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Eagles fans were ecstatic Wednesday night at the news that Brian Dawkins was named to the list of Pro Football Hall of Fame candidates for the Class of 2017.
The outpouring of support locally for Dawkins to get into the Hall of Fame is palpable. He is one of the most beloved figures in not just Eagles history, but the vast history of Philadelphia sports.
Donovan McNabb was also named to the list of 94 honorees. His relationship with the city is…more complicated.
Dawkins and McNabb are on a short list of first-year eligible nominees that includes Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward and Chargers running back LaDanian Tomlinson. It is an incredible honor to get this far in the Hall of Fame process, surely. In response to the news, Dawkins also tweeted, “With the help of others 4sure, it’s Still hard 2 believe I’ve been blessed 2 do what I’ve done & now I’m doing what I’m doing!! #BBTB”
So congrats to both of them. Now, the question becomes: will Dawkins or McNabb actually get into the Hall of Fame? And does either have a chance of getting in on the first ballot?
Before we can figure that out, it’s worth reviewing the ridiculously convoluted process of getting enshrined in Canton.
The HOF voting process, and becoming ‘finalists’
The initial list of nominees for the Hall of Fame includes 94 players and coaches. An additional three men — Seahawks strong safety Kenny Easley, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue — were previously named to the 2017 nominees list. This year’s full list, below, consists of 45 offensive players, 32 defensive players, six specialists and 11 coaches.
In November, the list of 45 players and coaches will be cut down to 25 “semifinalists” per the Hall of Fame release. Only, that’s not even close to the semifinals.
In January, the list of 25 will get cut down to 15, with those prospective members — the Hall of Fame calls them “finalists” but they’re not — joining the three previously announced finalists to be voted on by a 48-member selection committee.
The selection committee consists of a writer from each of the NFL markets, plus a group of national football scribes. On Saturday, Feb. 4 — the day before the Super Bowl — the group convenes in a private room to decide the Hall of Fame class.
So, if Dawkins and/or McNabb get through the list of 94 players and make the 25 semifinalists, or the list of 15 finalists, How good are their chances then?
About one-in-three. In other words, not great.
Easley, Jones and Tagliabue will get into the Hall of Fame with a simple 80 percent majority vote. For the other 15 “finalists”, well, things get complicated. And political.
During the meeting of voters, a member in the room has to make the case for each candidate. The 15 candidates are then trimmed from 15 to 10. So those are the real finalists, right?
The 10 remaining players and coaches are then cut down to five names. Those five — out of the 94 listed on Wednesday night — are the actual finalists. Those men are then voted on individually, with each needing a minimum of 80 percent of the vote for enshrinement.
There is no set number of Hall of Famers each year, but the Hall of Fame by-laws state that between four and eight members will be chosen. Over the last 10 years, six candidates were selected most times, with two years featuring seven inductees and two featuring five. The five years prior, no more than four inductees were selected in any year.
The quick case for B-Dawk
Should Dawkins be a Hall of Famer? Yes, certainly.
His numbers with the Eagles were amazing — he’s in the final four of our Ultimate Eagles bracket, where you can see a full rundown of just how great he was and vote for him there — and his standing within the game, including the respect from opposing players and coaches, will go a long way to buoy his stats.
Will Dawkins be a Hall of Famer? Probably, but this year might prove unlikely.
There are 260 players, 23 coaches and 22 contributors in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Seventeen of those members were in the charter class. Just 74 were elected on the first ballot after that.
Of the 260 players in Canton, 24 are defensive backs — less than 10 percent of those enshrined — and just seven are listed as safeties, with 11 having played primarily safety, some in addition to cornerback.
Of those players listed at safety, like Dawkins, just four were first-ballot inductees: Larry Wilson, who played for the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1960s and early 1970s, Ken Houston, who played for Houston and Washington in the ’60s and ’70s, Ronnie Lott, who played for the 49ers in the ’80s and 1990 before a year each with the Raiders and Jets and Rod Woodson, who was one of the best cornerbacks in history for the Steelers before moving to safety, as he stayed in the league to play for three other teams.
This year — remember no more than five players are getting in, no matter how many great candidates there are — there are 16 defensive backs on the big list, including former Eagles greats Eric Allen and Troy Vincent, as well as 10 other safeties in addition to Dawkins.
John Lynch, who played for Tampa Bay and Denver, and Broncos legend Steve Atwater were both finalists last year and are back on the list again this year. One would think Dawkins will have to wait in line for a while, especially given the list of players who have won championships ahead of him. That shouldn’t be an indication of one player’s greatness, but as you can see with the players already in the Hall, it matters.
The quick case for Five
McNabb is another case altogether. His Hall of Fame credentials have been debated in this town forever, but given the list of players in the Hall of Fame at his position, and given those on the list with him, it’s hard to think McNabb will even be a semifinalist this year, let alone a finalist up for consideration.
There are 25 modern-era quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame, and McNabb’s career isn’t really close to any of them. He’s 21st all time in career passing yards, which seems impressive, but Matt Hasselbeck is right behind him. Matt Ryan is 31st and he’s played just eight years in the league. Those numbers are as much a product of the era as anything. McNabb has a sub 60 percent completion rate, which is just below Elvis Grbac and Chad Henne, and also Bernie Kosar, to be fair. It’s also better than Andrew Luck, and Hall of Famers Warren Moon, Bart Starr and John Elway.
His number probably stack up with the likes of Elway or Terry Bradshaw, but quarterbacks are held to a different standard in Hall of Fame voting, and the fact McNabb only took the Eagles to one Super Bowl with as good as those teams were under Andy Reid — and, frankly, the rumor of him puking in the huddle during the game — will play against him.
There is no way McNabb is in the list of the five most deserving players this year, and he’s surely not even in the top 10 or 15. Given the other quarterbacks on the list this year — including Randall Cunningham, Doug Flutie, Drew Bledsoe, Steve McNair, Phil Simms and Kurt Warner — he might be seventh out of seven on that list.
Realistically, Warner, who was a finalist last year, will get in this year. McNair, who won the 2003 league MVP award would get in before McNabb. Flutie, given what he did in Canada as well, should probably already be in.
We can debate McNabb for a long time, because that’s what it’s going to take for him to ever, possibly, get in.
Who gets in?
It’s hard to go from 94 to five just like that, but if I had to take a guess on who will get in next year it will be Kurt Warner, Terrell Owens, Alan Faneca, John Lynch — all finalists last year — and first-year nominee LaDanian Tomlinson. Was Dawkins a better player than Lynch? Maybe, but he retired later, so he may have to get in line.
Full list of 2017 nominees
QUARTERBACKS (7) – Drew Bledsoe, Randall Cunningham, Doug Flutie, Donovan McNabb, Steve McNair, Phil Simms, *Kurt Warner
RUNNING BACKS (13) – Shaun Alexander, Ottis Anderson, Tiki Barber, Larry Centers, Roger Craig, *Terrell Davis, Eddie George, *Edgerrin James, Daryl Johnston, Eric Metcalf (also WR/PR/KR), LaDainian Tomlinson, Herschel Walker (also KR), Ricky Watters
WIDE RECEIVERS (10) – Isaac Bruce, Henry Ellard (also PR), Torry Holt, Chad Johnson, Derrick Mason (also KR/PR), *Terrell Owens, Sterling Sharpe, Jimmy Smith, Rod Smith, Hines Ward
TIGHT END (1) – Mark Bavaro
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (14) – Tony Boselli (T), Ray Donaldson (C), *Alan Faneca (G), Jay Hilgenberg (C), Chris Hinton (G/T), Kent Hull (C), *Joe Jacoby (T), Mike Kenn (T), Olin Kreutz (C), Jim Lachey (T), Kevin Mawae (C/G), Tom Nalen (C), Nate Newton (G), Steve Wisniewski (G)
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (5) – Leslie O’Neal (DE), Simeon Rice (DE), Fred Smerlas (NT), Jason Taylor (DE), Bryant Young (DT)
LINEBACKERS (11) – Carl Banks, Cornelius Bennett, Tedy Bruschi, Seth Joyner, Levon Kirkland, Clay Matthews, Willie McGinest (also DE), Karl Mecklenburg, Sam Mills, Joey Porter, Zach Thomas
DEFENSIVE BACKS (16) – Eric Allen (CB), *Steve Atwater (S), Joey Browner (S), LeRoy Butler (S), Brian Dawkins (SS), Rodney Harrison (S), Ty Law (CB), Albert Lewis (CB), *John Lynch (S), Frank Minnifield (CB), Bob Sanders (SS), Darren Sharper (FS), Dennis Smith (SS), Troy Vincent (S), Everson Walls (CB), Darren Woodson (S)
KICKERS/PUNTER (4) – *Morten Andersen (K), Gary Anderson (K), Sean Landeta (P), Nick Lowery (K)
SPECIAL TEAMS (2) – Brian Mitchell (KR/PR also RB), Steve Tasker (ST also WR)
COACHES (11) – *Don Coryell, Bill Cowher, Tom Flores, Mike Holmgren, Jimmy Johnson, Chuck Knox, Buddy Parker, Richie Petitbon, Dan Reeves, Clark Shaughnessy, Dick Vermeil
(Full list of nominees via ProFootballHOF.com)