How Did Bill Parcells Not Make the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

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The snub highlights the many flaws in the HOF selection process.

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One of the sport's enduring mysteries is why the Pro Football Hall of Fame tries to hide itself. Major League Baseball announces its new Hall of Fame selections in the off-season, the second week in January, practically equidistant between the end of the season and the beginning of spring training, when baseball fans are hungry for something to chew on. Football announces its selections on the Saturday before the Super Bowl, which effectively smothers controversy or debate or anything else that might stir some interest.

Compared to baseball, the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio is a private club. With baseball, there is much that can argued every year about the wisdom of certain selections or the wrong headedness of voters who keep players union founder Marvin Miller out of Cooperstown. (Forget about Pete Rose—they won't even allow him on the ballot.)

But in baseball's last vote in December, 573 ballots were cast. Pro football, in contrast, has a 44-man board of selectors—two press representatives from New York and one each from every other NFL city, a representative from the Pro Football Writers of America, and 11 members that the PFHOF calls "at-large delegates." If you go on the organization's web site, they'll tell you that "any fan may nominate any qualified person"—to be "qualified," a coach or player must be retired for at least five seasons—by simply writing to the HOF. If that's true, the Canton post office must have misplaced every letter I've written to the Pro Football Hall of Fame for the last 20 years.

It may seem odd to discuss the pros and cons of the PFHOF's recent selections this time of year, but thanks to their baffling rules, there is no better time. This year I take issue with only one decision: the one they didn't make. For some unexplained reason—the voters aren't allowed to discuss their selections publicly—Bill Parcells doesn't meet the standards of the 80 percent of the voters needed for "enshrinement."

Parcells won 183 regular and postseason games over his career and took his teams to the Super Bowl three times, winning two. John Madden, who is in the HOF, won 112 games and one Super Bowl. But Madden did it with one team, the Raiders, whereas Parcells did it with four—the Giants, the Jets, the Patriots, and the Cowboys. This, apparently, bothered people other than me; Rich Cimini of ESPN New York speculated that Parcells' career path was too "itinerant" to please some voters.

Why would they care how many teams Parcells turned into winners? To an ordinary fan that might seem like a plus, but many people on the committee would seem to have ties to NFL owners who don't want their coaches job-hopping. So Bill Parcells, one of the greatest coaches in the modern NFL, must wait at least one more year.

Tim Brown, who played all but one of his 17 seasons from 1998-2004 for the Oakland Raiders, has been eligible for three years now, but Canton has showed little interest. It's generally assumed that two other wide receivers from roughly the same time span, Andre Reed and Cris Carter, will make it before Brown, if Brown makes it at all. But Tim Brown was better than either. He had more yards—14,934—than Reed (13,198 yards from 1985-2000) and more touchdowns (100 to 87), even though Reed caught balls for much of his career from a Hall of Fame quarterback, Jim Kelly, while Brown was on the receiving end of a long list of nonentities (except for Rich Gannon near the end of his career).

As for Carter, who played from 1987-2002, he has more TDs than Brown (130-100), but Brown averaged more yards per catch (13.7 to 12.8). Carter also played three years with HOF passer Warren Moon and several other All-Pros, including Rich Gannon, Randall Cunningham, and Daunte Culpepper.

Tim Brown is fifth on the all-time list for most catches. If you switched his quarterbacks with those of his across-the-Bay counterpart, Jerry Rice—in other words if Brown had played with Joe Montana and Steve Young and Rice with Brown's QBs—it's not inconceivable that Tim Brown would be number one on the all-time list.

The most glaring omission, though, is by the PFHOF Seniors Committee, comprised of nine members from the main voting body. The injustice to Bill Parcells will be at least a year old before he gets another chance, and Brown's will be two, but Jerry Kramer's injustice goes all the way back to 1974, the first year he was on the ballot.

For 11 seasons, Kramer, from 1958-1968, was selected to nine All-Pro teams at the position for which it is most difficult to find first-rate talent: offensive guard. He earned five championship rings with Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers, the last two coming in the first two Super Bowls. In the 1962 championship game against the New York Giants, Kramer replaced the injured Paul Hornung and kicked three field goals for the winning margin in the Packers' 16-7 victory. And on December 31, 1967, he made the most famous block in pro football history when he paved the way for quarterback Bart Starr to score the winning touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys in the "Ice Bowl" for the NFL title.

Kramer has now been passed up for the HOF nine times in the regular balloting and once on the senior ballot. What greater credentials, one wonders, could he have displayed? A tenth All-Pro section? A sixth championship ring? What is about the Canton 44 that can't comprehend that Jerry Kramer was, at the least, one of the ten or twelve greatest offensive linemen ever to play the game?

Every now and then, someone will ask one of the Selection Committee about one of their strange selections or even stranger omissions. The answer is invariably, "Hey, that's democracy." No, it isn't, it's an oligarchy. It might be time to expand the voting body to introduce some real democracy to Pro Football's Hall of Fame process in the form of four or five hundred football writers, historians, and former coaches and players.

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Allen Barra writes about sports for the Wall Street Journal and TheAtlantic.com. His next book is Mickey and Willie--The Parallel Lives of Baseball's Golden Age.

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