On the clock: The countdown to Hall's Class of 2016 begins

The Hall of Fame's board of selectors meets Saturday morning to determine the inductees for the Class of 2016, and there is plenty of speculation over what happens next. But that's why we're here. We're inside the room, and we've got the latest handicapping for this year's class.

Photo courtesy of the Green Bay Packers
Photo courtesy of the Green Bay Packers

(Photo courtesy of the Green Bay Packers)

By Clark Judge

Talk of Fame Network

There are two certainties about the voting for the Hall-of-Fame’s Class of 2016: 1) Brett Favre is a lock and 2) so is trench warfare over Terrell Owens.

Both are first-time candidates, with Favre a cinch to go in. But Owens? Not so much. There are 46 voters on the Hall’s board of selectors, and they’re sharply divided on the former wide receiver. That guarantees nothing more than another long day, though the Hall wants all business finished by 5:30 p.m. EST.

So what happens? For months, we’ve told you how this could fall, and now that we’re a day away the predictions haven’t changed. There’s one dead-bolt cinch, three frontrunners and a wild card that could … and maybe should … come down to two candidates.

THE SURE THING

There’s no need for Brett Favre’s presenter, Pete Daugherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, to say anything more about the quarterback than his name. Favre’s record says it all. It’s going to be a long day, and we all know Favre goes in. So let’s save the rhetoric for everyone else.

THE FRONTRUNNERS

Kevin Greene

(Photo courtesy of the Carolina Panthers)

That leaves four spots. Hall of Fame GM Bill Polian told the Talk of Fame Network that Kevin Greene, Marvin Harrison and Orlando Pace are “locks” for the Class of 2016, and while that’s not exactly accurate it’s pretty close. Next to Favre, Greene is the most attractive candidate, with the third-most sacks (160) in NFL history. Harrison and Pace are equally strong candidates, with all surviving the cut from 15 to 10 a year ago.

THE WILD CARD

Photo courtesy of the Arizona Cardinals
Photo courtesy of the Arizona Cardinals

(Photo courtesy of the Arizona Cardinals)

Now we’re down to the fifth modern-era position, with former coach Tony Dungy and former quarterback Kurt Warner the most likely. Each made the cut from 15 to 10 a year ago, and both are on this year’s short list. But Warner’s chances might be compromised by Favre, with the board reluctant to induct two quarterbacks in the same class. That doesn’t mean it can’t happen … because it has. In 2006, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon made it. A year before, it was Steve Young and Dan Marino. But that's not all. Warner's career is shaped like a doughnut, with a big hole in the middle. The good news? Look what happened at either end. He raised the Titanic ... twice. Dungy faces a different hurdle. Several selectors voiced concern with his one Lombardi Trophy, wondering what precedent it might set for others who follow. Answer: None. John Madden won one, and he’s in. George Allen won none, and he’s in. Dungy’s impact goes far beyond championships, not only as the first African-American coach to win a Super Bowl but as someone whom Hall-of-Fame GM Bill Polian called “the conscience” of the NFL.

THE LIGHTNING ROD

Terrell Owens photo courtesy San Francisco 49ers
Terrell Owens photo courtesy San Francisco 49ers

(Photo courtesy of the San Francisco 49ers)

Terrell Owens, come on down. You either love him, or hate him, and, trust me, people in each camp will be heard Saturday. Owens is a first-time candidate, and his presentation is expected to consume the most time and emotion. Owens is attractive because of big career numbers, but here’s a compelling number you won’t find on his resume: Zero. That’s the number of teams that wanted to keep him at the top of his career. When we asked Polian about Owens, he said, “The Hall of Fame ought to be for people who’ve made their teams better; not who disrupted their teams and made them worse.” Ouch. Former GM Dwight Clark, who drafted Owens, appeared on the Talk of Fame Network Super Bowl 50 special Wednesday and said he, too, wouldn’t put Owens in the Hall. Then I ran into a Hall-of-Fame quarterback a day later and asked him about T.O. "Productive player," he said, "but a cancer." As I said, you either love him or hate him. There is no in-between.

WORTH CONSIDERATION …

Joe Jacoby photo curtesy of Washington Redskins
(Courtesy Of The Washington Redskins)

Tackle Joe Jacoby is a finalist for the first time, and there’s a feeling his candidacy might be gaining steam. But he has Pace ahead of him, and that’s a problem. Two tackles in one class? Don’t think so. Safety Steve Atwater is an intriguing case. He, too, is another finalist for the first time, but there are a couple of problems there, too. One is John Lynch. He’s a Hall-of-Fame finalist for the third time, and he plays the same position. The second is that position: Safety. There hasn’t been one elected since Paul Krause in 1998, and he’s the NFL career interception leader. And it took him 14 years to get in. Also, there hasn’t been one who played since Kenny Houston in 1980.

THE OUTSIDERS

Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts
Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts

(Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts)

Next to Favre, kicker Morten Andersen might have the most complete resume in this group. But the league’s all-time leading scorer is a specialist. So what? So the board doesn’t warm up to specialists. There’s one kicker in the Hall, and punter Ray Guy – a member of the NFL’s 75th anniversary team – had to wait 25 years before getting in. Running back Terrell Davis is a finalist for the second straight year, but an abbreviated career – no matter how sterling – damages his chances. Like Andersen, he didn’t advance to the final 10 a year ago. Running back Edgerrin James is a first-time finalist, and while he thinks he belongs in the Hall the board may not agree. Not yet, anyway. Alan Faneca is another first-time candidate, and his background is impressive. But he’s a first-ballot guard, and the board of selectors is almost as cool on guards as it is safeties. So a first-time candidate at that position? Going to be tough. Then there’s coach Don Coryell, and while there are people within the room who believe he should’ve been in years ago, there aren’t enough of them. He’s never made it to the final 10 in two previous tries, and he won’t this year.

ED DEBARTOLO, JR.

Photo courtesy of Edward DeBartolo Jr.
Photo courtesy of Edward DeBartolo Jr.

(Photo courtesy of Ed DeBartolo Jr.)

After three turns as a finalist, the former owner of the San Francisco 49ers is back – but this time as a contributor candidate. That helps his case. He’s not competing against players and coaches for one of five spots, and he’s subjected to a simple yes or no vote. The site of this year’s Super Bowl doesn’t hurt, either. Yeah, OK, so that shouldn’t be a factor, but tell me voters block it out … because they won’t. The vote is expected to be close, but there's a feeling that this is the time and place for his induction.

KEN STABLER and DICK STANFEL

Photo courtesy of Oakland Raiders
Photo courtesy of Oakland Raiders

(Photo courtesy of the Oakland Raiders)

After three tries as a finalist, Stabler returns as a candidate seven months after his death. Like it or not, his passing makes him a sympathetic choice. It sent him to the head of the senior class, with voters suddenly aware that a deserving candidate had been overlooked. Look for another close vote, though the smart money is on his making it. Stanfel is a much more difficult choice, with the former offensive lineman rejected twice as a senior candidate – the second time only three years ago. This is the first time in the Hall’s history a senior candidate has returned three times, which shows a conviction by the sub-committee that chose him. Now let’s see if the board agrees.

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