After two months of painstakingly looking at each position to determine what players overlooked by the Pro Football Hall of Fame are the most deserving, it is finally time now, on the eve of the 2009 induction ceremonies, to look at the 10 players that I believe are the most deserving of induction into the Hall of Fame, but who are still waiting for that call.
To create the top 10, I again reviewed all 225 players that had earned mention in the top 25 lists for each position. I then narrowed the field based on overall career performance, perception when they retired (were they considered at the time a Hall of Fame caliber player), team performance and accolades received.
What was most obvious is that being in the Hall of Fame is really an amazing honor because the caliber of players who have not yet gained entry is amazing. Of the 225 players that made the initial list, I would venture to say you could make a legitimate Hall of Fame argument for between 30 and 40 of those players.
Overall, I think the Hall of Fame voters have done a pretty good job of selecting deserving players for the Hall. In fact, when I created a top 10 list of players who maybe didn’t belong in the Hall, I could only legitimately find nine selections to question.
However, where I do think the Hall of Fame has been very weak has been in how long it often takes them to finally induct someone who we all know immediately is deserving of being in the Hall of Fame.
2009 Hall of Fame inductee Bob Hayes is just the most recent in a seemingly ever-growing group of all-time NFL greats that wait for many years for their name to be called for Hall of Fame induction, but by the time it does, they are no longer healthy enough to enjoy the full fruits of their accomplishment or, in some cases, they have already passed away.
Hayes last caught an NFL pass in 1975. In the ensuing 34 years he didn’t catch a pass or score a touchdown. Why Hall of Fame voters have to take so long to select players makes no sense to me.
Now, when he finally will get the moment he has deserved for many years, he will not be there to enjoy it.
I know that Hayes had off-the-field issues that probably took him off the radar for a while, but such is not the case for Gene Hickerson or legendary coach Hank Stram. Yet both waited so many years to be inducted that by the time their name was called, they were no longer physically able to participate and enjoy their moment.
It was especially disappointing for me to watch Stram sit there helplessly on the stage and speak only through comments on the video screen. Because anyone who watched his famous sideline performance in Super Bowl IV or listened to him announce NFL games on television and radio for many years knows that he had the gift of gab. Had he still been in good health, I have no doubt that Stram would have given a performance for the ages.
However, he was not inducted into the Hall of Fame until 2003, 26 years after coaching his last game.
But I would argue that due to the fragile nature of life, any wait beyond the mandatory five years should be avoided as much as possible.
Though he was in good health and able to enjoy his moment, Art Monk serves as another recent example of a player whose wait for induction was way longer than warranted. Monk was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame last season after waiting through eight years of eligibility. That made absolutely no sense, as from the day he retired everyone knew that Monk deserved to be in the Hall of Fame and would eventually get in.
What if Monk had been in an accident and passed away four or five years after becoming eligible? Then he would have been denied the opportunity to enjoy his moment in the sun for seemingly no good reason.
It almost seems like the Hall of Fame voters, after years of being beholden to the players for interviews and stories, finally hold the upper hand and want to make sure the players know it.
It is reported that some media members have such a grudge against former players that they will do everything in their power to keep that player from being inducted. Probably the most famous such situation has been between Sports Illustrated writer Paul Zimmerman and former Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler, but there have been others.
Of the players on my top 10 list of players that I believe deserve Hall of Fame induction, seven have been retired for more than 20 years and a couple have waited 35 or more years. Some of these players have been teased by the Hall voters multiple times, while others have never been serious candidates despite watching others with similar credentials receive their ticket to football immortality.
In the future, I would like to see Hall of Fame voters put a special emphasis on getting players into the Hall of Fame as soon after their retirement as possible so they can enjoy many years of coming back to Canton for the annual induction ceremonies.
If I were in charge (which sadly I am not), I would propose that the Hall of Fame hold one big “Catch Up” Hall of Fame ceremony where they induct every player that is determined to be worthy of selection.
After those 30-40 all-time greats are added, then I would propose that after waiting the mandatory five years following retirement, players would be eligible for the Hall for only five years. Then, if the voters really are intent on ensuring the most deserving players are selected, they will stop holding grudges and vote the best players in.
That would eliminate this current system where some deserving players wait their entire lifetime for a call that either never comes or comes too late for them to enjoy it.
Being selected for the Hall of Fame is a great honor and one that all deserving players should have the opportunity to enjoy. Hopefully one day the powers that be will figure it out. However, for now we are left with many all-time greats still waiting for their name to be called.
Here is my opinion of the 10 players most deserving of induction. Hopefully all of them will one day get the thrill of having their bust immortalized in Canton.
I look forward to your comments, discussion, and disagreements.