What separates the Hall of Fame from the "Hall of Very Good"?
This is the question that voters must answer every year as they decide which former players, coaches or people otherwise connected to the game get enshrined in Canton. Many voters are secretive about what actually goes on behind those closed doors, but we've reached the point where we can discern much of the criteria.
A player needs to not only be one of the best at his position of all time but should also have been considered one of the best at his position during his time in the league. This makes for an interesting discussion between career longevity (read: accumulation of stat totals) and things such as Pro Bowl and All-Pro votes.
There also seems to be some consideration made regarding the players' off-the-field exploits. Maybe it's not "right," but remember that the people voting are going to have both conscious and subconscious biases for and against some of these players. Players who generally walked the straight and narrow and played nicely with the media are likely going in a little sooner.
For non-players and players alike, the bottom line tends to be whether the person's time around the NFL significantly impacted the game in a way that may not have happened otherwise.
It's not a perfect qualification, but this year, it's brought us: Derrick Brooks (LB Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Ray Guy (P Oakland Raiders), Claude Humphrey (DE Atlanta Falcons), Walter Jones (OT Seattle Seahawks), Andre Reed (WR Buffalo Bills), Michael Strahan (DE New York Giants) and Aeneas Williams (S Arizona Cardinals).
As we look ahead to 2015, I reached out to some of the best national writers across the NFL landscape and asked them to weigh in. Fourteen writers contributed to this selection process, and every candidate who received at least half of the votes is headed into our hypothetical hall.
The Voting Panel