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Bill Polian, Ron Wolf deserve HOF honor for impact on NFL

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Did you think the Raiders' teams that won Super Bowls XI, XV, and XVIII were pretty memorable?

Too old of a reference for you?

OK, how about this one: Could Brett Favre play?

Not to be cute, but there is one guy who made sure -- oftentimes behind the scenes -- that two of the NFL's signature franchises had the pieces in place to win a Super Bowl ... or Bowls.

Ron Wolf is that man, and he, along with heralded front-office guru Bill Polian, were chosen Wednesday as finalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's contributor category.

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Wolf helped scout and draft the key components of the 1970s and '80s Raiders, including Hall of Famers Art Shell and Gene Upshaw, and Hall of Very Gooders, such as Cliff Branch, during his original tenure with the club from 1963 to '75. He was a key cog in helping the oft-stubborn Al Davis obtain the precise players he wanted to fit the Raiders' system and culture. Oakland players of the mid-'70s to early '80s had to be mentally tough, like an actor who cares little if he gets vilified for his last movie being a dud, given the Raiders were often the most hated team in the league. After rejoining the organization in 1978, Wolf played a large part in drafting Hall of Famers Howie Long and Marcus Allen, who were integral elements of the franchise's last Super Bowl-winning team.

Like many legendary performers, Wolf had a brilliant second act. As the Green Bay Packers general manager from 1991 to '01, he hired Mike Holmgren to coach the team, traded for Favre and signed the biggest free agent in pro football history in Reggie White. In the span of a little more than a calendar year, Wolf essentially secured the building blocks of the Packers' successful run in the '90s -- an era that included two Super Bowl appearances and six consecutive playoff berths.

It seems now like every calendar year was successful for Polian, the second nominee for the newborn contributor category. The former executive lifted two organizations (Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts) from the depths of losing to becoming perennial winners, while making another franchise instantly competitive (Carolina Panthers).

When Polian was hired as Buffalo's GM, he joined a team that was unquestionably the league's doormat. The Bills went a combined 4-28 over the '84 and '85 seasons. Enter Polian, whose first draft pick, Bruce Smith, became the NFL's all-time sack leader. Despite Buffalo being his first gig as an NFL GM, Polian created the nucleus of the first team in league history to go to four straight Super Bowls. Amazingly, he was fired after the team's third appearance.

Similar to his fellow nominee, Polian was able to replicate his success, albeit in a different manner. In 1994 he took the GM job for the expansion Panthers. Wanting to avoid the path of many other new franchises -- that is, suffering through multiple losing seasons -- Polian amassed veteran talent that was capable of being competitive now. In only their second season, the Panthers made it all the way to the NFC Championship Game, ending the Dallas Cowboys' dynasty of the '90s along the way.

You don't garner the respect Wolf and Polian have earned, and thus an honor like being considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, without taking risks. Wolf traded a first-round draft pick to the Atlanta Falcons in 1992 for a 22-year-old third-string QB, who had a ton of arm strength and potential, but was barely a blip on the NFL radar. And back then, a first-round draft pick was as valued as it is now. What if Favre had been Trent Richardson 1.0?

Polian made quite a leap himself, starting with his first major decision as the Colts' front-office leader, when he pulled the trigger on taking Peyton Manning over the (allegedly) more physically gifted Ryan Leaf. This wasn't a slam-dunk decision at the time, as many talent evaluators and media personalities alike anticipated Indianapolis selecting Leaf. Of course, Polian's choice ultimately resulted in 11 postseason berths over the next 13 years, including a Lombardi Trophy. It should not be discounted that the "small ball" 4-3 defense he put together with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis had quite the impact as well.

And that's really what we are talking about here with both Wolf and Polian. They made an impact. Heck, it's why the Hall of Fame created the contributor category, so men like these didn't repeatedly get left at the doorstep only to be bypassed by one former player after the other. They contributed equally to the entire scope of pro football and deserve to be recognized for it.

By being named nominees for Canton, Wolf and Polian have ensured that people who positively affect the game from off the field, receive the same recognition as the players who perform on it. And that's certainly a good thing.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonNFL.

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