The three men who host the Talk of Fame radio show, who are also voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, often try to enlighten listeners about how difficult their job truly is. In particular, members of the Seniors Committee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame have an overwhelmingly large number of candidates to consider. Seniors Committee members are tasked with nominating one or two candidates per year for the Hall of Fame from a seniors pool that consists of every pro football player who retired from 1920 through the late-1980s!
That’s truly a large pool of possible Hall of Fame candidates, and I agree with them that they have a very, very tough job sorting through many deserving candidates. However, one of the facts that these men love to mention is that there are a very large number of players who were voted onto the league’s All-Decade teams who aren’t in the Hall of Fame. For example, Rick Gosselin dropped this nugget in a recent blog post:
“There are 71 position players eligible for enshrinement who were NFL all-decade selections but do not yet have busts in Canton. Sixty-one of that 71 have never even been discussed as finalists. It should be noted that the all-decade teams are chosen by the Hall of Fame selection committee…
It doesn’t necessarily mean he belongs in Canton — but he does deserve his 10 minutes of discussion from the full committee. Of the 61 who have never been discussed, 56 are now in the senior pool. That means their 25 years of eligibility has expired. The senior sub-committee is allowed to nominate only two candidates per year. At that rate, it would take the next 28 years just to clear the queue of those all-decade performers.”
It’s a statistic the three men on the Talk of Fame show love to recite over and over again. With due respect to Gosselin and the rest of the Talk of Fame crew, I can honestly say the hypothetical scenario presented above is overblown. Let me show you why.
NFL’s All-Decade Teams and the Pro Football Hall of Fame
We can start by looking at the All-Decade players who aren’t in the Hall of Fame. Here are the All-Decade teams and the number of position players who aren’t in the Hall from each decade.
1920s – 2
1930s – 10
1940s – 18
1950s – 5
1960s (NFL) – 12
1960s (AFL) – 13
1970s – 2
1980s – 2
Now, by my count, that equals 64 All-Decade first team position players not in the Hall of Fame. But what’s more interesting is how much the number of non-Hall of Fame All-Decade players varies by decade.
For instance, in the 1920s, ’50s, ’70s, and ’80s, there are only two to five players per team missing from the Hall of Fame…11 players combined from the four teams. The 1930s, ’40s, and ’60s, however, are a different story. So what’s happening?
Overrating the 1960s
Well, the issue with the 1960s All-Decade teams is pretty straightforward. From 1960 through 1969, the NFL was challenged for pro football supremacy by the AFL, resulting in a merger of the two leagues by 1970. The NFL picked an All-Decade team, but so did the AFL. Between the two teams, a whopping 25 players are missing from the Hall of Fame.
But what if you did the same thing in the 1960s that you did for every other decade from the ’20s through the ’80s…pick one team for the decade encompassing all of pro football? After all, that’s what the 1940s team did, for example. That decade combined the best players from the NFL and the AAFC to come up with the 1940s All-Decade team. Do the same for the 1960s, and how many players on that team are missing from the Hall of Fame?
I don’t know the answer, and I’m not sure I’m well-versed enough in the decade of the 1960s to choose the team myself. But given that 12 or 13 players are missing from the two current teams and given that a true 1960s team that combines both teams would probably favor current Hall of Famers at most positions, I’m going to guess that the number of players from a true 1960s NFL-AFL All-Decade team not in the Hall of Fame would be closer to the two to five players missing from the teams from the ’50s, ’70s, and ’80s.
Let me put this another way. The 1960s NFL All-Decade team isn’t an NFL all-decade team – it’s an NFC all-decade team. The AFL all-decade team covers the other “half” of pro football from that decade. All pro football achievements in the 1960s, including pro bowl berths and such, need to be viewed through the lens that there were two separate, distinct leagues watering down the talent. Even if you argue that the AFL was a much weaker league competitively, I don’t see how you can avoid the fact that two separate leagues made for twice as many all-decade selections, all-league selections, post-season honors, and so forth.
This is an important point, because the Hall of Fame voters can be “dazzled” by 1960s All-Decade team selections. Take the recent case Gosselin made for Eddie Meador. Now, I’m not arguing that Meador doesn’t belong in the Hall of Fame. What I will say, however, is that using his status as a member of the 1960s NFL All-Decade team as evidence that he’s been unfairly overlooked is extremely misleading. Yes, Meador was one of three safeties on that team, along with Larry Wilson and Willie Wood, who have both made it to Canton. So you might think Meador needs his recognition, too.
However, over on the 1960s AFL All-Decade team, you have Johnny Robinson at safety, another guy Gosselin thinks deserves stronger consideration than he’s received. Furthermore, the 1950s and 1970s All-Decade teams had three and two safeties on those clubs, respectively. So if we were crafting a 1960s All-Decade team across the whole sport, if we allowed for three safeties on the team (which seems reasonable), and if we started by choosing the decade’s two Hall of Fame safeties for two of the three spots (also reasonable), then we have one last spot for an All-Decade safety in the 1960s. Only Eddie Meador or Johnny Robinson can have it. So…who do you give it to? It’s a worthwhile question.
Now, obviously the answer doesn’t directly impact Meador’s Hall of Fame case. Even if you give the third All-Decade safety spot to Johnny Robinson (and personally, I would), just because Meador’s not on the All-Decade team doesn’t mean he’s not Hall of Fame worthy. Dozens of guys are in the Hall of Fame who weren’t All-Decade. However, it does mean that you can’t in good conscience use Meador’s All-Decade selection as validation of his Hall of Fame credentials. His All-Decade selection and even his Pro Bowl berths have to be (or more correctly, should be) viewed in context of the fact that there were twice as many of those accolades flying around that decade. That’s a harsh reality that the Hall of Fame voters often (if not always) overlook, and it causes them to massively overrate 1960s-era players.
Analyzing the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s All-Decade Teams
Okay, so I may not be an expert in the 1960s NFL (or AFL), but I know quite a bit about the NFL from 1920-1949. So I can actually talk reasonably intelligently about what’s going on in those decades. Given that there are 28 non-Hall of Fame All-Decade players from the 1930s and ’40s alone, this is major part of the “logjam” guys like Gosselin are referring to.
I’m going to put this as simply as I can – the All-Decade teams of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s are an absolute mess. “All-Decade” players of these decades shouldn’t use that title as any kind of plank in a serious Hall of Fame case.
The backstory is this: in 1969, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the NFL, the Hall of Fame named an All-Decade team of the 1960s. But they also named All-Decade teams for the 1920s, ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s.
I’m not knocking the intelligence and insight of the men who chose these teams, but it’s not surprising that they did a lousy job. Remember, this was 1969…well before Google or any of the modern research tools we take for granted today. These men were tasked to put together an All-Decade team from an era of football that ended 20 to 40 years earlier! I guarantee most of the voters who selected that team hadn’t even covered the NFL that long ago.
So they’re selecting an All-Decade team from an era they didn’t cover and can’t adequately research…is it any wonder that they did a subpar job?
Different Flaws – The 1920s All-Decade Team
What’s interesting about these three All-Decade teams is that they’re all bad, but they’re not bad in the same way. I discussed this in my book about Duke Slater, but the 1920s All-Decade team is flawed because it’s like the selection committee just took every person who was already in the Hall of Fame and who played at any point in the 1920s and shoehorned them onto the team.
This resulted in some bizarre choices, like Cal Hubbard. Hubbard was a phenomenal, deserving Hall of Fame player. But he was chosen to the 1920s All-Decade team as a tackle, despite the fact that a) he was a rookie in 1927, so he only played three seasons in the 1920s, and b) in his first two seasons (1927 and 1928), Hubbard was an all-pro at end, not tackle. So Cal Hubbard, although he was a terrific player, only played one season of the 1920s at the tackle position, a position he dominated in the 1930s. While that makes Hubbard a great choice for a 1930s All-Decade tackle, it makes no sense to place him at tackle on the 1920s All-Decade team.
Several choices on the 1920s All-Decade team are similarly “misplaced”. On the other hand, very few members of the 1920s team were non-Hall of Fame caliber players. The only one who jumps out is Hunk Anderson, one of only two members of the 1920s All-Decade team not in the Hall of Fame. Anderson played four seasons for the Chicago Bears from 1922-1925 and earned one all-pro selection, a second team mention in 1922. He eventually succeeded Knute Rockne as the head coach at Notre Dame after Rockne’s untimely death in 1931 and later coached the Bears during World War II.
Anderson was an outstanding college player but lacks anything close to a Hall of Fame resume as a pro. Moreover, I don’t think he’s even a deserving member of the All-Decade team; his fame as a coach, both at Notre Dame and with the Bears, clouded the judgment of the All-Decade team selectors in 1969. Again, it’s like they said, “Hey, the 1920s team needs a guard. Who played guard in the 1920s?” And someone else said, “Hunk Anderson did!” And since everyone remembered him as a coach, bam, Anderson’s on the All-Decade team. It was a ridiculous selection in retrospect, but it’s pretty clear how it went down in 1969.
Despite Anderson’s undeserved selection to the 1920s All-Decade team, he’s the only player on the 1920s All-Decade team who is obviously not Hall of Fame worthy (the only other member of the 1920s All-Decade team who isn’t in the Hall is LaVern Dilweg, who clearly should be…but more on that later). So all in all, the 1920s All-Decade team has several members who are “misplaced” (like Cal Hubbard), but there’s only one non-Hall of Fame talent on the team.
Different Flaws – The 1930s and 1940s All-Decade Teams
The 1930s and 1940s All-Decade teams are a different story. As mentioned above, 28 members of these two All-Decade teams aren’t in the Hall of Fame. Here’s the kicker, though…most of them don’t deserve to be. In fact, most of them don’t even deserve to be on the All-Decade team they’re on! The selectors in 1969 really whiffed on constructing those teams, making apparent how difficult it was to create All-Decade teams decades after the fact and without the benefit of modern research tools we take for granted today.
There are dozens of “Hunk Andersons”, for lack of a better term, on the 1930s and 1940s teams…players who don’t belong anywhere near the Hall of Fame. One quick example…Byron “Whizzer” White played three seasons in the NFL (1938, 1940, and 1941). He was an all-pro each season and he left pro football to enter the Navy during World War II. Still, he played just three years in the NFL and only two seasons in the 1940s. White went on to become a judge and eventually ascended to the U.S. Supreme Court. Obviously, that’s big time.
Yet when you look at White’s career, how he made the 1940s All-Decade team is anyone’s guess. Again, he played only two seasons in the decade! He doesn’t belong on the All-Decade team or anywhere near it…and of course he’s one of the 18 players on the 1940s All-Decade team who are not in the Hall of Fame. White was an admirable guy, but Pro Football Hall of Fame? For three seasons of play?
Once again, it’s like the Hall of Fame committee in 1969 said, “Who played NFL football in the 1940s? Didn’t Whizzer White play in the ’40s? Okay…let’s put him on the All-Decade team!” White was a famous public figure, but that doesn’t mean he played his way onto the All-Decade team.
A Misleading Stat
Now remember, when Gosselin laments that, “it would take the next 28 years just to clear the queue of those all-decade performers,” he’s including guys like Hunk Anderson and Whizzer White in that statistic. Let’s be honest…Anderson and White don’t belong in a realistic Canton conversation. Heck, they probably don’t deserve to be on the All-Decade teams they’re on! Several other All-Decade players are in the same boat. They don’t deserve “ten minutes of discussion from the full committee”…shoot, they barely deserve ten seconds.
That’s not to say that the Hall of Fame voters don’t have a difficult job. It truly is tough to make these calls. But the backlog, particularly of pre-war players, isn’t as daunting as they sometimes make it seem. Since my area of expertise is the single-platoon era from 1920-1949, I can show you just how few players from the NFL’s first three decades aren’t in the Hall of Fame but should be (or at least warrant true consideration). There are relatively few players from that era who really deserve the Hall of Fame voters’ attention…and believe it or not, many of them aren’t the players on those All-Decade teams!
So who are they? Tell you what…I’ll get to that one next time. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!
Filed under: General