ELECTORS COMMIT BIGGEST BLUNDER IN HALL OF FAME HISTORY

Street Talk ELECTORS COMMIT BIGGEST BLUNDER IN HALL OF FAME HISTORY

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Originally posted on February 7, 2007
 
The six newest members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame were announced this past Saturday. They will be given the highest honor the NFL can give during induction weekend this August.
 
The new members are Thurman Thomas, star running back for the 4 time AFC champion Buffalo Bills., Houston Oiler/Tennessee Titan Bruce Matthews, who played for 19 seasons at every position on the offensive line. St. Louis Cardinal Roger Wherli, who was a 5 time pro bowler at cornerback,  Detroit Lion TE Charlie Sanders who was named to the NFL’s 1970’s all decade team, Cleveland  guard Gene Hickerson who anchored the line for the Browns from 1958 to 1973, and Dallas wide receiver Michael Irvin.
 
Yes I did say Michael Irvin.
 
Now to me that one is a head scratcher particularly when you consider that a player who played the same position during Irvin’s era with better statistics and was a better player did not make it.
 
Now I want to preface my opinion on this HOF blunder by sharing with you that I am not a fan of the Washington Redskins yet clearly, wide receiver Art Monk was robbed of his spot in the Hall by Irvin. Irvin isn’t personally responsible but a Dallas connection helped steal Monk’s deserved spot and the end result is nothing less than the greatest mistake the Hall’s selectors have ever made!
 
The HOF Selection Committee consists of 40 electors with each NFL city represented by at least one elector.  Scott Garceau votes for Baltimore. New York has 2, one for the Giants and one for the Jets.  Besides the representation of the 32 teams, there are 8 at large voters, one of whom is Peter King of Sports Illustrated.
 
A player has to be retired for five years before he is eligible for HOF consideration.  Each year a long preliminary list of eligible players is trimmed down through mail ballots to a final list. This year that list included 17 finalists. To gain entry into the Hall a player on this list must have a vote of approval from 80% of the selectors who are in attendance at the final balloting meeting the day before the Super Bowl. 
 
The criterion for acceptance into the HOF — a “yes” vote, is generally left to the elector. “Beauty” in this case is in the eye of the beholder so to speak. Peter King tried to shed light on the process.
 
“The number one criteria for a yes vote is did the player dominate or set himself apart from the other players of his era.”
 
The selectors generally adhere to this loosely defined ground rule and rely upon statistics, Pro Bowl appearances, championships, and records held as indicators to define a player’s dominance.
 
The best example of this was the election of wide receiver Don Hutson of the Green Bay Packers who he played from 1935-1945. Consider these statistics from 1935-1945 comparing Hutson to the top 4 receivers of his era:
 
Player
Receptions
Yards
TD’s
Don Hutson, Green Bay
488
7,991
99
Jim Benton, Cleveland Rams
190
3,309
33
Charlie Malone, Redskins
126
1,801
11
Robert Masterson, Redskins
126
1,697
13
 
Clearly Hutson dominated the others statistically.  He had three times the touchdowns and well over twice the catches and yards as Jim Benton, the second most productive wide receiver of his era. Dominance is what sets a Hall of Famer apart from his peers. We may never again see this kind of dominance at any one position.
 
But you get the picture.
 
Now let’s consider Michael Irvin and Art Monk.
 
If Peter King’s primary criterion truly is the standard for election into the Hall, then you do have to ask yourself, “How did a classless thug like Michael Irvin get elected?”
 
Was he dominant?
 
Let’s compare him to some of the other wide receivers from his era.
 
First, there are the statisitics.  You have to have the better stats to get in right?
 
Irvin played from 1988 to 1999. To measure him against his peers and to truly gauge his dominance or his ability to differentiate himself in his era, we considered several players who are not in the Hall from his era and then compared their statistics to Irvin’s. Jerry Rice was intentionally omitted from this list – his election redefines the term “no brainer.”
 
Player
Receptions
Yards
TD’s
Cris Carter
1,101
13,899
130
Tim Brown
1,094
14,934
100
Andre Reed
951
13,198
87
Michael Irvin
750
11,904
65
Andre Rison
702
10,205
84
Sterling Sharpe
595
8,134
65 (7 seasons)
Mark Clayton
582
8,974
84
 
Am I missing something here?  I keep looking for some proof of dominance.  Do you see any?
 
I didn’t think so – not statistically.
 
Now Irvin did win three Super Bowls.  Clearly that had to help.
 
Does the name Boyd Dowler ring a bell? Perhaps not but Dowler, who retired after the 1969 season, help his teams earn 5 championships and he was the leading receiver for Vince Lombardi’s Packers during their dynasty.  Is Dowler in the HOF? 
 
Nope.
 
Why not?
 
He didn’t have differentiating numbers.  His stats were good relatively speaking (474 receptions, 7,270 yards, 40 TD’s) but they didn’t distinguish him amongst his peers of the 60’s. So if being the leading receiver on arguably the greatest dynasty in NFL history does not get you into the Hall as in Dowler’s case, how does Irvin earn Hall status?
 
We will get to that but first let’s look at the guy who got shafted, Art Monk.
 
Monk was the Redskins’ first round draft pick in 1980 and he played with them until 1993, winning three Super Bowls and 4 NFC championships along the way. Monk began playing in 1980, eight years before Irvin, a time when the referees were not as picky about pass inference or illegal contact. Simply put, Monk played during a tougher defensive period. Every year since 1978 passing rules make pass coverage more challenging for defensive backs.
 
With that in mind let’s compare these two receivers statistically:
 
Player
Receptions
Yards
TD’s
Art Monk
940
12,721
68
Michael Irvin
750
11,904
65

 

Hmm, that’s 190 more receptions for Monk.
 
Who got elected to the Hall?
 
By the way when Monk retired he was the NFL’s all time leading receiver (since broken by Jerry Rice.) He once set the single season receiving record with 106 catches during the 1984 campaign and he retired with the longest consecutive streak of catching at least one pass in a game with 183.
 
And here’s the best statistic of all – Art Monk has more receptions than any player that is now in Hall of Fame.
 
How can the selection committee overlook that? Monk didn’t rack up these numbers in mop up duty when a game was out of reach.  He didn’t play for the Cardinals.  Monk was a vital part of a team that won three Super Bowls. How can they elect a player like Irvin with lesser statistics, no established NFL records set upon the completion of his career and the same amount of championships over Monk?
 
Did I mention the fact that Irvin was a classless thug in comparison to Monk? Irvin has been arrested twice, once on cocaine possession while he was playing and then arrested again on drug possession charges after he retired. When Art Monk retired he helped start The Good Samaritan Foundation in Washington DC with some former teammates – a foundation that helps inner city youths and their families.
 
Nice job Hall voters!
 
When Monk retired he sought to bail out the youth of his community from their societal problems.  Irvin sought out the bail bondsman.
 
So how exactly did such a travesty occur?
 
We can point our collective finger of blame at some guys from Dallas.
 
Simply put, two members of the media broke an unwritten but understood rule as it relates to HOF voting.  Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News and former Cowboy Troy Aikman became lobbyists for Irvin.
 
Gosselin is the Hall elector for Dallas. If you caught Irvin’s press conference Saturday after he was elected, both Gosselin and of course Aikman were thanked by Irvin. Irvin thanking Aikman makes sense, he was Irvin’s quarterback. But when have you ever heard of a player thanking a member of the media?
 
Gosselin has been working the other electors to vote for Irvin for three years now. Lobbying works, but this is supposed to be something that is looked down upon by Hall electors.  The electors were apparently left vulnerable since this was a year that didn’t offer many clear cut favorites to be elected.  Gosselin’s lobbying swung enough voters this year.
 
Keep in mind that with passing rules being liberalized since 1978, receiving statistics have become inflated and parity has become the norm among most Hall eligible receivers. Electors have been hesitant to vote for wide receivers with James Lofton representing the only wide receiver to gain induction since Lynn Swann election back in 2001.
 
In other words, the respect for the position has lacked for the past five years or so further hurting Monk’s chances. So a little lobbying by Gosselin went a long way.
 
Troy Aikman became part of the Hall of Fame fraternity with his election in 2006. Hall members do not lobby publicly in the media for another player to gain induction, but Aikman has consistently broken that rule since his election last year. He openly complained when Irvin was not elected with him last year and stated many times he was elected because of Irvin. It’s ok for him to feel that way.  It’s not ok to address those feelings publicly to an obviously impressionable panel of electors.
 
Jim Brown the greatest running back of all time and maybe one of the most outspoken former players of all time has never mentioned publicly that teammate Gene Hickerson was not a member of the Hall. Why? Not because he did not appreciate Hickerson’s blocking or that Hickerson was not worthy of election. No, instead Brown toed the line of the unwritten rule.
 
Hickerson was one of if not the best of Brown’s offensive lineman and made it in his 29th Year of eligibility. If Jim Brown could allow for the process to take 29 years for Hickerson why couldn’t Troy Aikman follow suit?
 
Maybe because the shameless self promoter Irvin was incessantly ear banging Aikman. 
 
Might the same work for Art Monk if he chose Hall of Fame former coach Joe Gibbs as his target listening audience? 
 
It could but Monk’s class and dignity wouldn’t allow it.
 
Not long ago when discussing Monk, Joe Gibbs said, "Art was our leader, he lead by example not with words, his nickname was Quiet Man. The players looked up to him and respected his work ethic, young players who came here and were successful modeled themselves after him. Art pioneered the flanker position in the early 80’s and was the key to our multiple wide receiver set offense."
 
They say the squeaky wheel gets the grease.
 
I suppose the quiet ones get the shaft.
 
______
 
Tony Lombardi contributed to this article.

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Kurt Backert

About Kurt Backert

Kurt's passion for the game began in the 60's watching the Colts on TV and at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. He began following the statistics of not only his beloved Colts but also those of the Colts opponents, with a keen eye on Vince Lombardi's Packers. His thirst for and attention to statistical detail would eventually lead Kurt on a journey to the world of fantasy football in the late 1980's where he's captured more titles than John Wooden's UCLA Bruins   Kurt carries a distinction that no other fan of the NFL can boast about.  He is the reigning NFL National Trivia Champion and he credits his Dad for passing on such passion for the game, something Kurt also hopes to pass along to his 9-year-old son. More from Kurt Backert

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