The Hall of Fame selectors finally did what should have been done long ago, putting Art Monk into the Hall of Fame. But their work is far from done.
The 44 media members elected Monk and five other former players to the Hall of Fame on Saturday. Monk was joined by his longtime teammate, cornerback Darrell Green, in addition to defensive end Fred Dean, cornerback Emmitt Thomas, linebacker Andre Tippett and offensive tackle Gary Zimmerman. Those six will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 2.
This was the third straight year that the voters have elected six players, although they apparently could not get the required 80 percent votes for one more player to make it the new maximum of seven. That's too bad because there are too many worthy candidates and the list will only grow over the next few years.
Notably absent from this class are guys like Derrick Thomas, Cris Carter, Andre Reed and Randall McDaniel. Other finalists who didn't make it this year were Richard Dent, Russ Grimm, Ray Guy, Bob Keuchenberg, Paul Tagliabue, Randy Gradishar and senior nominee Marshall Goldberg.
Monk was the guy who had come the closest the longest - a finalist for eight straight years. Now Guy and Keuchenberg become the reigning bride's maids. Like Monk before them, Guy, a seven-time Pro Bowl punter for the Raiders, and Kuechenberg, a six-time Pro Bowler for Miami, now have reached the final round for eight years. The question is: Will these guys have much chance to get in over the next few years?
Now they have to compete not only with this year's finalists, but a host of stars from the 1980s and 1990s who are becoming eligible. Over the past six years, Jim Kelly, Marcus Allen, John Elway, Barry Sanders, Dan Marino, Steve Young, Troy Aikman, Warren Moon, Reggie White and Bruce Matthews have gone in on the first ballot. Green becomes the 61st member of that elite, first-ballot club, and there are more to come.
In 2009, Bruce Smith, Shannon Sharpe, Rod Woodson and John Randle will be eligible. Smith is a lock, and at least one of those other guys probably will make it, too.
The 2010 class will be another all-timer, as the league's career leaders in receiving and rushing, Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith, will be joined in eligibility by receiver Tim Brown and cornerback Aeneas Williams. If Rice, Smith and Brown don't go in on the first ballot, the reporters who don't vote for them need to be replaced.
In 2011, a trio of the league's top 10 running backs will be up for enshrinement: Marshall Faulk, Curtis Martin and Jerome Bettis. Also in that class will be perhaps the best cover corner ever, Deion Sanders.
That's as many as four deserving first-time candidates for three straight years, which would leave just three openings per year beyond that.
Thomas, Carter, Reed and McDaniel top the list of other two or three dozen other guys who merit consideration. But it looks like many of them will have to wait behind the recent stars who are about to become eligible.
(Cluff's Hall of Fame inductions for the next three years using the maximum seven selections per year)
2009: Bruce Smith, Shannon Sharpe, Rod Woodson, Cris Carter, Derrick Thomas, Andre Reed, Randall McDaniel.
2010: Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, Tim Brown, Aeneas Williams, John Randle, Ray Guy, Russ Grimm.
2011: Marshall Faulk, Curtis Martin, Jerome Bettis, Deion Sanders, Bob Kuechenberg, Cortez Kennedy, Neil Smith.