Debating the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Who Truly Deserves Induction?

I belong to several old-school football groups on Facebook, and one of the biggest topics of discussion is who should and shouldn’t be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Everyone has an opinion about who’s worthy of having their bust placed in the Hallowed Hall.

If the HOF voting committee took all of these opinions seriously, half of the players who ever played pro football would be in Canton.


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Only Elite Should Be Inducted

Personally, I prefer a Hall of Fame where only the truly elite get inducted. If there needs to be a debate about whether a player should get in, he probably doesn’t belong. Here are a few examples of elite players — guys you don’t need to debate.

Bob Lilly, Dick Butkus, Ronnie Lott, Jim Brown, John Hannah, Paul Warfield, Johnny Unitas. These are players you don’t need to think twice about inducting. They are the best of the best, and we don’t need to debate about it.

Dick Butkus and Joe Greene
Photo courtesy Mark Morthier's private collection of Dick Butkus and Joe Greene football cards

Whenever I see someone comment that (fill in the blank) should be in the Hall of Fame, I think, “Here we go again.” It drives me crazy more than it should. I’ve written and talked about it numerous times. So, I have to ask, why do we make the Hall of Fame so important? I don’t mean the museum itself; I mean the topic of who gets inducted and who doesn’t. 

Why do so many fans act like it’s the end all be all? First, don’t they realize there is a limit to how many people they can induct each year? Secondly, why do so many fans act like it’s the ultimate disrespect if someone they deem worthy is not selected? I’ve heard fans say, “It’s a travesty that he’s not in the Hall of Fame.” A travesty? Really? Isn’t that overstating it a bit? 

Thousands of players and hundreds of coaches had great careers in pro football, and we need to accept that not all of them will get a bust in Canton. It’s just not possible. It’s easy to criticize the voting committee, but they have a tough job, and despite what fans think, they can’t vote for everyone. Fifty-two new members have been enshrined in the last five years, but still, some fans will complain that their guy didn’t get in.

Comparing Hall of Fames

The Baseball Hall of Fame seems a little more selective about who gets inducted. Consider the comparison. The Pro Football Hall of Fame, which opened in 1963, has 371 inductees, while the Baseball Hall of Fame, which opened in 1936, has only 346 members.

Of course, you can argue that a football team has a lot more players than a baseball team. Still, I think baseball is more selective, especially regarding inducting people in their first year of eligibility. Baseball has selected only 60 inductees in their first year of eligibility, while football has chosen 92.

Maybe the whole idea of putting a select group on a pedestal wasn’t such a great idea in the first place. I don’t judge a player’s career by whether or not he’s in the Hall of Fame. I’ve had the pleasure of watching many great players over the years. Some made it to Canton, and some didn’t. I’m glad I was fortunate enough to see them play, and I couldn’t care less if they are in the Hall of Fame or not.

What about all the great players and coaches who may never get inducted? Are their contributions to pro football and their respective teams any less important or impressive just because they’re not in the Hall? How many of those players and coaches played a significant role in helping their team win a Championship or Super Bowl?

Isn’t that more important than having your bust in Canton? After all, it is a team game. I’ve heard many players say that as much of an honor it is to get inducted, they would have rather won a Championship or Super Bowl.

Former greats like Mark Bavaro and Ed Jones helped their teams win Super Bowls but will likely never get their busts in Canton.

Mark Bavaro (Tight End) New York Giants football card - Topps All Pro
Photo courtesy Mark Morthier's private collection of Mark Bavaro (Tight End) New York Giants football card - Topps All Pro
Ed "Too Tall" Jones (Defensive End) Dallas Cowboys
Photo courtesy Mark Morthier's private collection of Ed "Too Tall" Jones (Defensive End) Dallas Cowboys

I’ve visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame several times. It’s a great place to learn the history of a great game, get a close-up look at some game-used equipment, and learn about the players, coaches, and others who gave so much to the game. While I’d recommend visiting the Hall to any football fan, I wonder if some fans ruin it for themselves by focusing more on who’s in and who’s not instead of just enjoying it.

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

But, for me, I’d rather 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


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