CANTON, Ohio – A slick move made by the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Board of Trustees could wind up benefiting Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
Next summer, a 20-member class will be inducted as part of the NFL’s Centennial Celebration. The class will include the standard five Modern-Era players, 10 Seniors (a player who has been retired for more than 25 seasons) and three Contributors (an individual other than a player or coach) and two coaches.
This one-time expansion of the class is designed to address “the backlog of deserving Seniors, Coaches and Contributors” according to a statement from the HOF.
Here’s where it gets slick. Instead of one contributor going in, now there will be three. Also, when the final group of 15 Seniors, Contributors and coaches is voted on, they will be considered as a unit, not as individuals. An 80 percent vote gets the 15 in.
That means that somewhat controversial candidacies like that of former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue or former Browns owner Art Modell are suddenly improved. That’s what the folks at the league office want when it comes to Tagliabue and what Modell’s fellow owners would like.
Voting on the group as a bloc means, for instance, that debating the merits of Tagliabue’s leadership weighed against his failures in addressing player health and safety is off the table.
It also opens another slot for Kraft who is certainly deserving, especially if Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is in.
The timing of the process also helps Kraft.
Usually, the whole class of nominees for induction is announced at the end of August. And if voters had to deliberate on whether or not to include Kraft as a nominee while his solicitation case remains open in West Palm Beach, Florida, he might get passed over.
This year, the Modern-Era players will still be named next month, but the process with the “special group” will unfold until the end of the year when the group meets in person to shave the group down to 15.
Which increases the likelihood the Florida ridiculousness will be resolved by the time the special group and the Modern-Era players are voted on the day before the Super Bowl.
Kraft, meanwhile, isn’t getting any younger. He’ll be 79 next June. In 2016, Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler was voted in just seven months after his death. This year, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen will be posthumously inducted.
Kraft seems as vibrant as a 78-year-old can be. Still, if he’s a Hall of Fame-caliber candidate as a contributor, 2020 would be a good chance to speed his process.
Longtime Hall of Fame voter Vic Carucci addressed the issue of maintaining the Hall’s exclusivity while still getting its deserving candidates in while they are above ground.
Carucci, along with fellow Buffalo writer Mark Gaughan, stumped hard for Bills owner Ralph Wilson who was inducted at the age of 90 back in 2009.
“With Ralph Wilson, it did come up in the [deliberation] room to ‘Let’s get him in while he’s living, breathing and can enjoy it and has enough faculties to appreciate it,” said Carucci. “And with Ralph, we were in that danger zone where it was rough. I attended his party after his induction and I had to get within a foot of him before he recognized it was me and that was sad for me but I was happy the right thing was done, not because of his age but because of his contribution.
“You do want people to enjoy the honor,” he added. “I’m on Cloud 9 for Gil Brandt [who is 86 and goes into the Hall this weekend]. The guy is so special and I know what this has meant to him. He’s been bouncy since February finding he’s going to be in.”
Is asked Carucci if Kraft is as deserving as Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who was inducted in 2017.
“Easily,” said Carucci. “He should go in on the same basis. His contributions to the game, to the business of the game and to the league as a whole in my mind speak for themselves.
“This should be all about that in terms of focus,” he added. “Same as it was with Jerry. Timing-wise, maybe it didn’t happen on the calendar the way it should have for [Kraft]. But in my mind, he is a Hall of Fame contributor. That contributor category was created specifically for someone who has meant so much to the game. His Hall of Fame credentials are clear.”
The credentials are clear but the path – even widened as it will be next year – may not yet be wide-open.
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