Lengthy discussion and debate on Class of 2007

The debate on the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Class of 2007 was lengthy and at time contentious, but most importantly it was complete, writes Len Pasquarelli.

Updated: February 5, 2007, 2:06 AM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

MIAMI -- Shortly after the Hall of Fame selection meeting concluded Saturday afternoon, a debate that lasted more than six hours, the session already was being billed as among the most bilious in recent history.

Class of 2007
Michael Irvin was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday, joining running back Thurman Thomas, offensive lineman Bruce Matthews, defensive back Roger Wehrli and two nominees of the veterans' committee: tight end Charlie Sanders and guard Gene Hickerson. Story

As one of the 40 selectors charged with whittling the class of 17 worthy candidates and choosing six men for inclusion into the Canton, Ohio, football shrine, I prefer to think of the process as having been more conscientious than contentious.

Despite some word-inflicted wounds, it should be noted that no one exited the meeting room with knife marks. For the most part, the debate was civil, albeit passionate. And once again, although there is certain to be a legion of critics bashing the results, the process worked.

And, trust me, as one of the Hall of Fame selectors now on the wrong side of 50 years old, and with a bladder even weaker than his mind, it was a long and detailed process.

Paul Tagliabue
Jason Parkhurst/US PRESSWIREPaul Tagliabue was the NFL Commisioner for 18 seasons.
Without breaching any of the confidentiality guidelines that accompany the enormous privilege of parsing the careers of some of the game's greatest performers and personalities, the candidacies of several of the finalists elicited extended discussion. And none was longer than discussion of former commissioner Paul Tagliabue, whose merits were debated for precisely 57 minutes, believed to be the longest such hearing in recent history and perhaps ever.

There have been murder trials that didn't last this long. Then again, to kill off anyone's chances for Hall of Fame induction without taking the requisite time necessary to carefully discuss his merits would be simply irresponsible.

As it turned out, Tagliabue didn't even survive the first cut, which reduced the field from 17 to 11. Normally, the initial reduction is to 10 candidates, but a tie resulted in 11 this year. It wasn't particularly surprising that Tagliabue was not elected in his first year on the Hall of Fame ballot because unofficial nose-counts during the week indicated that would be the case. But it was mildly stunning that a man who piloted the league to unparalleled heights during his 17-year stewardship did not advance to the second level of debate.

Two elements seemed to scuttle Tagliabue's chances: First, it was cited several times that Pete Rozelle, arguably the greatest commissioner of any sport at any time, was not elected to the Hall of Fame until his eighth appearance on the ballot. Second, although Tagliabue plans on becoming a globetrotter and will never return to the league from which he retired less than six months ago, there was some sentiment that the final chapter of his celebrated tenure is not yet really completed.

The extension to the collective bargaining agreement, essentially Tagliabue's final key act as commissioner, is still not committed to legal language 11 months after it was approved. In retrospect, several owners from both low- and high-revenue franchises see the extension as a bad deal, one that can be reopened in November 2008. If that's the case, it could adversely affect Tagliabue's long-term legacy.

The confidentiality rules preclude me, and hopefully everyone else in the room, from detailing the pluses and minuses of Tagliabue's run as commissioner that were debated. Suffice it to say, the discussion was spirited.

But the former commissioner wasn't the only candidate whose Hall credentials were closely examined. The first round of discussion, in which all 17 candidates are presented, ran more than five hours before the selectors got around to the first "reduction" ballot, narrowing the field to 11. There were the usual procedural issues, the annual ill-advised suggestion that selectors rubber-stamp all of the finalists for induction when the field is reduced to six on the second ballot, plenty of comparative statistics, and subjective assessments of the candidates.

In a week in which the league has celebrated the presence of two African-American coaches in Super Bowl XLI, it would be remiss not to point out that Saturday's selection meeting was chaired by Steve Perry, a black man. And that, for the first time, the selection committee included two women, veteran scribes Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and the San Francisco Chronicle's Nancy Gay.

Congratulations to all of them.

And congratulations, too, to the six new members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and to the 11 other men who were considered for induction. Know this: Your fates Saturday were discussed with great care and diligence by a committee that collectively takes it charge very seriously.

And Saturday, that meant nearly seven serious hours of serious deliberation.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.

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