For two years former Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens has been Hall of Fame eligible, yet he remains on the outside looking in. Owens is second all-time in career receiving yards, and third all-time in receiving touchdowns, yet he has been excluded from the Hall of Fame. I wanted to get a better understanding as to why it is that Owens has yet to receive his gold jacket, so I sought to get a better understanding of the process. My search led me to the Houston Chronicle’s John McClain, who I had the pleasure of conversing with during Texans training camp. McClain, who is heading into his 40th year covering the NFL, is a HOF voter and a member of the Senior Selection Committee.
During the three weeks the Texans were in West Virginia, McClain was kind enough to open up in an interview about the HOF voting process, his thoughts on Eagles greats Brian Dawkins and Terrell Owens as HOFers and what the public doesn’t understand about the voting process.
Tyler Jackson: Did you think that Terrell Owens was a first-ballot Hall of Famer?
John McClain: No. I think there were too many others that were due. I voted for Owens every year because I know he’s going to get in. It doesn't have anything to do with whether a guy is worthy of being first ballot, it’s who else is worthy that hasn't been in. Michael Irvin waited three years, Cris Carter waited (several) years, why shouldn’t T.O.? It has nothing to do with, in my opinion, T.O.. It has everything to do with his competition. There were more people I thought that deserved to go in that had been waiting longer.
TJ: So you didn’t vote for him in his first year of eligibility?
JM: No, I voted for him, but you have to understand the process. People don’t understand the process, but are so critical of the committee, they’re clueless. T.O. is going to get in, it’s just a matter of when.
TJ: What are your thoughts on Brian Dawkins and his chances of being enshrined?
JM: I think Brian Dawkins deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. There are a lot of safeties that deserve to be in there. For whatever reason, we have not put enough safeties in. John Lynch is one that I’ve been voting for for years and I think John Lynch deserves it, Brian Dawkins, Darren Woodson. Those are all safeties that are worthy and I’m probably leaving somebody out. I’m glad we put in Kenny Easley because when he was healthy, he was the best safety I have ever seen.
TJ: Was Brian (Dawkins) a guy that you voted for this year?
JM: Well see, that’s different. It’s not that you just vote for them. Did I vote for him to get to 25, yes. Did I vote for him to get to 15, yes. Did I vote for him from 15 to 10, yes. I don’t remember what cut he made. It’s not a vote, a one time deal, you keep reducing the list.
TJ: Is there anything about the voting process that you’d like to see changed?
JM: I think the voting process is great. I think people are critical of it because they don’t have a clue about it.
TJ: You mentioned that you voted for Terrell Owens the first time, would you have voted him in to the final five as a finalist?
JM: I would have voted hm to the final five. Every time there’s a final five I vote yes on all of them, but remember, I think only eight negative votes keeps a guy out. They’ve got to get 80 percent of 48, whatever that is. All of those guys could vote for him and then eight could keep him out or nine.
TJ: Does the committee look at each candidate and essentially consider first-ballot status an honor or anything special?
JM: I think a first-ballot Hall of Famer has got to be somebody that there are no questions. No questions about him at all. That’s why a lot don’t make it on the first ballot. Some of the greatest in history didn’t make it on the first ballot. Sometimes, it has nothing to do with (the player) but everything to do with the competition.
There are some positives to take away from this, and I believe they start with Brian Dawkins. There is a notorious shortage of safeties in the HOF, as I counted seven players that played exclusively at safety in the modern and pre-modern era combined. With safeties becoming more prominent in the game with the evolution of the passing game, there’s a chance we see more discussion to include them in the future. The first step to solving a problem is realizing there is one, and the committee seems to be realizing the impact of safeties. With all of this being said, Dawkins still has a tough road ahead of him with Lynch eligible as well and Ed Reed coming up soon.
On the side of Owens, I believe his accomplishments and records merited a first ballot selection, but speaking with people involved in the process, I’m told Super Bowls matter to the committee. That’s interesting tidbit considering LaDainian Tomlinson and Jason Taylor never participated in a Super Bowl as Owens did ... with a broken leg, nonetheless. One thing I have to believe factors in to the decision to exclude Owens is, as McClain said, the players before Owens that had to wait. While I don’t don't agree with that standard, I can understand it.
Things won’t get be getting easier for Owens and Dawkins going forward. Randy Moss, Steve Hutchinson, Brian Urlacher, Ray Lewis, Ronde Barber and Richard Seymour join the list of players with HOF eligibility in 2018.