In 2006, more than 2,100 players suited up for NFL games. Halfback LaDainian Tomlinson of the San Diego Chargers was voted the very best of those players that season.
That put Tomlinson in select company. More than 25,000 players have suited up for games in NFL history. Only 49 of them have ever been voted the most valuable player in a single season. Granted, the NFL has only identified MVPs since 1957. Still, 49 MVPs in 62 seasons creates an exclusive fraternity of some of the greatest names in the game’s history: Jim Brown, Johnny Unitas, Walter Payton, Lawrence Taylor, Joe Montana, Brett Favre, Payton Manning, Tom Brady…
So it was little wonder Tomlinson was elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot when he became eligible in 2017.
If you are chosen as the league’s best player in any given season, you have accomplished something few of your peers have accomplished. That said, does the best player in a given season belong in the conversation of the best players in the game’s history?
I believe so – and so, apparently, do many of my peers on the Hall of Fame’s selection committee. Eighteen NFL MVPs have become first ballot Hall of Famers. Eleven more have been enshrined on subsequent ballots. Four are currently in the modern-era pool – Boomer Esiason, Rich Gannon, Steve McNair and Shaun Alexander – and seven others are not yet eligible (Manning, Brady, Rodgers…)
That leaves 10 former NFL MVPs in the senior pool and only two of them have been finalists to have their careers discussed and debated -- quarterbacks Charlie Conerly and Ken Anderson. Conerly, the 1959 MVP, has been a finalist seven times and Anderson, the 1981 MVP, has been in the room twice.
That leaves eight former MVPs in the senior pool whose candidacies have never received the courtesy of a trip to the finals: quarterbacks Earl Morrall (1968), Roman Gabriel (1969), John Brodie (1970), Bert Jones (1976), Brian Sipe (1980) and Joe Theismann (1983), halfback Larry Brown (1972) and kicker Mark Moseley (1982).
And this is the problem I have with the Hall of Fame selection process – not enough qualified candidates are cycled through the room for discussion.
There are 65 all-decade players currently in the senior pool. All deserved a turn in the room as finalist to have their careers discussed in context with the greatest players in the game’s history. But only seven have been finalists, leaving 58 all-decade players whose careers have never been scrutinized by the Hall’s selection committee.
Add the eight former MVPs whose careers have been denied discussion – and that’s 66 candidates worthy of Hall of Fame discussion who have never had that chance.
There are only three pure kicking specialists enshrined in Canton. Does another kicker belong in the Hall of Fame? As a former MVP, Moseley deserves that consideration.
There are 47 running backs with busts in Canton, the most of any position. Does another running back belong in the Hall of Fame? As a former MVP, Brown deserves that discussion.
There are 33 quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame, second most of any position. Does another quarterback or two from a quarter century or more ago belong in the Hall of Fame? As former MVPs, Brodie, Gabriel and Theismann deserve that discussion.
Are all of them Hall of Famers? Are any of them Hall of Famers? Are none of them Hall of Famers? We’ll never know for sure until they have turns as finalists. Then let the cards play out from there. But all eight deserve that discussion that they have thus far been denied.