There have been internal discussions in Canton about the Pro Football Hall of Fame celebrating the 100th anniversary of the NFL in 2020 with an expanded slate of enshrinees, a “centennial” class.
In addition to the annual slate of eight candidates – five modern-era, two seniors and one contributor – there would still be an undetermined number of senior candidates added to such a centennial class. As a member of the senior subcommittee, the more extra slots the Hall can create in this class, the better.
We call the senior committee the abyss because everyone in it is a longshot. The senior enshrinee in the Class of 2019, Kansas City safety Johnny Robinson, waited 43 years to get his ticket punched for Canton. A senior enshrinee in the Class of 2018, Green Bay guard Jerry Kramer, waited 45 years for his bust.
Why is the senior pool an abyss? Because there are way too many qualified candidates and way too few slots. Players have slipped through the cracks of the selection process without ever receiving a fair accounting of their careers. There are 65 all-decade players currently in the senior pool and only seven of them had a turn as a finalist to have their careers discussed and debated as Hall of Fame candidates.
In addition, there are 11 players who did not make an all-decade team but were voted to seven or more Pro Bowls in the senior pool. That’s 76 senior candidates right there worthy of Hall of Fame discussion. Yet the senior committee annually can submit only one or two nominations per year. As you can see, the logjam is thick.
Whether the Hall offers up an extra five, 10, 15 or 20 senior candidates in the centennial class, there are seven players who should be on the front-burner for those available slots: receivers Lavern Dilweg and Drew Pearson, tackles Jimbo Covert and Al Wistert, guard Bruno Banducci and Ox Emerson and safety Cliff Harris.
There have been 145 position players selected first-team all-decade in the NFL’s first nine decades. Historically, that’s a rubber-stamp to Canton – 93.1 percent of all first-team all-decade players now have busts in Canton. Only 10 have not been enshrined. Seven of the 10 were mentioned above. All are in the senior pool and would be eligible for a centennial class. The other three – tackle Tony Boselli and safeties Steve Atwater and LeRoy Butler -- still have modern-era eligibility left.
There have been 17 wide receivers selected first team all-decade since 1930. Sixteen of them now have busts in Canton and 10 of them were elected on the first ballot. Pearson has been the lone omission – and he has never even been a finalist for his career to be discussed by the full selection committee.
Every first-team all-decade position player from the 1950s and 1960s has been enshrined in Canton. Pearson and his Dallas teammate Harris are the only two members of the 1970s all-decade first team that have not been elected to the Hall, and Covert is the lone first-team selection from the 1980s still without a bust.
If you are deemed by this same Hall of Fame selection committee as one of the best players of your era with that coveted first-team all-decade designation, you deserve to have your career scrutinized as to where it fits among the game’s greats. Dilweg, Emerson, Banducci and Wistert have all been denied that scrutiny to this point. None of the four has ever been a finalist. Dilweg played for Green Bay in the 1920s, Emerson with Detroit in the 1930s and Banducci with San Francisco and Wistert with Philadelphia, both in the 1940s.
Somehow, the rubber stamp has eluded those seven senior candidates. That has left some unfinished business with the NFL all-decade teams. That's unfinished business with these seven players. Hopefully that centennial class can finish up that business.