The Pro Football Hall of Fame (From My Perspective)

Another year of Hall of Fame selections has come and gone. Soon the induction ceremonies will be just a memory, and it will be time once again for the endless debate about who should be on next year’s ballot.

“_______ (fill in the blank) should be in the Hall of Fame” It’s a phrase I’ve heard more times than I care to remember. It seems just about everyone has an opinion on who’s worthy of having their bust placed in the hallowed Hall. If the HOF committee took all of these opinions seriously, half the players who ever stepped on the field would be in Canton.

But issues facing the Hall go far beyond who should get selected in 2022–or any year, for that matter. Answers to fundamental questions are elusive: Who gets in? Why? When?

It seems that pro baseball does a better job of answering those questions.

Baseball Hall of Fame Compared to Football

Consider the comparison. This year the Pro Football Hall of Fame committee selected eight new members. In contrast, the baseball Hall of Fame committee chose only three new members. As for history, the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which opened in 1963, has 354 inductees, while baseball’s Hall of Fame, which opened in 1936, has only 336 members.

You can, of course, make the argument that the NFL has a lot more players than MLB. Still, I’ve always believed that the Hall of Fame should be reserved for elite players only. Pro baseball has tried to hold to that premise, while pro football seems to have gotten away from it.

It also seems that football players from the 1970s, 1960s, and earlier are quickly forgotten. In contrast, modern-day players are ushered in quickly, some in only their first or second year of eligibility. Is it because they have impressive stats and big numbers? Is it because many are still in the limelight? Why the big rush to get modern-day players into the Hall so quickly?

Why The Rush?

Until recently, players had to wait their turn, no matter how deserving they were. Take Green Bay’s Herb Adderley, who played from 1961–1972. He’s considered by many to be the best all-around cornerback ever to play the game. But Adderley wasn’t voted into the Hall until his third year of eligibility.

Mel Renfro is another example. He had to wait until his fourteenth year of eligibility.
Renfro, who played for the Dallas Cowboys from 1964–1977, played in eight NFL/NFC Championships (winning four of them) while also winning two Super Bowls. He played cornerback, safety, punt returner, kick returner, and even had a brief stint at RB in 1966.

In his rookie year, he not only led the team with seven interceptions, but he also led the League in return yardage. He had 52 career interceptions, was voted All-Pro five times, was voted to the Pro Bowl ten years in a row (winning the MVP in 1970), and was only the fifth player in Dallas Cowboys history inducted into that team’s Ring of Honor (1981).

Yet, somehow, even with all of those impressive credentials, he had to wait 14 years to get his bust in Canton!

    My Suggestions

    What can we do to improve the selection process? Here are some suggestions.

    1- As it stands right now, the Senior’s Committee can only select two players or coaches each year who retired before 1985. I believe they need to increase that number to at least three per year. Last year, in an effort to make up for forgetting about those from pre-1985, they went too far and selected ten members.

    2- I also think the committee should consider allowing only one non-player into the Hall per year. I’m not saying that coaches, owners, GMs, and other non-players shouldn’t have a place in Canton, but I think the players should take precedence over non-players.

    3- The voting committee needs to get back to a mentality of selecting only the players who were dominant at their respective position. I believe there should be a limit of six inductees per year.

    My Visits

    I’ve visited both the football and baseball Hall of Fame several times. They are terrific places to learn the history of two great sports and learn about great players who played and great coaches who coached. While I’d recommend visiting the Hall of Fame to any sports fan, I also wonder if we overhype its importance.

    What about all the great players and coaches who may never get inducted? Are their contributions to the NFL–and to their respective teams–any less important or impressive just because they’re not in the Hall? Certainly not!

    In the end, who gets in and doesn’t get in is always a matter of opinion. Each year the debate begins anew.

    But, for me, I’d prefer to cherish the memories.

    Mark Morthier is the host of Yesterday’s Sports, a podcast dedicated to reliving memorable sports moments from his childhood days and beyond.  He grew up in New Jersey just across from New York City, so many of his episodes revolve around the great sport’s teams of the 70s for the New York area. 

    He is also an author of No Nonsense, Old School Weight Training (Second Edition): A Guide for People with Limited Time and Running Wild: (Growing Up in the 1970s)

    Mark Morthier headshot - host of Yesterday's Sports podcast on the Sports History Network
    Photo Courtesy: Mark Morthier
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