Six first-year eligible candidates, five non-players and two special teamers are notable among the list of 27 semifinalists announced Friday as candidates for the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2013.
Newcomers, presented in the politically correct alphabetic order by the Hall of Fame, are guard/tackle Larry Allen (1994-2007, Cowboys, 49ers), kicker Morten Andersen (1982-2004, Saints, Falcons, Giants, Chiefs, Vikings), safety John Lynch (1993-2007, Buccaneers, Broncos), offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden (1996-2007, Ravens), defensive tackle Warren Sapp (1995-2004, Buccaneers, Raiders) and defensive end Michael Strahan (1993-2007, Giants).
The list of 27 will be reduced to 15 modern-era finalists in January, by another mail ballot from the 44 selectors. Two senior nominees announced in August — defensive tackle Curley Culp and linebacker Dave Robinson — will complete the roster of 17 finalists, from which the Class of 2013 will be selected Saturday, February 3 in New Orleans, the day before the Super Bowl.
Ten of the 25 were among the finalists discussed and debated by selectors in the room before the last Super Bowl. Three of those are wide receivers — Tim Brown (1988-2004, Raiders, Buccaneers); Cris Carter (1987-2004), Eagles, Vikings, Dolphins) and Andre Reed (1985-2000, Bills, Redskins). While independently each is considered a worthy candidate, their collective presence splits the vote, resulting in all of them being denied for several years.
Brown, an outstanding returner as well as a prolific receiver, suggested in a radio interview that he would be willing to stay out of the process until the logjam clears. That is not a new sentiment from a frustrated candidate, but that’s not how the process works. Making the HOF is considered the ultimate achievement in pro football and, like the game itself, it can be a painful experience.
Former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Lynn Swann probably experienced the most pain in that regard, being denied entry for 14 years before he was inducted in 2001, his final chance before being added to the long list of senior-only candidates.
“Every year, when the call came telling me that I hadn’t made it into the Hall, it was a humbling experience,” Swann said. “But getting into the Hall of Fame, now being a part of this and seeing the caliber of person that you have to be for induction, that’s even more humbling. Let me tell you, and I might not have always felt this way before, but the wait to get here was worth it.”
Some of the best-known names on the list are non players — former Chargers coach Don (Air) Coryell; former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., former Browns/Ravens owner Art Modell; well-traveled coach Bill Parcells, commissioner Paul Tagliabue and team executive George Young.
While the contributions to NFL history by these men are profound, recent history has shown that, when pitted against players in the voting procedure, it is difficult for any of them to be selected, especially when there are so many contributors who basically dilute the non-player voting pool. It has been often suggested that contributors, especially those who did not coach on the field, be considered in a separate category each year.
In one regard, the most interesting name on that list may be that of Tagliabue, whose entry into the Hall of Fame seems to have been encumbered by the tenuous state in which he left the league’s labor issues, among other considerations. Previous commissioners seem to have been granted an almost automatic spot in the Hall, but Tagliabue has been a lightning rod for heated debate.
Andersen joins returning nominee Steve Tasker, who was nominally a wide receiver, but who stood out as a special teams player, especially on kickoff and punt coverage.
There is not yet a player in the HOF whose main contribution is special teams coverage. However, the HOF also does not include a pure punter. The most oft-mentioned name has been former Raider Ray Guy, who now must make the list as a seniors nominee. It is believed he barely missed that chance this year. Meantime, the mythical HOF team relies on the fabled quarterback Sammy Baugh as a punter.
There is no set number of enshrinees for any Hall of Fame class. The Pro Football Hall of Fame’s ground rules stipulate that between four and seven new members will be selected each year. No more than five modern-era nominees can be elected in a given year and a class of six or seven enshrinees can only be achieved if it includes one of both senior nominees.