Seniors, contributors battle for a HOF place in Canton

This is the week the Pro Football Hall of Fame Senior and Contributor committees meet to nominate the 2018 finalists. The lists were long and so were the battles before the finalists emerged. Here's the inside view on what went down.

With the Pro Football Hall-of-Fame senior and contributor committees meeting this week in Canton, the Talk of Fame Network brings its listeners an insider’s view of the proceedings and the chances, both real and possible, of the men on those lists.

Co-hosts Ron Borges and Rick Gosselin serve on the senior committee, with Rick at Thursday's nominating meeting of five of the nine committee members. Rick and co-host Clark Judge serve on the contributor’s committee, with Clark in Canton this Friday. Nowhere else will you get the kind of insight these three can give you into why certain fan favorites are unlikely to survive the process, while others emerge as this year's nominees.

To get some perspective on one dark horse contributor’s candidacy, the guys visited with Hall-of-Fame linebacker Harry Carson. Carson was witness to ... and participant in ... the turnaround of the New York Giants under then-general manager George Young, who helped transform them from perennial losers into two-time Super Bowl winners and annual playoff contenders under Bill Parcells in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Carson had his contractual ups and downs negotiating with Young and admits that on the show. But he also argues forcefully that what Young accomplished in New York was as Hall-of-Fame worthy as the work of this year’s expected front runners: Former Redskins' and Chargers' GM Bobby Beathard, ex-Cowboys' scout and personnel director Gil Brandt, Denver Broncos’ owner Pat Bowlen and Patriots' owner Robert Kraft. In the end, Young reached the final thtree along with Bowlen and Beathard efore Beathard finally emerged as this year' contributor candidate. Why dd Young get so far? Here's Carson's take.

“I certainly was never in the room when they were discussing draft picks and how to build the team, but he was the guy at the top,’’ Carson said of Young. “He changed the culture of the team. It wasn’t just Bill Parcells.’’

As proof, Carson cited not only the draft choices made after Young’s arrival in 1979 but also his decision to give Parcells a second chance as head coach after going 3-12-1 in his first season as reasons.

“George was willing to give Parcells another opportunity to do things his way,’’ Carson said. “Parcells righted the ship and made changes that needed to be made. Look at the personnel and who (Young) brought in. If someone in heaven asked George if he belonged in the Hall of Fame, he’d say he didn’t need it to validate him. But I think he does warrant great consideration.’’

Former Dallas Texan and Kansas City Chiefs’ linebacker Smokey Stover feels the same way about senior candidate Johnny Robinson. Robinson was a member of the AFL’s all-time team, is the AFL career leader in interceptions with 57 and led both the AFL (1966) and NFL (1970) in interceptions with 10 each of those seasons.

Robinson was also a starter on both of the Chiefs’ Super Bowl teams, including its Super Bowl IV winner that overwhelmed the Minnesota Vikings to cement the AFL’s stature as a co-equal with the more established NFL.

“Johnny was one of the smartest players I ever played with,’’ Stover said of Robinson, who is in ill-health back in Louisiana, where he remains a football legend both from his professional career and his All-America days at LSU. “He knew what was happening before it happened.’’

Stover agrees with many who believe a number of ex-AFL players were slighted by the Hall’s voters when representatives of the old guard NFL teams held a 12-8 voting edge over those representing the original AFL teams -- an advantage that lasted until the post-merger expansion began to add new teams and new faces on the committee. The enmity between the established league and the AFL upstarts seemingly was passed on to at least some Hall-of-Fame voters in the early days of AFL eligibility for the Hall, and the proof seems to be right there in busts on display in Canton.

Only 12 of the 48 members of the all-time AFL team have been elected to the Hall of Fame, and, of those, only four of the 22 defensive players have been chosen. Was there a Hall-of-Fame conspiracy that held up Robinson’s rightful election for so long he faded from memory?

“I’d have to agree with you,’’ Stover said of the conspiracy theories. “The majority of guys I know who are up-to-date with football feel some of the earlier (AFL) players were held back … then time passes.’’

Yet time stood still Thursday for two former players when the senior committee brought out 11-time finalist Jerry Kramer and former All-Pro linebacker Robert Brazile. The guys go in depth into why Kramer, now 81, has been so long ignored despite having been selected as the only guard on the NFL's 50th anniversary team.

Whether Robinson ever passes through the doors of Canton remains to be seen, but, if he does, you can bet Smokey Stover will be standing there watching. But if Robinson doesn’t, you’ll hear no whining from him.

“He has no qualms about the way it’s happened,’’ Stover says of Robinson. “You’ll never hear him cursing or stomping the ground (over his exclusion). Johnny was always a cool-headed guy. And back here in Louisiana, Johnny Robinson is a legend. Everyone knows Johnny Robinson.’’

The same can’t be said for former San Francisco 49ers’ defensive tackle Bryant Young. But many who do remember him as a player wonder why he's never made it as a Hall-of-Fame semifinalist. Our guys visited with Young, who now coaches the Atlanta Falcons' defensive line, to discuss his chances and the difficulties of being recognized when playing defensive tackle.

Young was a four-time All-Pro, a member of the 1990s' all-decade team and the league’s Comeback Player of the Year in 1999. After suffering a devastating broken leg in 1998 that ended a season where he was leading all defensive tackles with 9 ½ sacks, Young faced a difficult rehab. He had a metal rod surgically inserted in his leg, yet came back the next year to record 11 sacks and a safety.

When Young retired, his 89.5 sacks were the fourth highest total amassed by a defensive tackle, trailing only Hall-of-Famers John Randle and Warren Sapp, as well as Denver’s Trevor Pryce.

Young doesn’t wonder why he isn’t in the Hall but is puzzled why his career hasn’t allowed him to at least advance to semi-final (top 25) status, a subject the Talk of Fame Network also finds surprising.

“It is a bit baffling,’’ Young said. “I look at the numbers and the span of my career, and it makes you wonder.’’

Young recalls his career, his nearly career-ending injury on a Monday Night game against the Giants and his battles with Cowboys’ Hall of Famer Larry Allen. He also explains the difference between playing and coaching his position and why defensive tackles like himself and first-time Hall of Fame nominee Richard Seymour have such a hard time being recognized at a position that has few statistics and demands unselfish play to be successful.

“When you’re doing your job, sometimes you’re the unsung hero doing the dirty work,’’ Young joked when asked about the defensive tackle’s lot in football life. “I once led the league in 'almost sacks,' if that’s a stat.’’

There’s all that, plus the two-minute drill and our guys handicapping the senior and contributor balloting. You can compare how they felt with the way things came out this week by tuning in to SB Nation Radio, downloading the free podcast at iTunes or the TuneIn app. You can also hear the show on our website, talkoffamenetworkcom.

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