Complain now, because a lot of your guys aren't going to get in. How do I know? Because this may be the best class -- or close to it -- that I've seen in my nearly two decades of voting, and there are people on the final list that I will be very unhappy about leaving to wait another year. Don't ask me who, but there will be.
First, remember that seven guys get in but two spots are reserved for the seniors candidates -- Chris Hanburger and Les Richter this year. They're voted on separately.
What makes this year is so difficult are the five first-time finalists: Marshall Faulk, Deion Sanders, Willie Roaf, Jerome Bettis and Curtis Martin. In a lot of years, all five would be considered pretty good candidates to get in on their first try. This year, I'm betting it's just Faulk and Sanders, who are hard to deny. (No, Deion didn't tackle much, but I marked him down when, in a Dallas-San Francisco NFC championship game 15 or so years ago, he made a great play for a two-yard loss. "Yeah,'' I said to myself. "He can do it when he has to.'')
Here's why I think it will be just those two among the first-timers:
First comes Ed Sabol, the founder of NFL Films. He's never been considered before, but there's been quiet sentiment among voters for a few years to get him in because of what the company he's founded has done for the league.
In other words, does anyone think it would be what it was today if not for the wonderful (and endless) accounts Sabol and his son, Steve, have put together for four decades, depicting the great games that were played and the men who played them? The quiet sentiment has become a loud yell, and I think Sabol gets in. (I'd like to put Steve in with him as an entry, but that's against the rules.)
If you put a check mark next to Faulk and Sanders and add Sabol, you've got two spots left. Cris Carter, Shannon Sharpe, Andre Reed, Cortez Kennedy, Dermontti Dawson and Richard Dent all have gotten a lot of support the past two years, and I've voted for all of them at different times. My guess is two of them will fill out the class, but I've got no idea which two. Charles Haley also could be the surprise entry that surfaces every year.
It's a problem that will get worse before it gets better. I'd love to put in Bettis, Roaf and Martin, the last a class guy who quietly went about the business of becoming the fourth leading rusher ever. But they probably won't make it because they have 24 years of eligibility left after this, and when in doubt, a lot of voters go by seniority.
But who knows? Every year, I go into the room on the Saturday morning before the Super Bowl with a good idea of who I support. Then someone (or several someones) make an argument that convinces me about a candidate I hadn't really considered.
In any case, I'm disappointed most years when I leave the room about the candidates we left behind.
This year, I'll be even more disappointed.
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