By Clark Judge
Talk of Fame Network
ARLINGTON, Va. -- For decades, the Pro Football Hall of Fame honored the players and coaches who were part of the NFL's most successful franchises. But that changed Wednesday when the Hall broke from tradition and went in another direction.
It recognized the builders of those franchises. It chose former GMs Bill Polian and Ron Wolf as finalists for the Class of 2015.
The two were chosen from a pool of 11 finalists by the Hall's nine-member contributors committee after nearly six hours of debate here, and they are part of history. Both were selected for the first-ever contributors category, a separate designation reserved for all but coaches and players.
"Wow! What an honor," an emotional Wolf said when contacted. "I'm overwhelmed. I realized none of this would be possible without an awful lot of support from a lot of other people. To me, it's more or less an organizational thing than just one individual. I never could have achieved this status without their help. It's hard to describe what I'm feeling right now. It's one of those things where you think something like this could never happen to someone like myself."
Well, it never could. Until the Hall this summer designated a separate contributors category, Wolf and Polian had little chance for election to the Hall. That's because GMs, team presidents and personnel directors had to compete with players and coaches for seven spots -- five of which are reserved for modern-era candidates -- and weren't what you'd call successful
Over the last 47 years only nine contributors were elected, with two still alive.
"I'm in tall cotton," said Wolf.
Wolf, who worked for years as Al Davis' first lieutenant in Oakland, rebuilt the Green Bay Packers in the 1990s to a Super Bowl champion through shrewd moves like the hiring of Mike Holmgren as coach, the signing of free-agent defensive end Reggie White and the trade for quarterback Brett Favre. In his nine years as Green Bay's general manager, his teams were 92-52 and went to the playoffs six straight times. Only the San Francisco 49ers had a better record during that period.
Polian built the Buffalo Bills into a championship team that went to four straight Super Bowls in the 1990s, turned an expansion team (Carolina) into a conference championship contestant in only its second year and won a Super Bowl with Indianapolis. In 24 years as a general manager, his teams went to the playoffs 17 times, including eight conference championship games, and five Super Bowls. He was also named Executive of the Year six times.
"I'm speechless," he said when told of his selection. "It's an incredible honor I never envisioned happening. I'm shocked, I guess, is all I can say. For someone who works in the media (he works with ESPN), I can't find words."
Polian and Wolf will be presented to the Hall of Fame's board of 46 selectors on Jan. 31. If they gain 37 of the room's 46 votes, they will be inducted to the Class of 2015.