There is only one thing that can spoil my Super Bowl weekend, and it does it every year. The elections for the Hall of Fame—the results of which are announced the day before the game—never fail to make my blood boil.
So that we do not start off on the wrong foot, I should make it clear that I am all in favor of Halls of Fame. I think that all sports should have one. Each sport has both a history and a legacy, and it is only right that we commemorate those who contribute to it. (I'm also in favor of each sport having a Hall of Ignominy, too—we need to make sure that future generations learn from the mistakes of others.)
What makes me angry is the stupid, overcomplicated and restrictive voting process that is keeping so many players who should be in the Hall out of it. Add to this the outrageous and at times admitted prejudices of some of the 44 voters and you end up with a system which is guaranteed not to honor those it was set up for.
For those of you who do not know how this works, let me briefly explain. Each year, a list of around 25 candidates is proposed. This is whittled down to 15, to which are added two 'seniors' (i.e. players from the ranks of the long retired or deceased). From that list of 15, only a maximum of five may be elected in any one year, along with one, two or even none of the 'seniors'.
The voting cabal is not secret—there is one representative from each of the 32 franchises, plus a motley collection of journalists and other notables from within the game—but the meeting itself is. It takes the form of someone presenting a short testimonial to each player and then an arcane round of votes being taken until at least three and no more than five remain.
Leaving aside the strangeness of the NFL, which makes a television show out of anything and everything, doing something as significant as the HOF vote in secret means there's a fundamental statistical flaw in this procedure. Every year, the pool of those eligible for the HOF increases. If the number of players elected each year does not increase exponentially, then the number of deserving players missing out also increases, but disproportionately.
The unfairness increases when you factor in the absolute geniuses of this game, the once-in-a-lifetime players who are almost too good for the HOF, like Jerry Rice. In the coming decade we are going to see at least three—Brett Favre, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning—entering the Hall in their first year. Which means that in those years there will only be four slots open for everyone else.
So the number of eligible players goes up, the number of available slots stays the same (or effectively goes down) and eventually you reach the point where you almost have to get in on your first ballot or you never will. Which is then unfair because there are guys in the Hall who got in at their fifth or sixth go. If Richard Dent gets in this year, I will still have lost count of the number of times he has been nominated.
Then there is the bias that I mentioned earlier. Some of the electors are on record as saying that under no circumstances will they elect a kicker or punter to the Hall.
Why on earth not? Do kickers not win games? Are punters so insignificant that the Raiders are paying Shane Lechler several millions a year because Al Davis is a profligate nitwit? People say that Ray Guy shouldn't be in the Hall because he doesn't have the same stats as some of the modern (ahem) guys, but the man played in a different era and revolutionized punting with his emphasis on hang time as well as distance. Why is Pete Goglak not in the Hall simply for bringing the soccer-style kick to the game?
Frankly, a Hall of Fame with no place for these guys, with no place for the likes of Bob Kuechenberg, Tobin Rote or Charlie Connerly isn't a Hall of Fame at all. A proper Hall of Fame should emphasize not only what a player produced in the game, but what he brought to it. The current one doesn't and never will. It should be exclusive, but those who should be in there should be able to get in. The current one isn't.
It is time for a change, because this isn't a Hall of Fame, it is a Hall of the Lucky. Which isn't the same thing at all.