The National Football League (NFL) playoffs are in full swing, with twelve teams fighting for a spot in the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl will mark the end of another NFL season for players and fans. This time of year also marks another cherished event for an elite group of the game’s historic past.
During the playoffs, the NFL begins the process of determining the next inductees into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Located in Canton Ohio, the Hall of Fame celebrates the greatest players in the history of the sport. On Friday, the list of candidates was whittled down to the final 15, with February 1 set as the date for voters to cast their ballot.
Four of the finalists are first year nominees. Walter Jones was a massive tackle for the Seattle Seahawks, playing 13 seasons with the club. He was a perennial Pro Bowler and made several All-Pro teams. The other three first timers share a special connection.
Linebacker Derrick Brooks was drafted by Tampa Bay while Tony Dungy was at the helm. Dungy set Brooks on his path to greatness, before moving on to Indianapolis. In Indianapolis, Dungy won his only Super Bowl title but made the Colts into contenders for more than a decade.
That run of success is what got Dungy on to the list of 15 nominees for enshrinement. In another testament to his greatness, Marvin Harrison is also on the ballot. Harrison played his entire career with Indianapolis, helping to make Peyton Manning the first ballot Hall of Famer he will eventually become. He finished his career with 1102 receptions and 128 touchdowns.
Several players that were on the ballot last year, but did not make it are back in the final 15 this year. Two time Super Bowl champ and television personality Michael Strahan returns to the finalists, along with kicker Morten Anderson and Tampa Bay safety John Lynch.
Along with Harrison, two other wide receivers are trying to break through this year. For whatever reason, wide receivers have had a hard time cracking the Hall in recent times. Perhaps in this era of prolific passing, gaudy numbers are not enough for the voters. Buffalo Bill Andre Reed is on the ballot for a ninth consecutive year while Tim Brown of Oakland Raider fame is trying for a fifth time.
On the defensive side of the ball, Charles Haley will try to earn enshrinement on his tenth attempt. Haley won Super Bowls with two different clubs, and had the distinction of being the star on two great defensive fronts in San Francisco and Dallas. Arizona Cardinal cornerback Aeneas Williams made the cut once again, along with sack master linebacker Kevin Greene, who is also on the list for the tenth time.
The only front office member to make the final 15 is former 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo Jr. DeBartolo was the owner during the Bill Walsh days, when the 49ers were a bit of a dynasty. Behind Walsh’s innovative schemes, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Steve Young became Hall of Famers. Kansas City offensive lineman Will Shields and Pittsburgh running back Jerome Bettis round out the list.
Notable names not making the cut include Paul Tagliabue, former commissioner of the NFL. Tagliabue was the man that saw the league through its best economic times. He also was celebrated for being able to keep labor peace during his reign. One would think those facts alone make him a Hall of Famer, but the voters seem to see things differently.