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Hall of Fame finalists: Warren Sapp, Michael Strahan to Canton?

This just in: Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and "the Evil Empire" didn't make it to the Super Bowl.

OK, maybe you're up on the latest postseason news. But you might have missed the latest on the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where Brady will reside when it's all said and done. Ditto for Belichick.

Not all of the former players and contributors who were recently named to the Hall's list of finalists are that cut-and-dried. Take one of the headliners: Michael Strahan. Great player? No doubt. First-ballot Hall of Famer? We'll get to that.

To me, a player is either worthy of the Hall of Fame or not. Yet, over the years, a different distinction has been made that goes something like this: Yeah, he should be in the Hall of Fame ... but not as a first-ballot guy.

With the Hall entering its 50th year, and a maximum of seven guys going in each year (five modern-day candidates plus two senior-committee entrants), the backlog of former All-Pros on the outside looking in continues to grow. Thus, for a player to get into Canton, he has to be a different caliber of Hall of Famer -- transcendent, if you will. So let's look at the first-year candidates, as well as some guys in the gold-plated backlog waiting for their names to be called.

The list of finalists, in alphabetical order: Larry Allen, Jerome Bettis, Tim Brown, Cris Carter, Curley Culp, Eddie DeBartolo Jr., Kevin Greene, Charles Haley, Art Modell, Jonathan Ogden, Bill Parcells, Andre Reed, Dave Robinson, Warren Sapp, Will Shields, Michael Strahan and Aeneas Williams.

Remember, just five modern-day nominees can be inducted, and that's the maximum, which makes this process quite difficult for the 46 voters.

Who I think will make it:

» Larry Allen
» Charles Haley
» Jonathan Ogden
» Bill Parcells
» Michael Strahan

And ...

What my ballot would look like:

» Larry Allen
» Charles Haley
» Jonathan Ogden
» Bill Parcells
» Warren Sapp

The difference is that Strahan didn't get my vote ... this year. He's a Hall of Fame player, but I would rank the first-year eligibles in this manner: 1a) Allen, 1b) Ogden, Sapp, then Strahan.

If Allen and Ogden don't make the Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility, I'll be so shocked I'll run over myself with a tricycle. ... I'll break Chotchkie's rule and wear just 14 pieces of flair. ... I'll make myself watch the Val Kilmer "Batman" -- with director's commentary.

Allen played tackle and guard for the Dallas Cowboys on both sides of the line, and made the All-Decade Team for the 1990s and the 2000s. Oh, and he has a Super Bowl ring. Oh, and he was unanimously considered the strongest player of his time, if not the strongest ever. Oh, and he played 14 seasons.

Ogden was the dominant left tackle of his era. Though the Baltimore Ravens never had a great quarterback during his tenure, virtually every opponent referred to him as the best in the business. (Well, I'd be remiss not to mention the Seattle Seahawks' Walter Jones, who becomes eligible next year. Jones and Ogden were in a league of their own at left tackle.)

Done and done.

Why Parcells? Because unlike DeBartolo Jr. and Modell, there is no real downside to his candidacy as a "contributor," or non-player. He took four different teams to the playoffs -- two to the Super Bowl -- and won two rings with the New York Giants. For a guy who loves horse racing, he's got a track record. Let us not forget that he had the intuition to promote a 33-year-old Belichick to defensive coordinator of the Giants in 1985. They won it all in '86.

Regarding Haley, the 100.5 career sacks and multiple Pro Bowls are nice. The fact that he's the only dude walking the face of the Earth with five Super Bowl rings as a player is relevant. Former Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson considered him the missing piece to those great Dallas teams of the '90s. Enough already, voters.

Sapp and Strahan are where it gets difficult. Both have a Super Bowl ring and a Defensive Player of the Year award. Three things make Sapp different from Strahan:

1) Sapp has never been popular with the masses (particularly the media) and tends not to be as "commercial" as Strahan.
2) Sapp was mostly an interior defender, where it is much more difficult to post numbers and be noticed. Yet, he retired with 96.5 sacks.
3) Strahan's career took some time to get going and had some peaks and valleys, despite the fact that he was more productive for a longer period of time. Sapp was dominant early on and had a six-year run as a force from 1997 to 2002.

Bear in mind, it took pass rusher Derrick Thomas five years to get inducted, albeit posthumously. Strahan was solid against the run and still effervesces in the public eye. Will that be enough? You can choose up to five names, and I feel Haley and Parcells should already be in, thus pushing Strahan off my vote card.

Now that we got that out of the way, here's an extended look at the rest of the finalists, including the seniors. Feel free to provide your own thoughts: @HarrisonNFL is the dropbox.

Dicey propositions ... this year

Jerome Bettis: Popularity and tangible numbers are the two factors that work in Bettis' favor. He retired as a Super Bowl champion and, most importantly, with 13,662 yards rushing, which is sixth all-time.

Cris Carter: Carter is the modern-day Art Monk, in that people have screamed for his induction. He ranks fourth in career receptions (1,101) and touchdowns (130). While wide receiver is the toughest position to sell to the Hall voters right now, at least Carter is at the top of the list. Time to blow that horn a little louder, Ragnar.

Eddie DeBartolo Jr.: If success is the yardstick by which contributors -- particularly owners -- are measured, it's tough to deny Eddie D a place in Canton. DeBartolo Jr. and his father took over the San Francisco 49ers in 1977 and turned the league on its ear, winning four Super Bowls in the '80s and another in 1994. Legal issues that pushed him out of the league are the elephant in the room here. Sizeable elephant. Is it a wall of an elephant? Maybe not. Especially with his nephew Jed York carrying on the winning tradition, putting the 49ers and the family in the spotlight again with a sixth Super Bowl berth.

Art Modell: Another owner, like DeBartolo Jr. -- except without his crescendo of success in a short period of time. He was a key contributor on league committees and won both an NFL Championship (1964) and a Super Bowl (XXXV). But Cleveland '95 is like a lousy roommate that won't move out in some people's eyes.

Not in the cards for 2013 ... or for a long time

Tim Brown: Until Carter gets in, I think Brown and his 1,000-plus receptions sit out. With a maximum of five modern-era candidates able to receive a bust each year, we probably won't see Brown's handsome mug in bronze for a bit.

Kevin Greene: Feared pass rusher and one of the zaniest guys to ever play in the NFL -- in a fun way. Greene was a Hall of Fame-caliber pass rusher. As an all-around player? Tough to say. Sapp and Strahan were more dominant and didn't bounce around the league as much. Fair or not, had Greene played in Pittsburgh for 10 years, the feeling here might be different. Someday.

Andre Reed: Read Brown's candidacy blurb. Same applies here. Reed was a Hall of Very Gooder who has an outside shot at Canton. But respectfully -- with names like Marvin Harrison, Terrell Owens and Randy Moss visible on the Hall horizon -- a voter will have to make an ironclad case for Reed's Hall candidacy, or else it won't be enough.

Will Shields: Wonderful player on some Kansas City teams that could ram the ball down opponents' throats -- that's Will Shields, folks. He was the key blocker on Chiefs clubs that brought us a dominant Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson at his best. Right for the Hall of Fame, wrong year (again).

Aeneas Williams: As I've said before, Williams will make it someday. There are just too many defensive players that have a better shot this year. (Ironically, none of them are defensive backs.)

Notes on the senior candidates

Both Dave Robinson and Curley Culp are deserving candidates. Per Hall rules, both can make it if they receive enough "yes" votes.

Robinson was an athletic outside linebacker on the Green Bay Packers' championship teams of the 1960s, with his clutch play landing him a spot on the All-Decade Team. Robinson's signature moment was forcing Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith into a game-ending interception in the 1966 NFL Championship Game. You can see him now: He is one of the main interviewees in HBO's recent documentary, "Lombardi."

Because he was a Packer, Robinson probably has a better shot than Culp. But my vote would go to Culp because of the impact he had on pro football. Culp was the first modern-day nose tackle for Bum Phillips' Houston Oilers in the mid-to-late '70s. He played up in the center's grill during his early days in Kansas City, as well, which is a huge reason the Chiefs' defense dominated in 1969 en route to a win in Super Bowl IV -- a victory that proved the AFL was not inferior to the NFL. He was voted to the AFL All-Star team that season and went on to make five Pro Bowls after the merger.

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter _@HarrisonNFL_.

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