Save it! There will be a lot more who don't make it in the final voting. Twelve of those final 15 from the modern era, all or most them worthy, also won't make it this year. After the 44 voters put in Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith, there will be three more spots for candidates available for the remaining 13.
Do the math. No, I'll do it. Eighty percent of this group won't get in this year.
This is my 17th year as a Hall of Fame voter, a job I take extremely seriously. It's also a job that many fans don't understand because it transcends fanhood -- you CAN'T think X should be in and Y shouldn't because he played or didn't play for the Cowboys ... or the Broncos ... or Redskins ... or any other team.
In fact, if you want to turn me off, tell me a player should be in because of whom he played for. I once stopped an e-mailer who told me his guy had done wonderful things for the Redskins by asking him "would you want him in if he'd done the same wonderful things for the Cowboys or Eagles or Giants?'' I've never been angrier than I was three years ago when Daniel Snyder issued a statement denouncing voters for NOT electing Art Monk to the Hall. Wait. Maybe I have been angrier -- the next year, when Snyder took credit for the election of Monk and Darrell Green.
Here is what I try to explain to the rational people who contact me -- and a lot do.
I don't vote AGAINST people, I vote FOR them. There have been plenty of times (probably most) when I've been asked to reduce my list from 15 to 10 (it eventually gets to five) and found it almost impossible. As I say, I don't weigh team. I might weigh position -- we need more defensive players -- and I might compare players at one position. But I rarely think to myself "I don't want this guy,'' although I was accused of that once by a general manager who had it leaked to him by his local voter (comments are supposed to be confidential) that I had raised a question about one of his former players.
The GM is now unemployed and the player eventually got into the Hall -- with my vote.
But the process can be a slow one. For years, I've thought there has to be an offensive lineman from the Redskins who won three Super Bowls in the first Joe Gibbs era -- a "Hog,'' from the heart of that team. For the last few years, we've had Russ Grimm, the best of them, and he hasn't quite made it. He's back this year and maybe he will get in.
Will I vote for him? I'd like to, but I'll have to see how things break down.
For election is a gradual process.
Unless you're a Rice or a Smith. Or a Montana, Elway or Payton or Taylor (no first names needed, I hope), it's a gradual process. Guys like that get in immediately with little debate -- except in the case of Taylor, whose off-field transgressions, even though they're not supposed to be considered, led to a long discussion and some acrimony.
But for other guys, it takes a while -- they have 25 years from their date of eligibility, five years after they retire, to be considered and most eventually make it.
I'm very happy, for example, to see that Rickey Jackson, Roger Craig and Charles Haley made the finals this year, even though I don't think any of them will get in this year. Just the fact they made it into "the room'' as we call it enhances their chances down the line. I take a little of the credit -- I'm one of the people who have been urging my colleagues to consider all three of them, along with some other candidates I consider worthy.
I'm unhappy that Paul Tagliabue didn't make the finals after being on it for three years.
But not devastated because all he did was lengthen the debate. I think he should have been in the first time he came up but there are enough voters who don't consider him worthy -- for various reasons -- that it might be time for a moratorium on what has become an acrimonious discussion that seems to get nowhere.
What am I proud of?
I'm proud I've made a lot of deserving people happy -- the Hall of Famers, their families and their friends. And their fans, even if those fans are happy because he played for their team. I'm proud of the fact that, I hope, I've never let personality get in the way -- I've voted for quite a few players who weren't especially friendly to me or others in the media during their careers.
I'm also happy that I worked hard with some other voters to get Andre Tippett into the Hall a couple of years ago. He was a classic example of the kind of Hall of Famer too often overlooked -- he played for the Patriots when they were bad, the best player on the team but overlooked despite a career that was comparable to the acknowledged contemporary superstar at his position -- Lawrence Taylor (there's his first name). Rickey Jackson is from the same era and played the same position and I'm glad he's finally there for us to consider.
Dick LeBeau and Floyd Little, the two candidates chosen by the senior's committee, of which I'm a member. They are voted on separately, simply up or down and need to get 80 percent of the vote.
Finally, I think I'm speaking for the other 43 people. We try to do our job without bias or rancor. And we try to do our best.
Most of the time we succeed.
When we don't, it's not because we didn't try.