The Life Hall of Fame

The Hall of Fame voters goofed. Again. That's not news. But this time, Emmitt Smith goofed along with them.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame selection process has come and gone, and once again, a worthy Cowboy or two is on the outside looking in. Quarterback Troy Aikman? He's in. Offensive lineman Rayfield Wright? Finally deemed good enough. Wide receiver Michael Irvin? For the second straight season, the lightning rod Irvin is a finalist. ... but not an inductee.

Over the last decade, in the newspaper, on the radio and in this space, I've campaigned for exposure of the voters and the voting system that are driven by a secret agenda that seems designed to "exclude'' rather than "include'' deserving athletes. I've shouted about the bias and I've shouted about the incompetence, incompetence of the sort that would motivate Rick Gosselin, the Dallas Morning News writer and Cowboys "representative,'' to dismiss suspicions about a Cowboys bias by writing that every team has their version of a snubbed Drew Pearson, a snubbed Bob Hayes, a snubbed Lee Roy Jordan, a snubbed Cliff Harris, a snubbed Michael Irvin. He then uses as an example Detroit tight end Charlie Sanders.

Charlie Sanders is the equivalent of Bob Hayes? Really?

Who would think such a thing?

Well, maybe only somebody who grew up in Detroit. Maybe someone who was "coming of age'' as a football fan while attending high school in Detroit, and then college at Michigan State, all during the early '70's, while the "legendary'' Charlie Sanders was catching 33 passes and 3 TDs a year for a crummy team that during his 10 seasons was a stinkin' 70-64-6. Maybe somebody who, despite the fact that he was probably only the eight best tight end of his era (trailing Mike Ditka, John Mackey, Jackie Smith, Dave Casper, Kellen Winslow, Russ Francis and maybe Todd Christensen), doggone it, really liked to root for ol' Charlie.

Hey! Look here! Turns out Rick's hometown is. ... Detroit?! What a surprise!

Nah, there are no biases among HOF voters.

I suppose Gosselin and the voters deserve some credit today. They did vote in no-brainer Aikman and they did finally get Wright in. So "Cowboys bias'' doesn't fly as well today. Of course, I don't know that I buy that Goose somehow twisted arms for Wright, and he should not have had to twist Aikman-related arms, but here's credit nonetheless. Gosselin begs for exoneration in his Sunday column in the News, in which he calls the voters "conscientious'' and dismisses any talk of bias by noting how many Dallas players have, over the years, been "officially discussed'' by the committee.

"Discussed''? Y'all "discussed Hayes, Jordan, Harris and Irvin? Appreciate you throwin' us that bone, fellas.

Gosselin argues that Dallas and the Cowboys and their overlooked stars are no different from Detroit and the Lions and and Sanders, no different from Minnesota and the Vikings and Mick Tinglehoff, no different from Denver and the Broncos and Randy Gradishar, that every team has similar complaints about similarily snubbed stars. Is he serious? There's no difference between the Lions and the Cowboys? That every NFL team has employed an overlooked Irvin, Harris, Jordan, Hayes, Pearson, Chuck Howley, Charlie Waters, Too Tall Jones, Harvey Martin and more? Is he serious? The Falcons, the Seahawks, the Lions, the Bears, the Jets, the Chargers, the Cardinals, the EveryTeams, they all have six, seven, eight worthy bridesmaids from the last 30 years? C'mon. Now, I didn't grow up in Detroit with Charlie Sanders posters on my bedroom wall. But I feel uniquely qualified to comment on Gosselin's other two specific guinea pigs, Tinglehoff and Gradishar.

On Tinglehoff: I grew up a Vikings fan. I loved Mick Tinglehoff. For longevity alone he deserves acclaim. But on his own team, Tinglehoff was no better than the third best O-lineman, behind Ron Yary and Ed White. Is the Vikings' third-best blocker on par with Pearson, Harris and Irvin in terms of excellence and impact? No.

Furthermore, the website "NFL Huskers'' conducted a survey of Nebraska fans, asking which Cornhusker belongs in the HOF next. Pat Fischer got 71 percent of the votes. Glenn Presnell got 29 percent of the votes. My man, Gosselin's man, Mick Tinglehoff, received. ... ahem. ... zero percent of the votes. FROM HIS OWN FELLOW 'HUSKERS!

On Gradishar: My first beat-writing job was in Colorado, where I covered Gradishar. A fine player. A fine man. Not, at the time, considered to be far-and-above superior to teammates Louis Wright, Tom Jackson, Lyle Alzado, Rubin Carter and Billy Thompson. Randy made seven Pro Bowls. Those guys all made two, three, five Pro Bowls. They were all similarily good. Heck, Thompson may have been the best of them. Was Thompson better than Cliff Harris? No. Was Gradishar better than Harris, Hayes, Irvin, Pearson, Howley? No.

(Goose, to top me in this debate you're going to have to throw out examples of players that I know less about that you do. You raise issues about Cowboys, 49ers, Vikings and Broncos -- teams I've followed passionately and/or professionally - I'll chew you to bits. So come up with some other excuse/example, OK?)

Anyway, along into this mucked-up pit trudges good ol' Emmitt Smith. On Friday, a day before the final voting of 39 all-powerful sportswriters, Emmitt tried to join Aikman in doing teammate Irvin a favor, dragging Michael out of the slop and up to the podium, where Troy will be this August and where Emmitt will undoubtedly be in August 2009, when he becomes a first-ballot selection. This same exercise was performed by the Cowboys themselves, who inducted the threesome into the team's Ring of Honor together -- a not-so-subtle attempt to inform the world that Michael is as deserving as the other two seemingly unblemished stars.

Emmitt tried to make that point before the Saturday vote. He told the media, in an angry tone, that all that matters is what Michael has done "on the field.'' "But you're going to try to bring this personal side of it?" Smith said. "This is what he's done off the field -- what has that got to do with what he's done on the football field? ... "There should be a set criteria in terms of understanding & what it takes to get to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. If you're an athlete and you've got credentials like Michael Irvin -- Pro Bowls, records, Super Bowls, all those things -- if you stack up against that, whoever the panel is, somebody needs to sign off on it."

And then came Emmitt's powerful catchphrase: "This is the Pro Football Hall of Fame, not the Life Hall of Fame. His stats are what they are. They are not going to change."

Not "The Life Hall of Fame.''

Emmitt, that's the wrong approach.

I'm not saying a twist of Emmitt's words had any influence on the voters. I am saying, though, that Emmitt makes for a campaign manager almost as lousy as Gosselin. Because you see, Irvin's raw numbers are NOT startlingly impressive. The 750 receptions for 11,904 yards and 65 touchdowns? Good stuff, but not unmatched. The three Super Bowls? Great stuff, but none of this is better than, say Art Monk.

See, Emmitt -- God bless him for trying to be the eloquent spokesman that he simply is not -- has it backwards.

Because what Michael Irvin did OFF THE FIELD was marvelous! In the Life Hall of Fame, as it relates to Irvin's life during his time with the Cowboys, he's a first-ballot guy! During the 1990's, there is not one Cowboy who didn't consider Irvin a friend. Not one. I would venture to say that if you surveyed those couple of hundreds guys today -- guys who came through Valley Ranch through the decade -- and asked them to name their five best friends on the team, virtually all of them would include Irvin on the list.

White guys. Black guys. Offense. Defense. Veterans. Rookies. Rich. Not so rich. Floridians. Californians. Didn't matter. If Kenny Gant needed to borrow $500 bucks, he knew where to go. If Jason Garrett needed someone to talk to, he knew where to go. If Emmitt Smith needed a big brother, he had one. If Joe Brodsky needed a son, he had one. If Jimmy Johnson needed a coach in the huddle. If Jimmy Smith needed a ride back to the hotel. Go ask 'em. Joe Avezzano and Russell Maryland and Kevin Gogan and Kevin Williams and Tommie Agee and Troy Aikman and James Washington and Jack Del Rio and Mark Stepnoski. Go ask 'em all which single teammate kept that club together, which single teammate was the leader, which single teammate -- OFF THE FIELD -- was the soul and the engine and the cement of a legendary football team.

They'll all say "Michael Irvin.''

And they'll say it for reasons that go way beyond 750 receptions for 11,904 yards and 65 touchdowns -- though those numbers and anyone in the know testify to the fact that Irvin was the second-best (behind Jerry Rice) receiver of his era. That, by the way, is something Charlie Sanders can never say about his place as an all-time tight end, something Randy Gradishar can never say about his place as an all-time linebacker.

Based on ANY way you want to judge it, Michael Irvin deserves to be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

And in terms of OFF-the-field contributions to the Dallas Cowboys, he is a first-ballot "Life Hall-of-Famer,'' too.

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