Is the Hall of Fame Process Broken?

A group of writers assemble on the Saturday before the Super Bowl to decide who’s in and who’s not. But fans, candidates and even some of the voters wonder whether there’s a better way to bestow pro football’s highest honor

By
Robert Klemko
· More from Robert·
According to one voter, Michael Strahan had more support among the experts he polled during the 2013 process, but in the room the argument for Warren Sapp won over the voters. Strahan is among the final 15 again this year. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
According to one voter, Michael Strahan had more support among the experts he polled during the 2013 process, but in the room the argument for Warren Sapp won over the voters. Strahan is among the final 15 again this year. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

NEW YORK CITY — The 44 pro football writers gathered in New Orleans last year to consider, among other things, whether Warren Sapp should be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. His presenter, Ira Kaufman of The Tampa Tribune, knew what he was up against in making the case for the hometown defensive tackle.

“Warren Sapp is an a——,” he began, according to several people in the room, “and he treated me like s— sometimes, but I’m here to say he should be in the Hall of Fame.”

It was blunt and honest, and maybe it worked. Sapp went in, and former Giants defensive end Michael Strahan did not, stirring up a conflict between the two retired defensive linemen that bubbled out into the open this week. On this eve of the 2014 selection meeting, we pose four questions raised in the aftermath of the 2013 vote, questions that go to the heart of whether the current selection process is the right way to determine who gets into the Hall of Fame, or whether changes need to be made. [Editor’s note: Peter King, editor-in-chief of The MMQB, is a Hall of Fame voter but did not participate in this story, to avoid conflict-of-interest issues.]

Should the nominees be presented?

Every year, a long list of nominees is whittled down to a small group, which is then decided upon during the Saturday before the Super Bowl. This year there are 17 finalists (including two Senior Committee nominees, Ray Guy and Claude Humphrey), with four to seven open spots, and each candidate must receive at least 80 percent approval from the selection committee—a group of 46 (up from 44 last year) established NFL writers. (There is one voter representing each of the 32 teams, and 14 at-large voters.) Character is not supposed to be a concern, simply on-field play. During the Saturday session, which can last up to eight hours, each candidate’s case is presented by one of the selection committee members. Often, the presenter is the writer from the NFL city where the player spent most of his career.

In that room, some believe the presentation can make the difference between a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer and a guy who has to wait.

Says second-year at-large voter Jason Cole: “In the battle between Warren Sapp and Michael Strahan, Ira Kaufman made the difference.”

Cole, who learned of his inclusion on the committee several months before the 2013 vote took place, did his homework on the candidates. He asked nearly 60 former players, current coaches and personnel men to objectively evaluate Sapp’s worthiness versus Strahan’s.

“More people said Strahan,” Cole says.

The disparity between the football community’s assessment of each player and the result of the committee jibes with former NFL exec Gil Brandt’s view on the qualifications of voters.

“There are certain writers who really do a good job. They call people and get the info necessary to make a decision,” Brandt says. “But most of these guys on here have never seen these players closely enough. All of a sudden the writer who’s the best orator sways things. It’s unfair.”

The NFL plans to film and air the presenters in 2014, allowing cameras in the room for the first time. Writers originally bristled at the prospect of airing any portion of the meeting publicly, but they have largely accepted the intrusion so long as it is confined to the presentations and not the ensuing discussion.

What would an airing of those discussions reveal? Ex-players would love to know.

“I can’t knock the process, but I do want to know the criteria,” says former NFL linebacker Willie McGinest, a first-year eligible nominee this year who did not make the list of 25 semifinalists in November. “If it’s play alone, if it’s a sack thing, a behavioral thing, how you acted with the media, if it’s a Super Bowl thing… I’m not really sure.”

Are voters using the right criteria?

The 2014 Finalists

Morten Andersen
Jerome Bettis
Derrick Brooks
Tim Brown
Edward DeBartolo
Tony Dungy
Kevin Greene
Charles Haley
Marvin Harrison
Walter Jones
John Lynch
Andre Reed
Will Shields
Michael Strahan
Aeneas Williams

 

Ray Guy (senior)
Claude Humphrey (senior)

 

For a list of the 46 voters, go HERE.

 

How are the nominees narrowed down and eventually enshrined? Many voters who don’t do the opinion-gathering routine go by the “smell test,” says USA Today’s Jarrett Bell, the 16th-year at-large voter who says he does ample research. The format, he says, is conducive to loosely defined criteria. The room is big enough that all viewpoints will be represented, yet small enough that a discussion take place and the vote doesn’t turn into a popularity contest.

“This process I like because you discuss it,” says selection-committee member John Clayton of ESPN. “When you get to 15, there’s a very good chance a person gets in eventually down the road. You’re not saying someone is not a Hall of Famer.”

Cole consults with Bill Belichick occasionally on nominees, and the Patriots coach has the same question as McGinest.

“Belichick asks me what’s the criteria, and I said I don’t know,” Cole says. “We’re making it up as we go along.”

Should players of the same position be compared to one another, or to the finalist group at large? Which counts more: production or wins? How do you compare a Super Bowl-winning running back to a founder of NFL Films? Each of the writers who spoke with The MMQB agreed that the slots for players and non-players ought to be separate. Team owners Ed DeBartolo, Jr. and Art Modell and coach 
Bill Parcells were among the preliminary candidates in 2013, but many voters refuse to use a spot on a contributor over a player.

“I believe that one of those guys should go in,” Cole says. (Parcells made it in last year; DeBartolo is among the final 15 this year.) “But I wasn’t going to vote for one of them because I think players should go first.”

“The players are the lifeblood of the league,” says voter Bob Glauber of Newsday.

Occasionally, it boils down to something far simpler than playing status or championships: You vote for my guy, and I’ll vote for yours.

Are the writers forthright enough during the debate?

“I’ve been in it for three years, and it happened one time,” says Glauber of such deal-making. “I was mortified. I didn’t like it. It was very uncomfortable. But I think that stuff is going by the wayside. There was quite a bit of it from what I heard 10 to 15 years ago.”

Those on the outside aren’t so assured. “There are cliques,” says Brandt, “even though they won’t admit it.”

If there are, it would be nearly impossible to smoke them out. The balloting is secret, and it’s perfectly within a voter’s right to abstain from the conversation surrounding a player nominee and then decline to vote for him. Bell has a name for such covert voters: “silent assassins.”

“No one objects,” he says, “and you’re thinking the guy’s getting in and it’s all good, and all of a sudden he doesn’t have the votes. Sometimes I think there is a bloc of voters that swings it. But if that exists, I haven’t been invited.”

Allegations of blocs and cliques are most often raised by players searching for answers as to why they or their teammates have failed to be elected. Most players waiting for first-time nominations are reticent about suggesting impropriety on the part of the writers or that the writers themselves are not worthy, for fear that no Ira Kaufman will step up to perform their very own version of the Sapp Persuasion.  But most players aren’t Randy Moss.

Should writers vote on the Hall of Fame?

Randy Moss, no friend to the media during his playing days, thinks players, rather than writers, are best qualified to judge who’s Hall-worthy. (John Biever/Sports Illustrated)
Randy Moss, no friend to the media during his playing days, thinks players, rather than writers, are best qualified to judge who’s Hall-worthy. (John Biever/Sports Illustrated)

“If you didn’t play the game and you don’t know what we go through as players, you shouldn’t talk about it,” says Moss, the former receiver now working for FOX and a player considered a potential first-ballot enshrinee. “When these writers are responsible for voting you to the Hall of Fame, it isn’t fair. I think it should be ex-players and coaches, because they know the game of football.

“Just because you have a pen and a pad doesn’t mean you know what you’re talking about. I’m not discrediting a person who’s been covering a team for 30 years, but we need to understand that football is played between the lines.”

It’s a popular sentiment among players. Who knows a wide receiver better: the writer who covered him in the paper or online, or the corner who covered him on the field? As Clayton points out, football doesn’t support analytical research the way baseball, hockey and basketball do. We can judge quarterbacks based on stats to an extent, but what about guards? Players and coaches may be best qualified to judge, but they aren’t necessarily completely objective and free of bias either, as Sapp demonstrated this week when he said Michael Strahan didn’t belong in the Hall.

“Football is a competitive sport,” Clayton says. “Some people like the people they work with, some people don’t. Strahan isn’t deserving of the Hall of Fame? What are you really saying? You don’t like him? That hurts the cause. You’re showing an agenda.”

Say what you will about Sapp and the Hall he belongs to, but don’t say Ira didn’t warn you.

For The MMQB’s complete Super Bowl coverage, go to our Super Bowl hub.

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66 comments
IdDoHannahStorm
IdDoHannahStorm

Every year, I end up making two lists; one for the players i think should go into the HOF and the other for those I think will be voted in.  Every year I'm perplexed at the final list.  With all the issues pointed out, I'm not sure what changes would eliminate, or at least greatly reduce the stated problems.  Having a separate category for contributors would be a good start, but adding players and coaches as voters may only exacerbate some of the bias shown. 

Ken P
Ken P

I'm not completely against writers being on the selection committee.  My problem is that writers are a MAJORITY of the committee.  Some writers are very knowledgable and unbiased, but most writers are not.  There should be slots on the committee for former coaches and slots on the committee for former players, and these slots should be split between senior players and coaches and more recent players and coaches.  

Gs1
Gs1

Secret alliances? Sounds like a game of Survivor, but it does make sense how some of these people are elected over other. There is no other explanation.


Bayertoe
Bayertoe

Nothing against Derrick Brooks, but to say he was more of a dominant defensive force than Charles Haley? I don't know about that. Yet he gets in on the first ballot and Haley still conjures debate.  I don't know that Warren Sapp deserved first ballot status either.  He was a great player but half of the years of his career he was mediocre at best (sorry Richard Sherman, I'm plagiarizing you).  So not saying he or Brooks don't deserve to eventually get in, but whoever is presenting the cases for Bucs players is a damn fine salesman. We need a more transparent process. Duh.

Bayertoe
Bayertoe

The first mistake made was assuming sportswriters who cover the game actually know what's going on, and are more knowledgeable about the game than your average beer swilling fatso fan. Uh, does anyone read the silly stuff coming out here and in other less reputable publications? If I were a player I'd be hostile to the media too.  Not all writers fall into the grudge holding, idiot category, but enough do to make this process a farce.

MartinArredondo
MartinArredondo

NFL HOF is becoming the R & R HOF. A joke. It used to be the best there was but as usual WRITERS turn something spectacular in to something garbage. They should have zero control over who gets in. People get upset that officials make calls that can determine the outcome of a game which is in reality is very little influence but this, once again, continues to prove that this method needs a complete overhaul. Rod Woodson made mention of it when he was inducted. It's a flawed system. These guys don't play football and probably have never played even at the school yard level. These writers hold themselves in such high regard as though they're special because they have this control when in reality they're tools of their trade. They're wannabees with no pedigree. They're glorified fans. Because they have a pen that makes them qualified? Absolutely not. The players should vote on who gets in PERIOD. Leave the writers where they belong, in the stands with the rest of the fans.

statisprobasketball
statisprobasketball

Considering Marvin Harrison's career was considerably better than Andre Reed's and yet Reed gets in then I would say yes. There's no logic behind it. If it's a matter of Reed has waited long enough or you want to get him in before the next wave of receivers….then the process is broken. The best players aren't always getting in. 

CobyPreimesberger
CobyPreimesberger

it's offical and was right on all but 1, 1st ballot guys were jones and brooks, holdovers reed, strahan and aneas williams and senior nominees guy and humphrey

CobyPreimesberger
CobyPreimesberger

well it isn't offical but the hall of fame is likely 6 ray guy, derrick brooks, micheal strahan, andre reed, walter jones and marvin harrison

PaulGraff
PaulGraff

“I believe that one of those guys should go in,” Cole says. (Parcells made it in last year; DeBartolo is among the final 15 this year.) “But I wasn’t going to vote for one of them because I think players should go first.”


That makes NO sense Cole.  If you believe that one of those guys should go in, then vote for him.  It shouldn't matter whether or not you think players should go first, because there are always going to be players coming up on the ballot.  Either DeBartolo, Modell, etc. are worthy of the HOF in your opinion or they're not.  And if they are...vote for them. 

chris92021
chris92021

Anything that makes Peter King feel like a God for a day is bad for football. 

bottomofthejoel
bottomofthejoel

If Strahan didn't hold the season-high sack record, would he still be considered for the HOF? He, was a really good player on a really good defense, I'm on the fence about him. 


My 2014 HOF Class is: Brooks, Dungy, Harrison, Guy


A kicker should and will get into the HOF at some point, most likely with first being Vinatieri. But I believe Ray Guy is very deserving.


I believe Bettis and Strahan will probably get in eventually though.

Wisconsin Death Trip
Wisconsin Death Trip

Do you see Jerry Kramer's (GB Packers of the 60's) name in the HOF????? I would say the HOF is a farce. 

WarrenSappSucked
WarrenSappSucked

warren sapp doesnt belong in the hall of fame. he was bad for many years. incomprehensible.

ChrisVet
ChrisVet

Too many players get into the HoF.  It's meant for GREAT players, not just guys that had good careers or only played great for 2 seasons.

Matthew W
Matthew W

Haley over Strahan and Strahan over Sapp

PhillyPenn
PhillyPenn

the NFL HOF lets to many guys in every year.  Say what you will about the Baseball HOF, they have had years when only 1 guy got in.  Football allows 4-7 a year.  

CobyPreimesberger
CobyPreimesberger

to me i just can't fathom how haley isn't in the guy has 5 rings he played for the 9ers at the end of there dominant run and then joined the cowboys for there dominant run, and that guy was feared by quarterbacks and o-linemen, i mean again all you should have to do with haley is he's the only guy with 5 super bowl rings no other player can say that

markduell
markduell

People can complain all they want, but compared to the travesty that the BBWAA is making of the baseball hall of fame, the football hall's system is the gold standard.

HughJardonn
HughJardonn

Strahan should be in before Sapp was, but as far as the "sack list" goes, it'll mean more than a lump of crap on ice to me just as soon as the stats of players pre-1982 are included in it. Until then, it's a joke. Deacon Jones had about 190 sacks, Jack Youngblood had about 160, and the list goes on. These guys also played every down, not just passing situations, and in an era where QBs didn't throw 50-60 times a game - thus far less opportunities for linemen to get sacks to begin with. 

rferra57
rferra57

If you have there stats like Jerry Kramer had and you are not in the HOF then the system is flawed. 

Nonfantasylandman
Nonfantasylandman

SI Meeting room --- Those Baseball Hall of Fame voting stories about how people like us vote on the Hall of Fame were absolutely eaten up by the public, maybe we need to do the same thing for the NFL to more of us writers whiney opinion on a pointless topic.  


Chief Editor --  I completely agree.  Lets talk more about the people who are fringe hall of famers and why its a sham that they are not in then talk about the Hall of Fame itself and the top players in it.


------THANK YOU MEDIA

TravisIAm
TravisIAm

All you need to know the system is flawed is: Warren Sapp (1 ring and a game changing player) got in before Charles Haley (5 rings and a major game changing player)

ianlinross
ianlinross

I think the players should have a say. In the NHL draft process, many scouts and GMs will ask a prospect who are the best and toughest players they play against in their league. Makes sense to me.

CobyPreimesberger
CobyPreimesberger

i think you end up with a full 7 this year, guy and humphrey, brooks possibly both harrison's, strahan, and if there is any justice tim brown, as this guy seems to becoming art monk, as you look at what brown did for the raiders he was a deadly all-purpose guy

BY
BY

Any voting process involving humans is inherently flawed because it is impossible to eliminate bias. Do you think coaches/players won't say "I hate that son of a b*tch and I'm not voting for him"? It seems to me that PK tries very hard to be objective and I appreciate that he writes about his votes. This exposes him to criticism (amazing to me how many people seem to hate him and yet read his column) so I respect his transparency.

ProfessorGriff
ProfessorGriff

These writers are a joke.  They aren't supposed to make things personal, but its human nature to do so.  Oh, well this guy was a jerk to me back in 1989 - I'm not voting for him.  That should have no bearing on what the player did on the field.  I have a feeling that is what is keeping Mr. Charles Haley out of the HOF - he is certainly deserving.

CincyEric
CincyEric

Andre Reed should be in.  It's time this "flawed" set of voters do the right thing.


DWJ08
DWJ08

Players should be voting on this. 

PritchBomb
PritchBomb

Warren, I'm not saying you don't belong in the Hall, but consider this...


- Strahan had 45 more sacks and 215 more solo tackles than you (and 282 more combined tackles)

- Strahan had 6  seasons with 10 or more sacks compared to your 4.

- Both of you went to 7 Pro Bowls

- Both of you were First-Team All-Pro 4 times

- Both of you were 2 time Second-Team All-Pro players

- Both of you were NFL Defensive Player of the Year once (although Strahan was NFC DPOY twice...)

- Both of you won a Super Bowl.


Warren, you weren't even the best player on your own defense (Derrick Brooks). I guess what I'm saying is stop making a fool out of yourself. We know you hate Mike, and that's OK. But you're looking like an idiot right now by saying he doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame. If he really doesn't belong, neither do you.




liquidmuse3
liquidmuse3

@Bayertoe  Supposedly Kaufman IS a fine salesman for the Bucs players, & that's an insane process, the presentations. That said...


Brooks---11 Pro Bowls, 5 All-Pros, a Defensive Player of the Year...

Haley---5 Pro Bowls, 2 All-Pros, no DPY. 


I think Haley deserves to go in too, just saying posting him against a shoo-in like Brooks maybe wasn't the best move. 


& FWIW, Sapp 7 Pro Bowls, 4 All-Pros, a Defensive Player of the Year. 


And Haley's whole job was to get the QB from the blind-side, while Sapp had to truck through the middle to get anywhere...& Haley had 3 & 1/2 more career sacks than Sapp. Sapp shouldn't have been a 1st ballot, but he still gets in.

PaulGraff
PaulGraff

@bottomofthejoel Jan Stenerud is in the HOF, has been for years, and was a kicker.  I think Guy should get in as well. 

liquidmuse3
liquidmuse3

@WarrenSappSucked  The best defensive tackles are Bob Lilly, Randy White, Mean Joe Greene, John Randle, Cortez Kennedy, & Warren Sapp. Sapp is a top-3 all-time pass rusher at the position.

WarrenSappSucked
WarrenSappSucked

@ChrisVet  too many? impossible. only 7 get in annually. look at the total number of players in the hall. it's like 250 of them. you don't know what you are talking about, period.

WarrenSappSucked
WarrenSappSucked

@PhillyPenn  you don't know what you are talking about. football has 53 players per team while baseball is like 20. the turnover in nfl is extremely high, and it's very rare for a career to go over 10 years which seems to be the criteria to get in the hall.

MartinSwanson
MartinSwanson

@CobyPreimesberger I agree with you on that.  Charles Haley was a great football player that should be in the HOF.  How Sapp is in on the first ballot and he is still waiting is a serious injustice.

liquidmuse3
liquidmuse3

@HughJardonn  Sapp played defensive tackle, & basically had to beat two guys every play. All the guys you mention had to beat one guy & played outside. FWIW, that was Sapp's argument against Strahan, he played against the worst OT, while guys like Simeon Rice played against the best.

liquidmuse3
liquidmuse3

@TravisIAm  ? Only QBs should get credit for SBs, IMO. Sapp has more Pro Bowls, All-Pros, Defensive Player of the Year Awards (1-0), & only 4 less sacks playing a traditionally non-sacking position (DT) than Charles Haley.

Mark112
Mark112

@TravisIAm  

I still haven't figured out why, with all his transgressions, Sapp isn't doing a dime in the joint. Maybe Pope Dungy is his character witness.

CobyPreimesberger
CobyPreimesberger

and i was wrong about rodney he did make the first cut but not 2nd, so i'll replace him with walter jones, harrison and brooks of the 1st ballot guys getting in

ProfessorGriff
ProfessorGriff

@CincyEric  looking at the surface of his statistics, you would say 'no' to Reed.  he only had like 3-1000 yard receiving seasons.  But if you watched football and those Bills teams of the 90's, you know that Reed was one of the most feared WR's of his era and how much of an integral piece he was to their success.  He should be in the HOF alongside Thurman Thomas and Jim Kelly

TheeLidman
TheeLidman

@PritchBomb  Good points. Sapp is an idiot, or is coming across as an idiot. That said, you should mention that Strahan did have 18 more games to compile those numbers. On top of that, Sapp played both DT and 3-4 DE, and you could argue his sack total is just as impressive.

ecp_unix
ecp_unix

@PritchBomb  Agreed and I've been a Warren Sapp fan since he was in college. Strahan is a HOFer and should have been voted in last year. 

lionoah
lionoah

@ProfessorGriff @CincyEric  I'm so on the fence about Andre Reed. He was a very good receiver, but was he ever dominant? If you took him off of a team with James Lofton, Thurman Thomas and Jim Kelley (not to mention a great o-line and coach), is he still that special? I think he's in the Hall-Of-Very-Good

PritchBomb
PritchBomb

@TheeLidman @PritchBomb  I agree with everything you said. I wasn't knocking Sapp, because he had a great career. It just bothered me that he had the nuts to think he was somehow more deserving than an equally great player in Strahan. It showed no class.

Jamm90
Jamm90

@CobyPreimesberger @PritchBomb  Strahan had just one Super Bowl the one where they upset the pats alright, then he did retire. Having said that he is more deserving than Sapp, Michael was a great two way player both stuffing the run and as a pass rusher, meanwhile Sapp was a one dimensional DT, very inconsistent against the run, very good pass rusher. And as many are saying he wasn't even the best player on that defense (Derrick Brooks was, and he clearly deserves to be a first ballot hall of famer)

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