Cris Carter (Tom Olmscheid/AP)
The Hall of Fame voting committee will meet today to elect a select few to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Three Vikings are up for the honor, but only one seems like a shoo-in.
This afternoon, much like announcement of a new Pope, the smoke will rise from Tampa and the Class of 2009 in the Pro Football Hall of Fame will be announced. The Vikings could be a central figure in the discussion. Then again, they could be shut out completely.
One of the rites of passage at Super Bowls is the voting for who is deemed worthy of going into the hallowed Hall of Fame. Only 44 people make that decision. They range from “crafty” – like an old National League lefthander – to “grizzled” – like he shouldn’t be able to drive by himself anymore. Further diluting the soup is that not all voters have a heart-string devotion to their assigned voting slot. For the record, ESPN’s Len Pasquarelli – as Philly as a cheesesteak – has Atlanta’s “assigned” vote. The Lions’ vote goes to a writer from the Booth Newspapers, which own periodicals of note in such NFL hotbeds as Flint, Saginaw, Kalamazoo and Muskegon – but not Detroit. The Packers’ voter works in Milwaukee. The Jets’ official vote goes to Dr. Z of Sports Illustrated. It’s not an exact science.
But, this is the family we have to deal with. In many respects, it’s like the old-school Cosa Nostra. Common sense tells any rational person that, compared side by side, Cris Carter should have earned his stylin’ yellow jacket a year ago. Didn’t happen. Art Monk went in. The “families” gave to a long-standing belief of one of the Godfathers. Ron Yary had to wait. That’s “family business” running it’s course.
So what chance does the Vikings trio have? The good news is that only two teams have three nominees – the Vikings and the Bills. Why is that good news? There won’t be Super Bowl rings to taint the voters.
Carter would appear to be the closest thing to a lock. The only competing wide receiver is Andre Reed and, despite Marv Levy pushing his “anytime minutes” on his cell phone, you can’t put Reed in before C.C. Bob Hayes is a seniors candidate and his contribution to the NFL was adding the element of speed to the position, not a body of work like Carter’s.
Beyond C.C, nothing is guaranteed. By any standard, Randall McDaniel deserves to be in the Hall of Fame – whether as a player or a humanitarian. But, he faces competition from professional head-coaching interviewee Russ Grimm and Bob Kuechenberg. Stacked side by side, McDaniel far outshines either of them, but they have Super Bowl rings, which carry a lot of weight in the discussion room. Seven Hall of Famers were part of the perfect season and Kuechenberg could be the latest honored with induction. When the discussion of great quarterbacks is brought up, exactly where does Bob Griese land on that list? Earl Morrall did most of the heavy lifting during the perfect season. Being a champion has its perks in the confined spaces of the Gang of 44.
Randle may face a similar fate. Claude Humphey is a senior candidate who may get the “lifetime achievement” nod. Bruce Smith is in – no question. Richard Dent has waited his turn (and he has a ring). It won’t be easy for Randle to get that kind of respect out of the gate.
The process of voting has become an NFL Network version of “Survivor.” Two senior committee nominees are voted on first. Then the list of 15 modern-era players is cut to 10 and then five. Those finalists must receive 80 percent of the vote to get enshrinement. While no torches are snuffed, we’ll know who the finalists were and weren’t. Look for C.C. to be in the final tribal council and maybe McDaniel, but probably not Randle.
When all is said and done, most likely four modern-era candidates will get induction – Carter, Smith and two others. I’m leaning toward Rod Woodson and Kuechenberg, although Paul Tagliabue deserves his credit. For perhaps the first time in a long time, Ralph Wilson will be the wild card.
We’ll find out this afternoon when the smoke billows from the stack in Tampa who will be part of the Class of 2009. There is almost sure to be a Vikings flavor. The only question is, how strong will it be?
Matt Birk was on hand in Tampa Friday for the ceremony for the finalists of the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. He is one of three finalists, along with Arizona’s Kurt Warner and Philadelphia’s Brian Dawkins. While any of the finalists would be worthy winners of the award, Birk’s stance on the condition of former players – while not always popular within the inner circles of the NFL – is both courageous and deserving of such a prestigious award. The winner will be announced on Sunday.