, eligible since 2008, has been a finalist the last five years and still waits.
Carter may still be waiting even after this next selection process. But if he has a lot of company at his position, then we are going to be dangerously close to a full-blown logjam at wide receiver.
Dealing with the glut of prolific wide receivers is the single biggest issue that must be resolved in the 2013 class. Unfortunately, the list of newly eligible players may work directly against that resolution.
This year offers a pretty strong list of players who last played in the 2007 season (players listed in bold
are ones we feel very confident about making it to Canton some day
OG Larry Allen
RB Priest Holmes
WR Keenan McCardell
QB Steve McNair
C Tom Nalen
OT Jonathan Ogden
DE Simeon Rice
DT Warren Sapp
DE Michael Strahan
QB Vinny Testaverde
DT Ted Washington
DT Bryant Young
With five deserving players and only five spots, you can get them all done next year, but that will never happen based on history.
No class since 1970 has featured more than three
first-ballot selections. It has happened eight times; with only one occurrence since 1994 (2006 had Troy Aikman, Warren Moon and Reggie White).
Defensive Line the Priority
The two biggest names in the first-ballot ranks come from the defensive line with sack masters and Super Bowl champions in Michael Strahan
and Warren Sapp
Both players won one Defensive Player of the Year award. Strahan set a NFL record with 22.5 sacks in 2001, while Sapp won it in 1999 with 12.5 sacks as a defensive tackle in 15 games.
Both players have seven Pro Bowls and four first-team All-Pro selections in their career. Sapp’s all came in a seven-year span from 1997-2003, while Strahan’s were more spread out.
Strahan’s final game was the improbable upset win over undefeated New England in Super Bowl XLII, while Sapp languished with the Oakland Raiders for his last four seasons. Not sure how much that finish helps Strahan, who played in only 18 more games than Sapp did in their careers.
Sapp is also one of three first-ballot nominees from the legendary 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense. He has a much better shot than Lynch (safeties get the shaft in Canton; he’ll be waiting) and Rice, who will likely never get in.
However, Sapp may end up waiting a year and possibly going in with teammate Derrick Brooks, who becomes eligible for 2014’s class. Sapp and Brooks were drafted together in 1995 as the foundation to that great Tampa Bay defense.
With Strahan’s New York media love and that gap-toothed smile, he has a better chance of making it in 2013 than Sapp.
Hold the Line
While Strahan and Sapp were dominant, you have two studs on the other side of the line that kept those players at bay in Jonathan Ogden
and Larry Allen
Allen made 11 Pro Bowls and six first-team All-Pro selections, and won a Super Bowl in 1995 with the Dallas Cowboys. He starred at both guard positions and even at left tackle in 1998. He is considered to be one of the strongest players in NFL history.
Ogden also made 11 Pro Bowls and had four first-team All-Pro selections, winning a Super Bowl with the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. He was the first draft pick in team history, going 4th overall in 1996 out of UCLA. Ogden started 176 games and was an elite left tackle.
Willie Roaf had similar credentials and had to wait until his second year of eligibility, but Roaf also played on less successful teams and had three All-Pro selections. Will Shields had 12 Pro Bowls and two All-Pro selections, and he was a finalist last season on his first ballot. Ogden and Allen are both more deserving.
Though the Pro Bowl voting has become a joke, and offensive linemen are notoriously chosen on reputation and draft status, no one will deny Ogden and Allen as two of the all-time greats.
When NFL Films did their Top 100: NFL’s Greatest Players
series in 2010, Strahan was 99th, Allen was 95th, and Ogden was 72nd.
Should Ogden not make it the next two years, then he will be joined by Seattle’s franchise tackle Walter Jones and also Orlando Pace. Best to put Ogden where he belongs now instead of later.
Breaking tradition and going with Ogden, Allen, Strahan and Sapp as four
first-ballot Hall of Famers in one class would not be a stretch, but it is still unlikely to happen.
Recent Voting History
An attempt to look at recent voting history has usually been a good predictor for which players will comprise the 15 modern-era finalists for selection, and then finally the five-man class.
If you are in agreement that three or four of the Ogden/Allen/Strahan/Sapp group will make it in 2013, then chances are the other one or two players will come from the pool of recent finalists.
The following is a graphical look at the finalists since 2007 (credit the Hall of Fame website
for the base of information). The players inducted that year are in bold and caps. The players in red are still not in the Hall of Fame. Senior nominees have an asterisk in front of their name. The number in parenthesis indicates how many times that player was a finalist.
Those familiar with queuing systems will see that HOF voting has zero commitment to being a LIFO (last in, first out) or FIFO (first in, first out) system. Some players have to wait many years as finalists, while other candidates come by and get a quick induction after one or two seasons as a finalist. Seniority is not an advantage.
For example, Rickey Jackson made it in 2010 as a finalist for the first time, while Derrick Thomas, who made it in 2009, was a five-time finalist before finally getting inducted. A year earlier when Thomas was on his fourth final ballot, he was set aside for New England’s Andre Tippett, who was only a second-time finalist, but finished his career six years before Thomas.
There are 16 people that have been finalists and denied enshrinement since 2007. We list them all below.
Additionally, Marshall Goldberg
and Dick Stanfel
were senior nominees not selected. Claude Humphrey
was a three-time finalist who made a fourth ballot in 2009 as a senior nominee, but was not selected.
Ex-NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue (3x finalist)
– Tagliabue was commissioner from 1989 to 2006. Though some past commissioners like Bert Bell and Pete Rozelle are in Canton, just holding the position is no guarantee. Tagliabue will continue to be passed over for players and coaches, and that’s fine. The only question will be if Roger Goodell ever gets to be a three-time finalist.
WR Andre Reed (6x finalist)
– Buffalo’s all-time leading receiver has been a finalist the last six years. He made seven consecutive Pro Bowls, four straight Super Bowls, and had 951 receptions for 13,198 yards and 87 touchdowns.
WR Cris Carter (5x finalist)
– First eligible in 2008, Carter has shockingly been a finalist the last five years and was denied each time. He made eight Pro Bowls, two first-team All-Pro selections, and had 1,101 receptions for 13,899 yards and 130 touchdowns.
DE/LB Charles Haley (3x finalist)
– A finalist the last three years, Haley is known for being the only player with five Super Bowl rings, a dominant player on the field, and a nut-job off of it. He has 100.5 career sacks and has picked up some steam in the process as of late. Like Larry Allen, Haley has played for both San Francisco and Dallas.
RB Roger Craig (1x finalist)
– The versatile back cracked the finalist round for the only time in 2010, but had no chance with Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith taking two of the spots. The last two years he has been passed over at his position for Jerome Bettis and Curtis Martin.
HC Don Coryell (1x finalist)
– In 2010 the influential offensive coach became a first-time finalist, but did not get selected. He died on July 1st that year.
WR Tim Brown (3x finalist)
– A finalist the last three years, Brown is one of the most productive wide receivers in NFL history with 1,094 receptions for 14,934 yards and 100 touchdowns.
RB Jerome Bettis (2x finalist)
– Understandably, voters went for Marshall Faulk as the sole running back choice when he, Bettis and Martin became eligible in 2011. This past year Martin got the nod over Bettis as well. Currently, the position is lined up for voters to mull over Bettis the next five years until LaDainian Tomlinson becomes eligible for the 2017 class. Only a change of heart on Terrell Davis’ amazing peak or Roger Craig’s success on a dynasty can stand in Bettis’ way of hogging up the running back vote.
DB Aeneas Williams (1x finalist)
– After being a first-time finalist in his third year of eligibility, Williams looks to be cornering the market on the position until Ty Law becomes eligible in 2015. It is a very difficult position to get in, but Williams has a lack of competition on his side. Not to mention a good resume with 55 interceptions, eight Pro Bowls and three first-team All-Pro selections.
OG Will Shields (1x finalist)
– A finalist on his first ballot last year, 223 consecutive starts at right guard for the Kansas City Chiefs, 2000s All-Decade Team and 12 straight Pro Bowls make the case for Shields as a future Hall of Famer. It’s just a matter of the timing being right, as few will rush to put a guard like him in over other players and positions. He shouldn’t be in there over Allen or Ogden, nor should he be there over near-future eligible tackles like Walter Jones and Orlando Pace. But he will get there.
Head Coach Bill Parcells (3x finalist)
– A finalist in 2001 and 2002, Parcells returned to Dallas to coach four more years. He made it back to the finalists last year, but did not get in. Many feel Parcells will make it, but his wait will probably continue after next year.
Owner Edward DeBartolo Jr. (1x finalist)
– San Francisco 49ers’ owner from 1977-2000 as the team won five championships. Owners certainly make it in, but this is one that could wait while we have more deserving people who played and coached the game to tend to.
LB Kevin Greene (1x finalist)
– The crazy, wrasslin’ linebacker cracked the finalists last year for the first time, and expect him to stay for the next few years. He has 160 career sacks, five Pro Bowls, and two first-team All-Pro selections. Believe it or not, those 160 sacks rank third all time behind Bruce Smith (200) and Reggie White (198). Part of it is because they have only been official since 1982. Greene will stay in third for at least four more seasons, and perhaps beyond. Whether or not he makes it to Canton is another story.
The following three players are no longer eligible
for modern selection as they have been retired for more than 25 years.
P Ray Guy (7x finalist)
– The highly debated punter’s remaining hope is with the senior committee, though first he must wait for a breakthrough in how special teams are viewed.
OG Bob Kuechenberg (8x finalist)
– After missing the final cut in eight straight years, Miami’s six-time Pro Bowl guard must go through the senior process to get in.
LB Randy Gradishar (2x finalist)
– After a final push in 2008 (his final year of modern eligibility), it comes down to the senior committee for Denver’s most decorated linebacker.
Doggone Wide Receivers
Though wide receivers are known for their timing and precise route-running, when it comes to the Hall of Fame they do a whole lot of standing around and waiting for something to happen.
Only 21 modern-era wide receivers are in the Hall of Fame, and we may be lucky to even have that low number.
There are 11 people in the Hall of Fame
who were selected on their 8th year as a finalist
or later. Four of them are wide receivers.
Don Maynard, John Stallworth and Art Monk were all elected in their 8th year as a finalist. Stallworth was eligible for 10 years total before he made it. Teammate Lynn Swann holds the record for most times as a finalist before selection with 14.
Michael Irvin not long ago had to wait three years before entry. Bob Hayes and Tommy McDonald only made it as senior nominees.
Now we have the trio of Andre Reed (6x finalist), Cris Carter (5x finalist), and Tim Brown (3x finalist) continuing to wait. As you can see from the table above, voters usually do not like to keep a player around past six or seven times as a finalist. They like to get them “out of the room” at that point.
Maybe this will be the year they get Reed, who has waited the longest, out of the room, just as they did in 2008 when Art Monk (8th year) was taken over first-ballot choice Cris Carter.
The fact is they have to do something now
, because in 2014, Marvin Harrison will become eligible for the first time, and his resume is better than all three of these players.
To make it worse, in 2015 Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce become eligible (along with teammates Kurt Warner and Orlando Pace). You cannot have six wide receivers vying for induction at the same time.
If you force one out each season, then it will take care of itself soon enough. The other skill positions are rather relaxed in what they have waiting and on the horizon. But it’s the wide receivers that must be taken care of now.
If the voters have to write the names on three balls, throw them, and see which one Peter King’s dog
runs after to pick , then do it. Just pick a receiver. Then do it again the next year.
This is an area where names just seem to come up at random, such as Jack Butler did last year. Meanwhile Jerry Kramer
and Ken Anderson
continue to be overlooked. Until these two injustices are corrected, we will not say anything else on this topic.
2013 Prediction Time
Taking it a step further from last year, here is the projected 15 modern-era finalists:
OG Larry Allen
S Steve Atwater
RB Jerome Bettis
WR Tim Brown
WR Cris Carter
LB Kevin Greene
DE Charles Haley
S John Lynch
OT Jonathan Ogden
HC Bill Parcells
WR Andre Reed
DT Warren Sapp
OG Will Shields
DE Michael Strahan
DB Aeneas Williams
The thinking on Atwater is that debate on Lynch will boost him up.
That group will be likely broken down into five selections, which will be your 2013 inductees.
This is a really tough call, and we would not be surprised if voters only end up agreeing on one of our five picks. That is just how loaded with deserving candidates this process has become.
2013 Pro Football Hall of Fame class:
OG Larry Allen
WR Cris Carter
DE Charles Haley
OT Jonathan Ogden
DE Michael Strahan
Why pick Carter again when he probably has no shot? Positive karma for the hope that there will be (at least) one less receiver to consider in 2014. If all three get shut out again, then we hate to see what they will do to Marvin Harrison the following year when it becomes a foursome.
Plus with all the guys in the trenches, this 2013 class could use a shiny hood ornament.
Scott Kacsmar is a football writer/researcher who has contributed large quantities of data to Pro-Football-Reference.com, including the only standardized database of fourth quarter comebacks and game-winning drives. You can visit his blog for a complete writing archive. Please send any questions or comments to Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback.