Tagliabue, Jones named HOF's 2017 contributor candidates

Paul Tagliabue and Jerry Jones were named Tuesday as the Hall of Fame's contributor candidates for the Class of 2017.

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(Jerry Jones photo courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys)

By Clark Judge

Talk of Fame Network

The NFL contributor committee on Tuesday named former commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Dallas Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones as its nominees for the Class of 2017. Now comes the hard part.

Getting them in.

Tagliabue was a Hall-of-Fame finalist three times (2007-09), while Jones is a first-time nominee -- and there's no guarantee that both gain admission to Canton.

Of the two, Jones will be the easier sell. He was considered a leading candidate going into Tuesday's vote. But Tagliabue? Not so much, and for this reason: His candidacy has been marked by long, impassioned and contentious discussions among Hall-of-Fame voters, who seem deeply divided on him -- with the former commissioner failing to make it to Canton three times before disappearing from the Hall-of-Fame radar.

Moreover, the last two times he was a finalist -- 2008-09 -- he didn't make the cut from 15 to 10.

Nevertheless, maybe this is the ticket. It was for former San Francisco owner Eddie DeBartolo, who also was a modern-era finalist three times before the contributor category was created in 2014. As the contributor candidate, DeBartolo was chosen as one of eight members to the Hall's Class of 2016 ... so maybe he opens the door for Tagliabue to follow.

"I'm deeply appreciative of the vote from the selection committee," Tagliabue said shortly after he learned of his nomination.

Tagliabue's accomplishments include growing the league, establishing overseas markets, constructing 20 new stadiums and launching historic TV deals that rank as the biggest in NFL history. What's more, he fashioned labor agreements that became the model for future generations and kept labor peace throughout his 17 years as commissioners -- a remarkable accomplishment in this era of professional sports.

So what's the problem? He lost Los Angeles as a market. He also lost Cleveland. There was no new stadium construction in California, home to what became the three worst parks in the league. And the 2006 collective bargaining agreement that was settled at the last minute to avoid a strike was considered so bad for owners that they jumped at the first chance to opt out -- a move that led to the 2011 lockout on the watch of Roger Goodell, Tagliabue's successor.

Jones, who restored winning to the Cowboys after buying the team in 1989, was an early favorite for one of the two spots because of his success in reconstructing a storied franchise -- a club that won three Super Bowls in four years in the 1990s and nine division titles under his ownership -- and because of his impact on the NFL in marketing and promotion, both areas where he is a league leader.

Nevertheless, he was surprised when notified of his nomination, calling it "a wonderful feeling" and "a time-honored day in my life."

"Oh, my God," Jones said on a conference call with the Hall and its five-man contributor sub-committee. "Oh, man, man, man, man. Well, I forgive you all for every bad thing you've ever written about me. You're going in my will."

That drew a laugh. But Jones' tone changed immediately.

"I'm can't tell you how humbled and grateful I feel," he said. I told somebody it hardly seems fair to just have the thrill and the lift that it's been in my life to join you guys in the world of sport and to join you in the NFL. I was walk-on before I got to join you guys and join (an) NFL that lifted me beyond anything I could ever think about. Thank you. "

To be elected, Jones and Tagliabue each must gain 80 percent of the vote of the Hall's 48-man selection committee next February. That group will meet Feb. 4, 2017, the day before Super Bowl LI, and decide on 18 candidates -- Tagliabue, Jones and senior nominee, Kenny Easley -- as well as 15 modern-era finalists who have yet to be named.

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