INDIANAPOLIS -- Pro Football Hall of Fame voting has always fascinated me. You'd think it would be a science, with voters casting their ballots like baseball does. If you get a certain amount of votes, you get in, right?
To quote Wallace Shawn from "The Princess Bride" -- not remotely.
The governing body for football is made up of one media representative from each NFL city (with two from New York, since there are two teams), one representative from the Pro Football Writers of America and 11 at-large delegates. They gather in a room on the Saturday afternoon before the Super Bowl, then someone basically brings up a player he believes merits inclusion in Canton, and then that player is debated and voted on. That's it.
You don't nominate someone unless you feel deep in your soul that they belong on a bust. And you have to convince others that what you're saying is right. You're part historian, part statistician and part lawyer. There's something pretty cool about that.
So, as we look ahead to Saturday, I'm going to make my argument for the four men I would bring up if I were in the room. Sorry, Chris Doleman, Kevin Greene and Charles Haley. You've been eligible for eight years. If no one thought you were worthy before, it ain't happening now. Same for Cortez Kennedy, Andre Reed and Dermontti Dawson, who have been on the ballot for seven years. I'll let others older and wiser than me debate Jack Butler and Dick Stanfel.
Aeneas Williams and Will Shields, you'll need someone more fired up to write for you. As will Jerome Bettis and Eddie DeBartolo Jr. But hey, good luck on Saturday!
Here's who would be getting my vote, and how I would present my case in the meeting ...
Full disclosure: If you know me, you know I worship at the altar of Bill Parcells' football theology. But I don't know that we even need to have a conversation about this. He got to three Super Bowls and won two of them. I won't even focus on his Giants teams that won, which should be all you need on him. Let's go later, as the NFL evolved and Parcells evolved with it, rather than turning into a dinosaur.
Coming out of retirement for the first time, he took over a horrendous Patriots team in 1993 that was mainly known for the "Patriot Missile" controversy and had them in the playoffs two years later -- and in the Super Bowl in 1997. He left after the season to take over a Jets team that was 1-15. They went 9-7 and then 12-4, winning the AFC East for the first time in team history and advancing to the AFC Championship Game.
Dallas had been 5-11 for three straight years when he came out of retirement again. He put the Cowboys back in the playoffs twice in three years, elevating Tony Romo to starter when he was as big an afterthought as Kurt Warner before he got his big break with St. Louis. So his success spanned nearly 20 years in the game, with some of those years spent out of the game recharging his batteries.
It takes a great coach to win a Super Bowl, especially when offensively you are limited like Parcells was with the Giants. But to go to three awful teams that had no direction and turn them into winners is even more impressive. What's happened to those three teams in the years since Parcells came in and cleaned things up? New England has turned into a dynasty. The Jets and Cowboys have become perennial playoff contenders. Does that happen if Parcells doesn't lay the groundwork and turn them into teams that matter? Probably not. Simply put, he's the best coach I've ever seen.
Rich Gannon (before he was good), Sean Salisbury, Jim McMahon (well after he was good), Warren Moon (who was 75 years old), Brad Johnson, Randall Cunningham (so far after he was good we didn't remember him being good), Daunte Culpepper and Spergon Wynn.
Those were the quarterbacks throwing to Carter in Minnesota when he became a star. Remember the lack of talent at QB he played with when you listen to his accomplishments.
He racked up 1,101 career receptions and 130 touchdowns, both good for second-most ever at the time he retired. This was well before the passing era of the NFL we're in right now. Eight straight 1,000-yard seasons. The best feet a receiver has ever had, and some of the best hands, too. I don't think there was ever a play he was fully covered on, because if you threw the ball a yard out of bounds, he could still reach out, grab it and get both feet down. He caught 96 passes when he was 35 years old, and 73 at 36. That just doesn't happen. He's a lock for me.
Everything I just said about Carter goes double for Brown. Want to know the quarterbacks he played with in Oakland? They make Carter's look like Hall of Famers. The best quarterback may have been Jeff George. Seriously. Brown caught passes from Vince Evans at one point, who I think is older than Don Shula.
And don't forget he did it for the Raiders, a franchise nobody stays with very long. (Those who did join the Raiders in Brown's days were the ones who were out of chances everywhere else.) As good as Brown was, how prolific could he have been if he actually had good quarterbacks throwing him the football? Instead of retiring in the top five of most receiver categories, he'd be nipping at Jerry Rice's heels. In fact, if he'd had Joe Montana or Steve Young throwing him passes, he would've been Jerry Rice.
Even his issues with Al Davis weren't front-burner topics. To be able to handle yourself with grace and class in Oakland? That's worthy of the Hall all by itself.
With the receivers, I made a point of noting how good they were in an era when teams didn't throw the football. This point tangentially showcases the greatness of Curtis Martin, a running back at a time when all teams did was run the football. This is way back in the old days at the turn of the century, when 300-carry seasons were the norm for bell-cow runners.
With so many running backs getting ample chances to produce, hardly any did it like Martin, who was over 1,150 yards in nine of his first 10 seasons. He won a rushing title at 31, which is unheard of.
He was a model of consistency, with no real swings in production. He was durable, with eight years of 300 or more rushing attempts. He played in a Super Bowl. He's exactly what you wanted in a running back: A quiet leader who you could count on like few others.
He retired with the fourth-most rushing yards in NFL history, and he's still fourth. (And he may stay fourth for a long, long time.) The top three rushers (Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders) are all in Canton. The players at four, five, and six are Martin, Bettis and LaDainian Tomlinson. Bettis is a finalist this year and L.T. will be when it's his time. The players at seven through 10 (Eric Dickerson, Tony Dorsett, Jim Brown, Marshall Faulk) are also all in the Hall.
OK, so those are my four arguments. And I'll close with this: When you're talking about players who are in the top five of all-time lists at their position, does there really need to be a debate about them?