EDITOR'S NOTE: To access the latest Talk of Fame Network, please click on the following iTunes link ... then go to ... No.1: What Makes a First Ballot ..."
Now, more than ever, the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 48 selectors have a decision to make ... and, no, it's not Ty Law vs. Champ Bailey. Nope, this one runs deeper, and it has an impact on all individuals in the next three classes.
Essentially, the question is this: How much do you favor the queue of qualified candidates waiting on Canton ... especially when it comes to first-ballot contenders?
That's the subject of the latest Talk of Fame Network podcast, with our three Hall-of-Fame voters -- Clark Judge, Rick Gosselin and Ron Borges -- debating the cost of rushing in candidates at the expense of those waiting in line for years.
It's a topic that demands attention in the wake of latest vote when five modern-era candidates with a combined eight years of eligibility were elected. There were three first-ballot choices, one second and a third with just three years of eligibility.
And that was it. It was the youngest class in anyone's memory, and it provoked a debate as to why? As in why did we ignore the line of qualified candidates who had been waiting ... in two cases, at least, for 20 years each ... for five guys who had a combined 92 years of eligibility left.
The easy answer, of course, is: Because they were more qualified. Period.
OK, fine. But wait a minute: You going to tell me that Joe Jacoby, the all-decade tackle for Washington who started on three Super Bowl champions and was part of one of the greatest offensive lines in NFL history, wasn't worth saving in his last year of modern-era eligibility?
Voters gave you their answer. Jacoby didn't make the first cut.
What about offensive linemen Kevin Mawae or Allen Faneca, first-team all-decade choices who were each eight-time All-Pros and waited at least three years (Mawae was in his fourth year of eligibility)? Nope. Or Tony Boselli, an all-decade tackle, the first player chosen to Jacksonville's Pride of the Jaguars (their Hall of Fame) and someone in his 12th year of eligibility?
Instead, we inducted three first-ballot choices -- including two at one position -- and get used to it. The Hall has. In fact, of the 80 first-ballot choices in its history, 32 ... or 40 percent ... have been elected since 2000. But more than that, 18 ... or 22.5 percent ... were elected in the past 10 years, including five the past two.
Dating back to 1997, there's only been one year (2012) without a first-ballot Hall of Famer and three years where they were three ... and some people are OK with that. But tell me why we couldn't wait to induct Jason Taylor a year ago when Kevin Greene, who had 20-1/2 more career sacks than Taylor and more, period (160), than all but two players (Bruce Smith and Reggie White), had to wait 12 years to reach the Hall? And tell me why we told all-decade guard Jerry Kramer, the only player on the NFL's 50th anniversary team not in Canton, to sit down 45 years before getting a call?
There are two sides to the debate, and it's one that will be front and center the next three years when candidates like Ed Reed, Tony Gonzalez, Champ Bailey, Troy Polamalu, Peyton Manning, Charles Woodson and Calvin Johnson become eligible.