It’s been a busy week, with the Super Bowl last week and the new Pro Football Hall of Fame class being announced.  Throw in the fact that it’s Black History Month, and it’s a busy time in the world of sports.  And on that note, with a nod as always to Gus Schrader, here’s another edition of Random Hash!

Super Bowl Reaction

First of all, congratulations to Marshal Yanda and Sean Considine on winning Super Bowl rings with the Baltimore Ravens!!  I’m very, very happy for both former Hawks.  I spent a lot of time writing about Marshal Yanda and how he had one of the best single seasons ever by a Hawkeye in the Super Bowl era.  But I want to tip my cap to Sean Considine as well…a longtime special teams player, Considine has been juggling playing in the NFL with raising 19-month triplets.  Now that’s an achievement!  Many years from now, Dad will be able to show the Considine kids some pretty wicked jewelry.

I’ve also overlooked the fact that Jewel Hampton was on the San Francisco 49ers roster.  Hampton lettered at Iowa before transferring to Southern Illinois; Hampton’s time at Iowa was soured by two season-ending ACL surgeries.  As with Tom Smith, I tend to have a lenient policy on who qualifies as “former Hawkeyes,” so his presence in New Orleans was of interest to me.  Sadly, Hampton – who did not play an NFL game this season – was inactive for the Super Bowl.  Still, he joins C.J. Jones and Matt Rodgers in the Super Bowl Hawkeye DNP Club.  Even though things didn’t work out for him in Iowa City, I wish Hampton the best and hope this is just the start of a long pro career for him.

Finally, congratulations to Jacoby Jones, the Baltimore receiver who had 206 kick return yards on five attempts including a 108-yard touchdown return.  His performance nearly topped Tim Dwight‘s 210 kick return yards and a touchdown on five attempts in Super Bowl XXXIII, but he narrowly fell short.  As it stands, Jones joins Dwight as one of nine players to return a kickoff for a touchdown in the Super Bowl…an impressive feat!

Hall of Fame Contributors

Congratulations are also in order for the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2013, which was elected last Saturday.  Bill Parcells, Warren Sapp, Larry Allen, Cris Carter, Jonathan Ogden, Curley Culp, and Dave Robinson are all deserving of the honor, and it will be great to see them inducted at the Hall of Fame on August 3.  While all seven of these men belong in Canton, I do have a suggestion to improve the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection process.

Here’s the current process: two Seniors Candidates are selected every year, representing players whose careers ended over 25 years ago.  These two Seniors Candidates automatically become Hall of Fame finalists.  Modern-era players, coaches, and contributors all go through a longer, different process.

A huge list of modern-era candidates is whittled down through several rounds of voting until only fifteen modern-era candidates remain; these 15 are named as semifinalists.  The day before the Super Bowl, the Hall of Fame voters meet and whittle the group of 15 semifinalists down to five modern-era finalists.  The five modern-era guys and the two Seniors Candidates are then put before the Hall of Fame voters, who give an up or down vote on each of the seven men.  If a finalist gets 80 percent of the voters to vote yes, he’s part of the newest class of the Hall of Fame.

Overall, I like the process.  What I don’t like, however, is how the voting makes no distinction between players and non-players.  Under the current rules, a maximum of five modern-era players can be elected for the Hall of Fame in any given year.  That’s a pretty small number, a number made even smaller by the fact that non-players often clog up one of the bids for modern-era players.

My biggest problem with this is that the Hall of Fame voters already have a very tough job.  Comparing defensive lineman Michael Strahan to wide receiver Cris Carter is comparing apples to oranges, but at least they’re both fruits (or players, as the case may be).  Even though you can’t directly compare the two, at least you can compare each player in terms of stats, honors, and longevity to other players of the same era who played the same position.  By looking at how a player ranks among his peers, you can compare whether a receiver was more dominant in his era than a lineman was in his.

On the other hand, comparing a defensive lineman like Warren Sapp to owner Art Modell is like comparing an apple to a boomerang.  I don’t know how you can compare an owner to a lineman in any meaningful way, and asking Hall of Fame voters to do so is just ridiculous.

So here’s my suggestion: In the same way that Seniors Candidates are elected on a separate ballot from modern-era players, coaches and contributors should be elected on a separate ballot from modern-era players.  Allow for the nomination of one “contributor” as a finalist every year, and allow the five modern-era spots to be solely dedicated to players.  Expand the Hall class to eight finalists – and a possible eight inductees – every year…five modern players, two senior players, and one contributor.

I think one contributor for every seven players is a fair ratio.  Currently, there are 273 members of the Hall of Fame.  Many of the pre-World War II guys were both players and contributors (like Jim Conzelman, for example), which can make it hard to split them out.  However, by my count, there are 38 people in the Hall of Fame primarily as contributors (and that doesn’t even count a guy like Dick LeBeau, who was elected as a “player” but was probably considered largely due to his tenure as a defensive coordinator).

Now if you consider that 38 contributors out of 273 Hall of Famers is already 13.92 percent, I don’t think allowing one contributor in every eight man class would skew things too much.

I don’t want to suggest that Bill Parcells doesn’t deserve to make the Hall of Fame, but I hate to see him taking a modern-era spot away from guys like Strahan and Tim Brown.  Two years ago, Ed Sabol made it in.  The year before that it was LeBeau, and the year before that owner Ralph Wilson made it.  If you made a separate contributors category, you’d have no shortage of candidates going forward.  Tony Dungy, Paul Tagliabue, Steve Sabol…the list goes on.

And the best part of this change – other than making it easier to compare the overall impact on the league between non-players without introducing players into the mix – is that it gives the Hall of Fame voters an opportunity to consider the cases of guys who would otherwise never be considered.  Under the current process, men like Ole Haugsrud, Ralph Hay, Clark Shaughnessy, Joe Foss, Jerry Burns, Buddy Young, Johnny Grier, and Tex Maule would never, ever be seriously considered.  I’m not saying every one of these men deserves to make the Hall of Fame, but each of these men made a huge impact on the NFL that warrants them being considered for the Hall of Fame.

That will never happen as long as these men are forced to compete with modern-era players.  No one’s going to consider picking an influential referee or front office executive, for instance, over a modern-era player…no chance.  But a separate contributor category would at least stimulate discussion of a whole new class of candidates, and in my mind, that would be a wonderful thing.

Duke Slater’s Catch-22

Naturally, my attention now turns to the Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2014 and Duke Slater’s chances to be considered for induction.  I’ve been campaigning for Slater to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame and receive other well-deserved accolades, like induction into the Arizona Cardinals Ring of Honor.  Unfortunately, Duke Slater is caught in a bit of a Catch-22.

If you look at the 13 players currently enshrined in the Arizona Cardinals Ring of Honor, ten of them are already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  The other three are Aeneas Williams, Marshall Goldberg, and Pat Tillman.

Williams is still going through the Hall of Fame process and made the cut this year to the final ten candidates before being eliminated; most consider him a lock for the Hall of Fame in the next few years.  Goldberg was a Seniors Candidate twice – and was rejected by the Hall of Fame both times.  Basically, the Cardinals organization considers him a Hall of Fame-caliber player, but the Hall disagrees.  Lastly, Tillman is an American hero whose football career was cut short by military service…even though most believe his football career was too short to deserve a Hall of Fame spot, he is understandably deserving of being honored by the Cardinals franchise.  In other words, Tillman is a special case.

On the flip side, there are 11 Cardinals in the Pro Football Hall of Fame primarily for what they did with the Cardinals organization.  Ten of them are in the Arizona Cardinals Ring of Honor…only Jackie Smith has been omitted.  Why Hall of Famer Jackie Smith has not yet been enshrined in the Cardinals Ring of Honor is anyone’s guess, but the point is that the Hall of Fame and the Ring of Honor are closely correlated.  With rare exceptions, Cardinals are in both the Ring of Honor and in the Hall of Fame…or they are in neither.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame considers accolades like the Ring of Honor when it evaluates candidates.  The thinking is: if a player isn’t one of the best players in franchise history – worthy of being enshrined in a Ring of Honor – how can they be one of the best players in league history, worthy of being enshrined in the Hall of Fame?  So the Hall of Fame often rejects players who aren’t “good enough” to be in a team’s Ring of Honor.

But then on the other hand, the Cardinals, unlike many franchises, are fairly strict in who they consider for their Ring of Honor.  For the most part, they limit it to Hall of Fame caliber players.  Ten of the eleven pre-2000s players they’ve inducted were already Hall of Famers when they were put in the Ring, and the Cardinals clearly think Goldberg is a Hall of Famer, too, since they’ve nominated him twice.  So if an older player is not in the Hall of Fame, odds are the Cardinals aren’t putting him in the Ring of Honor.

That’s the Catch-22 for Duke Slater.  The Hall of Fame could use against him the fact that he’s not in the Cardinals Ring of Honor.  Yet the Cards could use against him the fact that he’s not in the Hall of Fame!  Duke Slater deserves both honors – now it’s just a waiting game to see whether the Cardinals organization or the Pro Football Hall of Fame fixes this oversight first.

Duke Slater, All-American

I recently received an e-mail from Andy Piro, who (like John Streif) is one of the truly great behind-the-scenes Hawkeyes of all time.  Anyway, Piro recently read my book on Duke Slater and was intrigued by a statement I made on page 73.  I mentioned Duke Slater had been named a first-team All-American by nine different sources in 1921.  Piro asked me to name the nine critics that tabbed Slater as a first-team All-American.

I jumped into research mode, starting with the book itself.  I pulled the quote about Slater making nine All-American first teams from a January 1, 1922, article in the Davenport Democrat and Leader.  According to that article, there were 18 All-American teams that year that “have come to the notice of sport fans at Iowa.”

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to track down all 18 of those teams.  That’s not too surprising, given that some of them are now quite obscure – the Democrat and Leader article specifically mentions a few of these teams, one being the All-American team of the Chicago Journal of Commerce.  I had never heard of that team (or that publication, frankly), so I couldn’t cross-check all 18 of the All-American teams mentioned by the Democrat and Leader.

Although I wasn’t able to uncover all nine publications that named Duke Slater a first-team All-American in 1921, I was able to specifically identify seven of them.  They were: 

Billy Evans, Newspaper Enterprise Association – Dec. 1

William Hahn, Davenport Times – Dec. 2

Roundy Coughlin, Capital Times – Dec. 3

Jack Veiock, International News Service – Dec. 3

Carl Reed, Syracuse Herald – Dec. 4

Walter Trumbull, New York Herald – Dec. 12

Walter Eckersall, Chicago Tribune – Dec. 12

Then as now, anyone could and can name their own personal All-American teams, but only a few All-American teams were and are considered nationally relevant.  Of these seven All-American teams from 1921, the ones named by Eckersall, Trumbull, Veiock, and Evans are usually considered the highest profile, while the teams named by Hahn, Coughlin, and Reed were considered “minor” All-American teams in their day.  I’m sure the other two, whatever they were, were “minor” teams as well.

I was surprised during my research of Slater at how many sources named All-American teams back then, just as is the case today.  I love that type of research, as it illustrates precisely how respected Duke Slater was in his era. 

President Obama and Duke Slater

I try to avoid talking politics on this site.  I’m just not a fan of political talk…I feel it often brings out a somewhat mean-spirited side of otherwise reasonable people.  With that said, I have to admit that I’m interested in reading President Obama’s comments about football that will be published in a New Republic interview on Feb. 11.  In an excerpt released recently, President Obama – who has no sons – said that if he did, he’d “have to think long and hard” before allowing him to play football, on account of the physical toll the game takes.

I’m fascinated by this, of course, because that’s exactly the position that Rev. George Slater took a century ago when it came to his son, Duke.  In fact, George Slater went so far as to ban his son from playing football in his entire freshman season of high school, which is why Slater only played three years of high school ball.  George Slater only relented in 1913 when Duke promised his dad that he would be careful not to get hurt.  And as readers of this site surely know, Duke Slater went on to become one of the greatest football players who ever lived.

I’ve often been struck by the parallels in the backgrounds of President Obama and Duke Slater.  Both hailed from the South Side of Chicago; Obama, a well-known White Sox fan, would be pleased to know that Duke Slater played several NFL games at old Comiskey Park.  In fact, given Obama’s loyalties to South Side teams, if the Chicago Cardinals hadn’t moved in 1960 and ceded the Windy City to the Bears, I’m sure the president would have grown up as loyal to Slater’s Chicago Cardinals as he is to the White Sox (and Bears).  Politically, Slater campaigned vigorously for President Harry Truman in 1948, as the Democratic turnout in Chicago that helped Truman capture the White House also aided Slater in becoming Chicago’s second African-American judge that same election.

As I’ve said, I’m not looking to make any big political statements here.  I just find it remarkable that the more football changes – specifically the safety concerns shared by George Slater in 1913 and President Obama in 2013 – the more it remains the same sport it has always been.

More on Duke Slater

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m moving DukeSlater.com over here to NealRozendaal.com/dukeslater, giving Duke a new home on the web.  In that spirit, over the next four days, I’m going to resurrect a series I did over on DukeSlater.com on four great coaches who had an impact on Slater’s life.  It’s an important issue to raise, because while we often salute the black pioneers of the sport who defied the prevailing discrimination of the times (like Frank Holbrook), unfortunately we often overlook the coaches who gave those pioneers the opportunity they needed to make history.

This is the last series I’m bringing over from DukeSlater.com, and after that, that website will be coming down for good.  So enjoy this upcoming look at a few of the men who helped make Duke Slater’s legendary exploits possible…and thanks for reading!

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