The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced Tuesday that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue were selected as contributor finalists for election for the Hall's 2017 class. They are two names that are certain to spark a lot of discussion before January, when the Hall of Fame selection committee meets in Houston to decide the class.
"I'm deeply appreciative of the vote of confidence from the selection committee," Tagliabue said after learning the news of his selection as a finalist.
Tagliabue was the NFL's Commissioner from 1989-2006, succeeding Pete Rozelle. He was a protege of Rozelle and ran the league during a period of unprecedented growth. The NFL expanded during his tenure, adding four teams. He maintained labor peace during that time and notably helped to keep the Saints in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
"The city fathers should take down the statue of Robert E. Lee at Lee Circle in New Orleans and put up a statue of Paul Tagliabue," Louisiana native James Carville once said via the Newark Star-Ledger.
Jones took over as owner (and personnel chief) of the Cowboys in 1989 and found quick success after firing Tom Landry and hiring Jimmy Johnson. He won his third Super Bowl after the 1995 season and has been chasing that success since. (Jones recently expressed regret for not making it work with Johnson, who left after his second title.)
We suspect Jones is a nominee largely because his work behind the scenes. He has been an integral owner in growing the league's business and has been active in negotiations as disparate as television deals to the NFL lockout and the Rams' move to Los Angeles.
"I can't tell you about how humble and gratified I am," Jones said in a statement.
Jones was part of the group of owners that helped to name Tagliabue as commissioner, so it would be fitting if they were inducted to Canton together. But their induction is far from guaranteed.
Tagliabue and Jones were selected by the contributors committee, a smaller group than the 46-member selection committee that will vote in January. They are part of a recent push by the NFL to recognize more contributors. Before the bylaws changed two years ago, they were voted in the same class as modern era players. Now two contributors will be part of the 2017 and 2019 classes. One will be selected in 2018 and each year starting in 2020.
Being chosen as a finalist is not a rubber stamp for induction, although it certainly increases a candidate's chances greatly. Tagliabue sparked heated discussions among selection committee members when he came up for induction previously along with modern era candidates, eventually fading from finalist status. The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced Monday that Seahawks safety Kenny Easley has been selected as a senior finalist. Easley, Tagliabue and Jones will need to gain 80 percent of the committee's votes to earn enshrinement.