DeBartolo's only Hall shot lies in rule change

DeBartolo's only Hall shot lies in rule change
February 2, 2013, 4:00 pm
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Eddie DeBartolo Jr. was a semifinalist in 2010 and a finalist in 2011, ‘12 and ’13. (USA TODAY IMAGES)

Okay, let’s be clear here. Nobody got snubbed in the Pro Football Hall of Fame voting. It’s an exclusive award, not a hall pass, and anyone who whines that their guy got hosed need only look at the seven enshrinees to understand that the issue was, is, and will always be about the process.

Eddie DeBartolo got some support in the room, very little pushback, but was among the first cuts from 17 candidates to 12, according to one selector who asked – well, insisted – on anonymity. Tim Brown got little debate pro or con. And Charles Haley got a fair level of support but was canceled out by the number of defensive linemen on the ballot, of which only Warren Sapp cleared the wall.

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The real problem, though, remains as it has been – the funnel for players is too small, the funnel for owners/contributors is smaller still, and the room is too small for the level of debate.

It took the 43 voters eight hours and 15 minutes to plow through the 17 candidates, an hour on Bill Parcells alone. In addition, the debate on Art Modell, the Cleveland Browns owner who died last year, was described as lengthy. He, like DeBartolo, was eliminated in the first round.

Indeed, since there are only 19 “contributors” and 12 outright owners in the Hall, it seems likelier than not that DeBartolo and Modell will wait a good while longer, unless the system is changed to separate non-players from players. As several voters said, a player will always get the benefit of the doubt over a non-player.

And the backup of players who wait continues, and will continue for years to come. The 2014 first-timers include wide receiver Marvin Harrison, offensive linemen Walter Jones and Kevin Mawae, linebackers Derrick Brooks and Tedy Bruschi, defensive back Rodney Harrison, kicker Morten Andersen, and coach Tony Dungy. Then comes Kurt Warner and Junior Seau in 2015, and Brett Favre and Terrell Owens in 2016.

In truth, DeBartolo’s only real chance is for the system to break out non-players, something that seems unlikely to happen any time soon. He was a semifinalist in 2010 and a finalist in 2011, ‘12 and ’13, so his candidacy would seem to have some staying power, but Modell has reached the semifinals or finals in ’02, ’04, ’05, ’06, ’07, ’09, ’11, ’12 and ’13, and frankly may simply have stalled.

Brown’s chances diminished significantly when his “Bill Callahan Threw The Super Bowl” rant hit warp speed a week ago, though he was considered a longshot even before that, as an informal poll of voters listed him as the third of the three wide receiver finalists behind Cris Carter, who got in, and Andre Reed, who cleared the bar to 10 before being eliminated. Indeed, Brown’s early elimination probably helped convince voters to break the growing jam of wide receivers, with Carter gaining support as the day went on. Brown must now be consider a longshot to make the Hall for at least another decade based on the crowded conditions, though his impromptu snap last week will linger with voters for at least that long.

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Haley is still grouped with Kevin Greene and Michael Strahan, both of whom didn’t get in this time, so this could be a continuing saga for years to come. Warren Sapp’s slightly surprising first-time inclusion apparently was aided by a strong presentation, but Strahan is considered a strong candidate for 2014.

The process is also marred by the small number of voters, so agendas past and present can come to invade the process. In addition, some presenters are better than others, which has and can affect someone’s candidacy. Frankly, it shouldn’t have taken 55 minutes for Bill Parcells, a or a half-hour for Modell.

But the biggest issue remains too many Hall of Fame caliber candidates for too few places, and that won’t change for years, if ever. The system won’t hold under the rush, and will at some point change from the pressure, but for now, a lot of great careers are about hurrying up to wait.