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

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).

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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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