All imploring me to vote for a prospective Hall of Fame candidate. Or non-candidate. Or even, in a case or two, someone I've never heard of.
To all those folks who write me: Anybody who hasn't been a voter can't understand how the voting works or why certain people get in and others don't. I'm in my 17th year as a voter and I'm often not sure I understand it either. But I also feel that 98 percent of the people in the Hall deserve to be there, and that 98 percent of those who aren't in shouldn't be, or will get in at some point.
I bring this up because next Tuesday, I will vote with four other members of the Hall's seniors committee on a list of 17 candidates. The list will be narrowed to two, who will be recommended to the full panel of 44 voters and be voted up or down on the Saturday before the Super Bowl in Miami in February.
I first voted in 1994 in Atlanta (shortly after appearing on a Buffalo radio station along with Hall of Famer O.J. Simpson, who five months later became famous for something other than his running ability and his running-through-airports commercial).
That year, Peter King of Sports Illustrated and I became the first at-large voters, presumed neutrals in a room full of media members cast as quasi-partisans, folks from every NFL city (past and present) whose job, in part, was to advocate candidates for their teams. Peter and I sat down at the end of the table -- "Whippersnapper Row,'' he cracked -- and spent the five-plus hours of debate listening to our elders, some of them folks who had been covering the NFL since the 1930s.
We've both become quite vocal since, most recently in support of former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who is not in because there is an equally vocal group against him -- far more than the 20 percent needed to keep him out.
But that's not relevant here.
What's relevant are the misperceptions folks have about the Hall, even people who know it well. I recently saw an NFL Films piece enumerating the 10 best players not in the Hall that included Shannon Sharpe and Cris Carter at Nos. 2 and 3, and included Howard Eskin, a Philadelphia talk radio shouter, screaming that Carter's omission was an outrage.
It appalled me for this reason: Carter has been on the ballot for two years and last year was Sharpe's first. And both were finalists the first year they were eligible, an honor that is almost sure to result in their selection sooner rather than later. Putting them on a list like that only stirs passions that no one needs -- voters, fans or the players themselves.
No. 1 on the list of the overlooked was Green Bay's Jerry Kramer, who was bypassed by the regular voters (before my time) then made it as a seniors candidate and was voted down, something that rarely happens in a group that most often honors the committee choice. It happened again last year to Claude Humphrey, who was a victim of playing almost his entire career on a bad Atlanta team, and was bypassed for that reason, then was placed back in the finals by the seniors group and mysteriously was voted down.
Why? No one spoke against him and the voting is by secret ballot, but he didn't get the 80 percent needed. Those silent "no'' voters are sometimes described as "lying in the weeds,'' and votes like that have resulted in some movement toward a public ballot. That probably will never happen.
Here are some things I've learned as a voter that helps explain what fans believe are injustices or worse.
- Class size. There are seven spots open every year. In most, there are players eligible for the first time who are what we call "slam dunks'' -- Bruce Smith and Rod Woodson made it last January, and Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith will be up this year, reducing the openings for carryovers like Carter and Sharpe by two. Beyond that, many of us vote by seniority -- if a player has been in the finals for a number of years, someone often will stand up and say: "let's get him out of here,'' "out of here" meaning into the Hall. If it sounds demeaning, it's not. It's simply reality.
- Bad teams. Players on bad teams have problems (see Humphrey) because they're out of the spotlight. Their teams are rarely on national prime-time telecasts, and they rarely make the playoffs, so they disappear just when interest in the NFL peaks. Their stats are often ignored because who cares how many sacks Humphrey had in a season when the Falcons were 4-12.
- Good teams. Although there are a lot of guys from the Lombardi Packers, unbeaten Dolphins and Chuck Noll Steelers in the Hall, players on more recent good teams sometimes get overshadowed by superstar teammates. Bob Kuechenberg, for example, failed to make it in his final year of regular eligibility because there were already so many of his Miami teammates in the Hall.
One classic case was Harry Carson, who fits both the bad team and good team conundrums -- he was a star on some bad Giants teams in the '70s, then played in Lawrence Taylor's shadow in the next decade. So while Giants advocates (and Carson himself) got angrier and angrier, he was stalled, until he was finally pushed over the top by a voter who noted during the debate that members of the Bears of the '80s had told him that Carson was as good or better than Mike Singletary, a slam-dunk first-time electee.
- Partisanship. A couple of years ago, when Art Monk failed to get in, Dan (The Fan) Snyder, Washington's owner, denounced the voters, something that's way out of line from my perspective and, I feel, should have led to some sort of sanction against Snyder by the NFL. Instead, the opposite happened: Snyder was put on the Hall of Fame committee and a year later, when both Monk and Darrell Green made it, he seemed to imply that he had gotten them in. Snyder would be better off spending his time building a real team, not a collection of individuals.
But the team that comes up most often is Denver.
Despite a pretty decent on-field history, the Broncos didn't have a Hall of Famer until 2004, 45 years after they were founded. That was John Elway, a first-ballot lock. In 2008, Gary Zimmerman was inducted, but he was a hybrid -- seven years with the Vikings, his final five with the Broncos.
I get a lot of mail from folks claiming the Broncos "deserve'' more. Why? Whatever a player's value to his team, membership in the Hall of Fame is an individual honor. Denver has had a lot of players who belong in what we call "The Hall of Very Good,'' another phrase coined by King. No disgrace in that. A good NFL team needs very good players -- a Hall of Famer playing with a bunch of stiffs won't get it very far. Floyd Little is one of the seniors finalists, as he has been for a number of years, and probably won't make it again. I've discussed the process by e-mail both with Floyd and his son -- I understand their feelings and I think I've helped them understand the process.
In any event, voting is always difficult. How difficult? The Hall asked all living Hall of Famers to list the five players not in already who are most deserving of election. There were well over 100 names on the lists sent back including one (the most impressive) that listed only one player because the Hall of Famer considered him so worthy of election.
I hope I am as objective as I can be.
I've gone into sessions having what I thought was a pretty good idea of who deserved to get in. I've ended up voting for people I hadn't considered much at all because of convincing arguments in their favor: Jimmy Johnson, the old 49ers cornerback; Warren Moon in his first year of eligibility; Fred Dean and, in January, Ralph Wilson.
So I will go into the next week's voting with an open mind (never mind the wisecracks), although I have my own mental list of priorities, starting with Humphrey, who I doubt will be brought back this year because he was rejected by the full panel on Jan. 31. That happened with Bob Hayes, who finally made it the second time he came back as a senior.
I've done my research. I'll listen to my colleagues and to the two Hall of Famers we use as consultants.
Then I'll vote my beliefs, untainted by team affiliation.
And wait for the letters, e-mails and tweets.