Hall of Fame Line Begins Up Front

When Hall of Fame finalists are announced Saturday, Len Pasquarelli, one of 44 selectors, wants to see the recent trend of recognizing linemen continue and outlines a number of worthy candidates, including Dermontti Dawson, Willie Roaf and Charles Haley.

In three of the past four years, with the Class of 2011 the lone exception, the Hall of Fame has enshrined at least one offensive and defensive lineman each.

Here's hoping that the sort-of trend continues.

The Hall announced on Wednesday that it will reveal the 15 modern finalists for potential Canton honors on Saturday, predictably during NFL Network's playoff pregame show. Yeah, even something as hallowed as the Hall of Fame clearly has trouble saying no to the league's financial and public relations reach. No matter, though, whenever or wherever the Hall announces the 2012 finalists, the guess is that linemen will be pretty well represented in the bunch.

And, hopefully, well considered by the 44-person selection committee, of which yours truly is one, on Feb. 4, the day before Super Bowl XLVI.

The offensive linemen among the 26 semifinalists (one more than usual because of a tie) — center Dermontti Dawson, guard Will Shields, tackle Willie Roaf — all were exceptional during their respective careers. Ditto the defensive linemen who were in the semifinalist grouping: Chris Doleman, Charles Haley and Cortez Kennedy.

Because of its popularity-contest perception, Pro Bowl selections probably aren't quite as significant as they once were. Still, it's laudable the three linemen on offense totaled 30 Pro Bowl nods, and all were chosen for the Team of the Decade at least once. On the defensive side, there were 21 Pro Bowl games for the trio, and all but Haley were Team of the Decade honorees.

There is no certainty that all six men will be among the 15 finalists announced Saturday morning — Ron Wolf and Kevin Greene are the men with Packers ties — but all are deserving. And if the half-dozen linemen are included in the final round, the presentations for each of them figure to be pretty compelling stuff.

As noted here previously, there is no quota, official or otherwise, for positions that get voted into the Hall of Fame. So, at least in theory, there should be no parsing of the credentials of the three blockers or of the three tacklers. If more than one of the offensive linemen merit induction, when their resumes are compared to those of the other finalists, so be it. The same is true of the defensive linemen.

Granted, it isn't often at all when two offensive or defensive linemen from the so-called "modern day" pool are enshrined in the same year, but this could be one of those rare occasions.

Perhaps benefitting the half-dozen linemen divided equally between both sides of the ball is the perception that the Class of 2012 ballot, regardless of the finalists that are revealed on Saturday, includes few "slam dunk" choices. Fact is, the person who arguably has elicited the most support this year, at least judging from endorsement letters that keep showing up in e-mail files of selectors, is an owner: Ed DeBartolo of San Francisco.

Notably, this will mark the sixth straight year in which no quarterback will be inducted. There hasn't been a quarterback among the semifinalists since 2009, none elected to the Hall since Troy Aikman with the Class of 2006.

That fact, and the absence of early groundswell for any of the player candidates, might bode well for the linemen.

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Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.

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