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Hall of Fame debates

Posted by Doug on August 7, 2006

I run a site with a lot of historical pro football content, so I feel like I ought to be one of those types who's always getting into long debates about who should and shouldn't be enshrined in Canton. For some reason, though, I'm just not into it. Every once in awhile, such a debate will catch my interest. But most of the time I find them tedious.

Four things that annoy me about HoF debates

1. When people say, "It's the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of ________," where the blank is filled in with something like "pretty good," or "above average," or something even more smug. That quip got old many, many years ago.

2. When people say, "If you have to think about it, then the answer is no." First, this doesn't even make any sense. Wherever you draw the line, there will be people near it and you'll have to think about those people. But that's beside the point. They probably mean if you have to think about it given the current set of de facto standards, then the answer is no. So it's just a sports-radio way of saying that the standards should be higher than they currently are.

OK, that's fine. How exclusive the Hall ought to be is a subjective matter and everyone is entitled to an opinion. Personally, I don't have a problem with a more inclusive Hall of Fame. Jerome Bettis was a heck of a football player, and I don't see the harm in putting him in. Same with Terrell Davis and even Art Monk. But the higher-standards crowd seems to think that the inclusion of Bettis somehow trivializes the accomplishments of Jim Brown and Walter Payton. Just because Walter Payton = Hall of Famer and Jerome Bettis = Hall of Famer doesn't mean Walter Payton = Jerome Bettis.

3. When people don't specify whether the argument is about the Will he be? question or the Should he be? question. "Andre Reed: is he a Hall of Famer?" is not a well-defined question. It could be interpreted two ways. The two answers might be different and the methods of argument should definitely be different. Let me state here and now that this will be the only forum on the internet where this will not cause any confusion. If you're posting here, the rule is: you may not enter a Hall of Fame debate without first specifying which question you are debating. Will he? Or Should he? Please help me enforce this.

4. This one is actually somewhat serious instead of me just being grouchy, and it applies not just to Hall of Fame debates but a whole lot of other football debates as well: when people say things like, for example, "I've watched every NFC East game for the last thirty years, and it's obvious to me that Art Monk was better than Michael Irvin."

Now, if you're expecting me to launch into a rant about the superiority of objective data (i.e. stats) over subjective opinions, you've come to the wrong place. In baseball, I think stats --- properly interpreted --- do tell the whole story, or at least 95% of it. In football, they don't, even at the positions where stats are plentiful. So no, I don't have any problem with subjective Hall of Fame arguments. My complaint with the above is that when we (self included) make these kinds of comments, we need to remember and acknowledge that the I that watched Monk in his prime was not the same person as the I that observed Irvin's prime.

Monk's breakout season was 1984 and Irvin's was 1991. That's seven years. How different is your brain now than it was seven years ago? Mine is a lot different. I've learned a lot in the last seven years, and I've also forgotten a lot. In 1984 I was 13 years old. In 1991 I was 20. A few of my college professors may dispute this, but I'm pretty sure that I changed more than a little during those years. Art Monk was more than a foot taller than me, but Irvin was my same height. How can that not color the way I view these two guys?

Now try to compare Tony Dorsett and Curtis Martin, who were separated by 20 years instead of seven. There's just no hope. But at least for Monk and Irvin and Dorsett and Martin we've got stats. They may be imperfect, but they're something. What happens when we try to compare Mike Singletary to Brian Urlacher? Or Richard Dent to Michael Strahan? Anthony Munoz to Willie Roaf? It's necessarily going to boil down to comparing what one group of sportswriters, players, and fans thought about one of those guys to what a totally different group of sportswriters, players, and fans thought about the other one.

This entry was posted on Monday, August 7th, 2006 at 4:12 am and is filed under History, Rant. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.