The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced the 27 modern era semifinalists for the 2013 induction class late last week. Unlike the balloting for the baseball Hall of Fame, which often generates significant steroid-tinged strum and drang, the Pro Football HoF finalists receive minor fanfare and muted debate. A selection committee of 46 distinguished sportswriters will whittle the list from 25 to 15 to 10, and then to five, and finally vote to determine which of the five can earn the 80% majority vote for enshrinement. In the process, the selection committee will invariably foul up, badly.
I know several members of the committee, and individually they are knowledgeable and passionate about the NFL and its history. As a group, though, the committee acts like Congress, except with no transparency and bigger egos. Veteran observers of the Hall of Fame selection process know that for players who fall below the Joe Montana level of obviousness, enshrinement rests on uneasy truces among Balkanized fiefdoms of experts fiercely loyal to certain regions, eras, or players.
Grudges linger forever, and idiosyncratic table tendencies linger longer. There are “pet project” players who never fall off the ballot. There is lobbying. There are nutty assertions and backwards attitudes. Worst of all, there is a huge backlog of worthy players, and it is only getting larger.