When I first became a writer, I believed that the greatest honor bestowed upon a player or coach was a diamond-studded ring to commemorate the season of hard work and triumph that led to a Super Bowl victory.
Then, I found out there was a Pro Football Hall of Fame located in Canton, Ohio. Very quickly did I realize that while a Super Bowl ring is a team's achievement, the Hall of Fame is a whole new level of athletic admiration.
Super Bowls don't make or break a person's Hall of Fame status. Give me 15-30 minutes, and I could make a whole team of guys who are Hall of Famers yet never were part of a championship team, and I'd stack that team up against anybody. The Hall of Fame is about individual success.
This year, more than most, there has been a large number of objections to the Hall of Fame class of 2011 coupled with outrage, insults, and criticism. The ironic thing is that I knew that there would be backlash because every one of the fifteen finalists has a strong case for induction, so good candidates are going to be left out.
But, I did not think that a professional writer such as Jason Whitlock would go as far as he has. He has gone the extra mile and has decided to smear the voters as corrupt, biased, unqualified, and ignorant of the facts.
He even went after individual voters who are prominent writers. "It’s a textbook, old-school, good-ol'-boys network led by Sports Illustrated’s Peter King (speaker of the house) and the Dallas Morning News’ Rick Gosselin (majority leader)."
That's just part of it. It gets sharper and more acidic as the page continues. The reason behind Jason Whitlock's attack of the system is simply because Willie Roaf, an 11-time Pro Bowl left tackle for the New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs, did not become a member of the class of 2011 in his first year of eligibility.
I'm going to go on the record here and say that I absolutely agree with Whitlock on his point that Willie Roaf was one of the most dominant offensive linemen of his era and deserves induction into the Hall of Fame.
But, does it really matter if he waits a year? I don't see Roaf not making it in 2012, especially since he was one of the final ten during the voting process. Mr. Whitlock's outrage, while understandable, is unnecessary and over the top.
There isn't an exclusive club at the Hall of Fame gatherings where the guys in the gold jackets get into teenage-like cliques, and the first-ballot Hall of Famers eat lunch at the special table while the inductees that had to wait five or six years sit at the rusty table. The Hall of Fame isn't like that.
If Mr. Whitlock thinks it is a travesty that a person is not inducted on their first time on the nomination list, then there is plenty of negative emotion to go around.
Vince Lombardi, Alan Page, Ted Hendricks, Fran Tarkenton, Joe Schmidt, Bill Walsh, and Sam Huff did not make the Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility. So, for Roaf to miss the Hall of Fame and still be in the same boat as the legends I've just mentioned is nothing to look down upon.
Everyone can make a "Top Ten Players Who Aren't in Canton," list. I could probably make a top 50 if I go back in time far enough. The number of men from the 60s and 70s who aren't inducted is huge in itself. However, there is one list that I, myself, just can't make really.
That's a "Top Ten Players Who Don't Belong in Canton," list. I can stand up face to face with anyone that has ever had an opinion about sports and defend nearly every inductee that was put into Canton.
My arguments can fluctuate by mentioning their impact on championship teams, their individual accolades, statistical measures, postseason performances or even how some changed the game.
Jason Whitlock says the system is broken because it is inducting the wrong individuals. I think the system is broken because it isn't inducting enough of them. Some voters want to make the privilege that comes with being declared a Hall of Famer to be special.
They want to honor only the greatest of the greatest of the greatest, so some guys like Terrell Davis or Aeneas Williams or Phil Simms who are great players are not given that honor unless a great argument is made for them.
They don't want to induct a Gary Clark when they see that his peer is Jerry Rice. I have to agree with that philosophy because the Hall of Fame is special, and shouldn't lose its value, but I do have a broader definition of what a Hall of Famer is than some people.
Jason Whitlock has decided to declare two men equivalent to Gary Clark instead of Jerry Rice. Those men are last year's inductee Russ Grimm, and a member of the class of 2011 in Richard Dent.
Neither one was as dominant as Willie Roaf at their position. Richard Dent was never part of an All-Decades team while Willie Roaf is a member of two, and Russ Grimm is only on one.
Richard Dent and Russ Grimm combined are still three Pro Bowls behind Willie Roaf's eleven (Dent and Grimm have four each), and one of the main reasons they are popular is because they played on popular teams.
The Chicago Bears had the "46 defense" that made Dent into a star, and Russ Grimm was the guard for the "Hogs" the famous offensive line of the Washington Redskins. Willie Roaf never was a household name like they were.
However, I stand by both of those men's inclusions because they are Hall of Famers to me. Willie Roaf is a Hall of Famer, Cortez Kennedy is a Hall of Famer, Andre Reed is a Hall of Famer etc.
Do you really want to split hairs on who gets in ahead of who? That's like arguing who gets the first piece of cake at a birthday party; pointless and a waste of time.
If a man belongs, he belongs. It shouldn't matter the order they get in, as long as they get in.
So, the idea that is a horrible miscarriage of justice that Richard Dent is a Hall of Famer over Willie Roaf does not hold water with me. Roaf may have been more dominant, but the level of separation is not as vast or expansive as Jason Whitlock makes it out to be.
This is not a case of the Hall of Fame putting in a mediocre player instead of a great player. Richard Dent is a Super Bowl MVP, he's tied for sixth on the all-time sack list, had eight seasons with 10+ sacks, and lead the league in 1985 with 17. He has a case for the Hall of Fame.
I have no problem putting Richard Dent in Canton. Was he as dominant as Lawrence Taylor or Bruce Smith? No, he was not, but if we only put in the legends, the Hall of Fame would be a lot smaller.
Now, the idea that Ed Sabol, a contributor, does not need to take a spot over a player is a valid one. In 2009, we saw Ralph Wilson inducted into the Hall of Fame.
I'm sorry, but if I was a Bills fan, I'd want Andre Reed in over the team's owner. Owners and even coaches need to be put in a separate way away from the slots reserved for players.
However, Ed Sabol's impact on the NFL is greater than any single player's. Where would football be without NFL Films? The history of the game is recorded through Ed Sabol. What he has done has been nothing short of vital.
I made a mock NFL ballot located here and I voted for Ed Sabol for one very important reason. He's 94 years old.
The idea that he'll be around in ten years or even five years when hopefully the process has changed the way I would want it where contributors don't affect the players' spots is a long shot.
He deserves to tell the world on national television about how happy he is to receive this honor. He deserves that, so I think that to criticize his worthiness is without cause.
Also, I have to say that the idea of scrapping the senior committee is quite possibly one of the most illogical things I have ever heard. That committee helps correct mistakes. Even the voters, and Jason Whitlock too, are human.
Just so the readers understand, the senior committee is a group of prominent voters who look at players/coaches whose careers have ended over 25 years ago.
Some great players, who are unassuming and retire quietly slip through the cracks, and years later, writers see that these guys deserve busts in Canton too.
One of the greatest slip-ups was the omission of one of the first names you think of when you say the word, "football."
John Madden was inducted as a senior nominee in 2006. John Madden was not put in the Hall of Fame sooner because the voters were convinced that since he was so young when he retired, that he'd go back to coaching.
The years past and they realized that John Madden is still with us broadcasting, so the senior committee got a chance to put him in.
A Hall of Fame without John Madden is like a split without the banana. It just doesn't work.
If the Hall of Fame committee can make a mistake, then why should players pay for it? It's not like these two senior nominees are keeping Willie Roaf out of Canton.
They are either a yes or no vote. They do not affect the modern era finalists, so Jason Whitlock's shot at the senior committee is unfounded.
Lastly, I cannot even pretend to support Whitlock's idea of putting players as voters or the most successful teams as voters.
It would be the ultimate popularity contest. We'd have overrated players going into Canton, and other former players with grudges putting biased votes in the process. It is ridiculous.
Also, I'm secure in my football knowledge like Jason Whitlock to say that this class is worthy of induction.
I've never played high school ball because I didn't get into football until a few years ago, but I play semi-professional football in West Texas, so I feel comfortable enough to say that I know a player when I see one, and these guys deserved induction.
Is the system perfect? No. But, it isn't broken or corrupt enough to warrant such condescension from Jason Whitlock.