Fast Track to the Top?
The list of finalists for 2011 included five who are in their first year of eligibility. They are Jerome Bettis, Marshall Faulk, Curtis Martin, Willie Roaf, and Deion Sanders.
One of my thoughts when I first saw the list of finalist was whether or not this was a record number of first-year eligible candidates in the list of Finalists? I was also curious to know if being a finalist in one's first year of eligibility was a sure-fire way to being elected.
Let's take a look.
We start with 1970 because the procedure for naming the Pro Football Hall of Fame finalists was not defined prior to that point. To be eligible for election, modern-era players and coaches must be retired at least five years. However, bylaws from 1970 to 2007 required coaches only to be retired. Contributors need not be retired to earn their way into the Hall so they are not included in my calculations.
From 1970-2010 there have been 109 men who have been a Pro Football Hall of Fame Finalist in their first year of their eligibility. Of that sum, only 67 have been elected in that year. That's a percentage of 61. A majority percentage, but certainly does not indicate that a first-year eligible finalist is a "shoo-in" for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The five men who are first-year eligible finalists in 2011 are now collectively tied for most in Pro Football Hall of Fame history. The other group of finalists that included five nominees in their first year of eligibility occurred in 1993, 1990, and 1971. The ones listed in caps were elected that year.
1993 - DAN FOUTS, CHUCK NOLL, WALTER PAYTON, Dwight Stephenson, and Kellen Winslow
1990 - FRANCO HARRIS, JACK LAMBERT, TOM LANDRY, Ken Stabler, and Jack Youngblood
1971 - Roosevelt Brown, JIM BROWN, Dick "Night Train" Lane, VINCE LOMBARDI, and Joe Schmidt
Interestingly, the record for the most first-year eligible finalists to earn election into the Hall of Fame in a single class is three. That's happened eight times 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1987, 1990, 1991, 1993, and 2006.
And, just once in our history has a group of finalists not included a first-year eligible candidate (1976).
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