Sacco Sez: How to judge a Hall of Famer

Posted Feb 24, 2018

Jim Saccomano looks at a series of questions that could answer the main question of whether someone should be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame class will not be inducted until this summer, but there is already a lot of excitement over the possibilities of next year's class for the Denver Broncos.

The sentiment for Owner Pat Bowlen and the feeling that he has a great chance for selection to the next class is palpable, and, in addition, all-world cornerback Champ Bailey becomes eligible this year.

I have high hopes that at least one of them, if not both, will be selected next year — and of course the icing on the cake would be if Randy Gradishar or Louis Wright were to emerge from the veterans committee as recommended candidates as well.

But this is not so much about repeating the validity of statistics relative to any of our very worthy Broncos candidates as a look at the mental process itself.

With all this in mind, I thought it might be good to take a look at how a candidate is judged.

What I am going to do is give all credit to noted baseball researcher Bill James for what he calls The Keltner List.

Many fans have never heard of Ken Keltner, but they probably have heard of Joe DiMaggio. When DiMaggio had his famed, likely-never-to-be-broken 56-game hitting streak, it was Keltner who made two great plays at third base in Cleveland to put an end to the streak. Keltner was a fine overall player, and his career prompted James to come up with this evaluation list, "The Keltner List."

These are the kinds of questions voters ask themselves when they are trying to separate greatness.  I think the questions are valid for any voter and apply to any Hall of Fame, including that of pro football.  With credit to James, and adapting them to football, they are as follows.

1) Was he ever regarded as the best player in football?

2) Was he the best player on his team?

3) Was he the best player in his conference at his position?

4) Was he the best player in football at his position?

5) Did he have an impact in any playoff or playoff-caliber games?

6) If he retired today, would he be the best player in football not in the Hall of Fame?

7) Are most players in his position with comparable stats in the Hall of Fame?

8) If he retired today, would he be the best player in his position not in the Hall of Fame?

9) How many All-Pro type seasons did he have? How many Pro Bowls did he play in? Did most other players at his position who made the Hall of Fame play in a comparable amount of games or have a comparable amount of All-Pro or Pro Bowl seasons?

10) Did the player possess any other qualities that would not be measured by statistics?

That is the list devised by James, and it is exceptional.

I personally add three more questions for evaluation, those being:

1) Does he pass the "eye test?" That is, when you watched or observed his play and behavior, did you feel you were watching one of the best in pro football?

2) There are only so many decades in the history of the game. In the case of the NFL, ten decades will have been played as of 2019.  Can the individual be called one of the best in the game or the single best at his position, in one or more decades?  


3) If you were writing a comprehensive but still finite history of pro football, could the history of pro football be written without mention of him?

So there you have it. Those are the questions debated by Hall of Fame voters, voter hopefuls and fans as well.

I happen to think that Pat Bowlen, Champ Bailey, veteran committee guys Randy Gradishar and Louis Wright, and other Broncos stamp those answers with a clear "yes," but the reader can make his or her own judgments.

I think I know how Broncos fans would answer those questions.