Will Polian's rebuff of Bills have impact on his HOF candidacy?

Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts
Courtesy of Indianapolis Colts

By Clark Judge

Talk of Fame network

Former general manager Bill Polian on Thursday notified the Buffalo Bills he won't be rejoining them, presumably to run the team's front office -- and while that's a blow to the Bills it might have saved Polian's Hall-of-Fame candidacy.

With the emphasis on might.

Retired from the NFL for three years, Polian is one of two nominees for the 2015 Pro Football Hall Fame's inaugural contributor class (Ron Wolf is the other), and returning to the Bills not only could have damaged his chances to make it to Canton; it could've destroyed it.

I'm serious. A handful of selectors who support Polian told me Thursday that, had he returned to Buffalo, they would have voted against him.

I know, I know, contributors are supposed to be eligible whether they're retired or not ... with owners Al Davis, Ralph Wilson, Dan Rooney and Lamar Hunt on the job when elected, and the Hall's vice president of communications Joe Horrigan insistent that it should not have -- and does not have -- a bearing on their electability.

So it's not supposed to have an impact. I get that. But I also get that it almost certainly would have.

In fact, one of the first questions that came up when Polian's name was discussed last fall by the nine-member contributor committee was his retirement. Horrigan assured listeners that it wasn't an issue, citing inductees like Davis and Rooney, and so they moved on. But my guess is that the Hall's 46 selectors wouldn't have been as forgiving if Polian left ESPN for the NFL.

Reason: They don't like the idea of someone showing up for his next job with a bust and gold jacket. They're supposed to be reserved for the end of your career; not the middle of it. If Polian had returned to run the Bills, he would have lost some support -- and all it takes is nine nays to derail a candidacy.

But even with Thursday's move, I'm not certain his candidacy hasn't been damaged, with voters unsure he stays retired. I know, Polian said he is. But so did Bill Parcells, and voters were understandably skeptical until they were reasonably sure he wasn't coming back.

Granted, the Parcells situation was different. Coaches are considered along with players for Hall-of-Fame selections, and neither is eligible for enshrinement until five years after his retirement. But that doesn't preclude someone from retiring for five or more years, getting elected and then returning. It happened with Hall-of-Fame coach Joe Gibbs when he unretired in 2004 and rejoined Washington. And it happened with Marv Levy when he returned to run the Buffalo Bills in 2006.

Of course, nothing could be done then. They were already enshrined. But this is about a candidate who is not. Moreover, this is about a candidate up for election at the end of this month. And, guaranteed, what happened this week will make some selectors nervous that Polian is interested in getting back to the NFL.

"The Hall of Fame should be the final honor," said our Rick Gosselin, a member of the board of selectors for over 20 years. "It's that simple. Candidates should be judged at the conclusion of their careers -- not before. If Polian or anyone else decides to come back, there are still pages of his career that need to be written."

Funny he should mention others. Earlier this month, Kurt Warner conceded he considered returning to the Arizona Cardinals to help them with a desperate situation at quarterback. Then he came to his senses, and good for him. Warner is one of 26 semifinalists for the Hall's Class of 2015 and a favorite to be one of its 15 finalists. Returning to the Cardinals -- while well intentioned -- would have sabotaged his Hall-of-Fame chances and set the clock back another five years.

The Hall of Fame should be reserved for those whose careers are complete. Bill Polian is one of them, and I hope he's elected because he's deserving. But I also hope his dalliance with Buffalo hasn't damaged his chances.

Because it could.