It’s ironic that the sport with the most faceless players inducts them into its Hall of Fame with their own busts. Remove any and all written references to those enshrined in Canton and leave even the most obsessed NFL fan with just the bronze likenesses, and they’d struggle telling you Rayfield Wright from Randy White.

This year’s class is no different. Tonight, Gene Hickerson, Michael Irvin, Bruce Matthews, Charlie Sanders, Thurman Thomas and Roger Wehrli will be slipping on the yellow blazers and posing for photos next to their busts. Then tomorrow, with the exception of ex-ESPN personality Irvin, they could all stand at the entrance of the Hall of Fame with a “Hello, my name is …” tag slapped on them and still turn only a few heads.

While Sanders and Wehrli aren’t exactly household names and the underrated Thomas doesn’t get his just due in the discussion of all-time great running backs, they at least got their names mentioned a few times by Howard Cosell, John Facenda or Harry Kalas over the course of their careers. Linemen such as Hickerson and Matthews toil in the closest to anonymity of anyone on the field. The only time they get mentioned during a telecast is when John Madden or Dan Dierdorf blusters a 30-second soliloquy in the fourth quarter about how the boys in the trenches are getting dirt under their fingernails or some such nonsense.

Which leads me to wonder how some of these guys get into the Hall of Fame, which is voted on by a 40-person board made up mostly of football writers. Really, how does your average football scribe know whether Matthews, who played virtually every position on the line in a decorated (14 Pro Bowls) 18-year career, was truly more dominant than some of his unenshrined contemporaries, such as Russ Grimm, or could consistently win one-on-one battles with opponents who have yet to be recognized, such as Andre Tippett?

The answer is, he probably doesn’t. Oh, the number of Pro Bowls gives him an idea how good a guy was, although Pro Bowl spots are earned as much on reputation as the Gold Gloves that baseball has rendered worthless by rewarding them annually to the likes of Rafael Palmeiro and Derek Jeter.

I’m sure the writers take their responsibilities seriously. Many of them solicit the opinions of teammates, opponents and coaches, which is good, and try to go to their annual selection meeting as informed about the candidates as possible. But I doubt a lot of them could make a convincing case why Matthews belongs ahead of a Gary Zimmerman.

I guarantee you that few break down film of the linemen. If they do, they probably couldn’t tell you whether the right guard uses the correct blocking technique any more than whether Emeril uses basil in his jumbalaya. Perhaps, only the maniacal and cranky Paul Zimmerman – Dr. Z of Sports Illustrated – does that. And he admitted in a recent column that he had changed his mind on Irvin because he realized he didn’t vote for him the first time because he couldn’t stand him on ESPN (You’re not alone, Z).

Just keep this in mind if you’re one of those frustrated Redskins fans longing to see Art Monk find his rightful place in Canton or a Raiders fan who can’t figure out why Dan Fouts made it before Ken Stabler or, in about 10-15 years, a Patriots fan scratching his head over Dwight Freeney getting the nod over Richard Seymour. It’s all so subjective, and so inconsistent.

How is it the Broncos went to five Super Bowls under John Elway but Elway is the only representative from the era? Do two narrow victories in the Super Bowl over the Cowboys justify the Steelers of the 1970s having nearly twice as many players enshrined as their worthy foes from Dallas? Why are there nearly twice as many offensive players (105) as defensive players (58) from the modern era? How come there is only one pure kicker and no punters in the Hall? Special teams is one third of the game, isn’t it? I mean, seriously, does there even have to be a debate about whether Adam Vinatieri belongs?

I’ve never been to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I’d like to go, although I’m sure the minute I step inside, something won’t seem quite right. And it won’t be because O.J. Simpson’s bust will be staring at me.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.