FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Brutal!
That was how those of us who voted Saturday kept describing the task at hand: Determining the five modern-day finalists for the Class of 2010.
To get there, we started with a list of 15 names. With the exception of Jerry Rice and Emmitt Smith, there would be plenty of debate and discussion about the "other 13" because they were mostly equal in their worthiness to enter the Hall.
The Class of 2010
We said that to each other while standing in line for breakfast in Room 305 at the Fort Lauderdale Convention Center, which has been doubling as the Media Center for Super Bowl XLIV. We said that to each other as we sat in our seats surrounding the many tables put together in a square to accommodate the 44-member panel of NFL writers and broadcasters.
There was never any doubt about how this day would unfold for Smith and Rice as that list of 15 became 10 ... and then 10 became five.
Each player's Hall of Fame case is presented to the voters by a panelist from the team with which the candidate spent the bulk of his career. For Smith and Rice, the presentations lasted only seconds. Rick Gosselin, of the Dallas Morning News, essentially mentioned that Smith was the league's all-time leading rusher, and jokingly asked if there were any questions. There were none. Nancy Gay, of AOL Sports/Fanhouse and a former 49ers beat reporter, simply said, "Jerry Rice." We didn't need to hear any more than that.
But it was different for the "other 13." Considerable background and insight would be necessary to help shape opinions and, ultimately, influence how ballots would be completed. Along the way, there would be some pretty healthy debate -- sometimes pretty intense but never rancorous -- which also was hugely beneficial to the process.
Don Coryell, really good coach, but is he a Hall of Famer? Richard Dent, Charles Haley, Cortez Kennedy, John Randle were all outstanding defensive linemen, but which of them truly belongs in Canton?
Is Shannon Sharpe a Hall-of-Fame tight end? Same question for the only other running back consideration: Roger Craig. Ditto for the three other receivers being considered: Tim Brown, Cris Carter and Andre Reed.
The one linebacker discussed, Rickey Jackson, was excellent. But give us more. Same for the two offensive linemen on the list, Dermontti Dawson and Russ Grimm.
Keep in mind, the rules do not permit the use of any slick highlight videos in this process. No power-point presentations are allowed, either. You listen and you read and you consult your memory for the action on the field.
And around and around the room it goes. Countless statistics are cited. Testimonials from coaches and players are read.
The cases for all 13 were compelling. But we all knew that on the way to the final five, we would be eliminating some men who absolutely deserved to be Hall of Famers.
Coryell was a great innovator, and that was thoroughly covered. But he didn't have the titles that you'd like to see on the record of a coach enshrined in Canton. Ultimately, that prevented him from reaching the final 10.
Dent, Haley, Kennedy, and Randle could have all gone in today without argument. Strong arguments were made about their dominance as pass rushers and their completeness at the line of scrimmage. That notion was supported by the fact that Dent, Kennedy, and Randle made it to the final 10. But only Randle will be inducted.
Sharpe's credentials also were good enough to get him to the final 10, but he couldn't get over the hump to five. Craig couldn't even get to the final 10.
The day's most spirited debate focused on the receivers not named Rice. There was plenty of talk about rules changes making the passing game more wide open and cheapening the statistics of individual receivers. There was all kinds of discussion about how many receivers from the 1990s ultimately should be inducted. The general sense was that all four on the list belonged in Canton.
In what was viewed as one of the bigger surprises of the day, Reed, and not Carter or Brown, made the final 10. But only Rice advanced.
Comparisons were made between Jackson and Lawrence Taylor. It was fascinating to hear how many coaches and quarterbacks believed the key to dealing with the Saints' defense was figuring how to handle Jackson and the multiple positions he played within the front seven. At one point, someone said it was reasonable to assume that Jackson would have received the same type of recognition for his game-breaking ability as Taylor if he, too, had played in New York rather than New Orleans.
To no one's surprise, Jackson, like LT, will have a bronze bust.
Dawson should have one as well. He was one of the most dominant centers the game has ever seen. The argument for him centered around how well he could move and block. Clearly enough voters agreed with that notion to get him to the final 10, but he went no further.
The conversation about Grimm centered on the fact that it was a travesty that no member of the Washington Redskins' famed "Hogs" offensive line was in the Hall of Fame. It was pointed out that, through the Redskins' three Super Bowl victories, there were changes at quarterback and running back, but the one constant was the line. And testimonial after testimonial said that if one player from that group should be in Canton, Grimm was the man.
The voters agreed.
But when the day ended, we were conflicted because seven players and a coach who were every bit as worthy of Hall of Fame consideration as any of the five who made it were left out in the cold.