Despite stiff competition at his position, former offensive lineman Joe Jacoby was supposed to have his best chance of reaching the Pro Football Hall of Fame this month. Other than running back LaDainian Tomlinson and quarterback Kurt Warner, the field was wide open, with Jacoby an early favorite to join them in the Class of 2017.
Except he didn't.
Not only did Jacoby miss the final cut; he missed the first one from 15 modern-era candidates to 10, with two of the four offensive-line candidates moving past him. And that's trouble for Joe Jacoby. Deep trouble. Because unlike all the others discussed last weekend, the clock is running out on his Hall-of-Fame candidacy.
Look, this isn’t Terrell Owens, in his second year of eligibility, and this isn’t Isaac Bruce, in his third, or Brian Dawkins in his first. Nope, this is a guy who was in his 19th, and that’s the issue.
Because if Joe Jacoby is not elected as a modern-era candidate in 2018, he moves out of the shallow end of the pool into the wild, blue yonder – otherwise defined as the senior pool of candidates. That list is reserved for players out of the game more than 25 seasons – meaning a five-year waiting period and 20 years or more of eligibility -- and it is exactly where you do not want to go.
Reason? The chances are good you never get out.
And that’s another issue completely. There are too many – way too many – deserving candidates who have been forgotten as seniors. Guys like safety Johnny Robinson, guard Jerry Kramer, wide receiver Drew Pearson, tackle Al Wistert, safety Cliff Harris and quarterbacks Ken Anderson and Jim Plunkett.
And that's just the beginning.
There are 101 candidates from all-decade teams of the 1920s through the 1990s who are not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And that includes Kramer, a starting guard on the Hall's 50th anniversary team, and Billy "White Shoes" Johnson who was an all-decade choice (twice, no less) and the return specialist on the 75th anniversary team.
Johnson is the only member of that squad not enshrined.
So let's just say Jacoby is not elected in 2018. He then moves out of the modern-era category to join all-decade tackles Jimbo Covert and Ralph Neely on the island of forgotten players. Those three are the only all-decade tackles from the 1950s, 1960s, '70s or '80s not enshrined in Canton, and tell me you like their chances of getting senior nominations when guys like Robert Brazile, Maxie Baughan, Alex Karras, L.C. Greenwood and Harvey Martin have been waiting.
The sad truth is: There are too many deserving Hall-of-Fame candidates who have been lost as seniors and who need to be recognized. But until or unless the system is tweaked or overhauled, that won't happen, and luminaries like Kramer, Covert, Pearson and Robinson will continue to be ignored.
Jacoby, too, unless his candidacy somehow regains momentum in 2018. But how does that happen? He was a first-time finalist in 2016 in his 18th year of eligibility, which was something of a surprise. And then, after his case was heard, he made the cut to the Top 10 – identifying him as a sleeper for the Class of 2017.
Except he wasn’t. With three other offensive linemen as finalists, Jacoby went backward instead of forward – finishing out of the Top 10. Worse, two offensive linemen who were first-time finalists –tackle Tony Boselli and center Kevin Mawae – surged past him into the final 10.
So that means that, unless voters change dramatically for 2018, the room favors two offensive linemen -- including a tackle -- over Jacoby. That’s strike number one.
Now, look at the field for 2018. It includes first-time eligibles Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, Randy Moss, Steve Hutchinson, Ronde Barber and Richard Seymour – all all-decade choices, with Lewis a virtual slam-dunk to get in. That's more than a minefield. It’s strike number two.
So, wait a minute. If Joe Jacoby's candidacy doesn’t regain its footing in the face of overwhelming odds while in his last year of eligibility as a modern-era candidate, then what?
Well, then, it's strike number three.