One of the hot debates in the Dallas ice box this week setting up Saturday's vote for the Pro Football Hall of Fame is the presence of NFL Films titan Ed Sabol as one of the 15 finalists.
The naysayers argue while Sabol is worthy of something like a lifetime achievement award from the Academy or the American Film institute, he shouldn't be taking a spot on a ballot that should go to a player like, say, former Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson. This was Anderson's last year of eligibility and now he's headed to the senior committee files, but he's a Sabol guy.
Between his retirement in 1986 and his first of 18 seasons as an NFL assistant coach in 1993, Anderson was a broadcaster for Cincinnati's WKRC-TV and once did a Bengals special on NFL Films and spent the day on site with Steve Sabol, Ed's son and successor.
"When you look at how NFL Films changed the way we're able watch the game in your home, I think you have to consider him, no question," Anderson said this week. "During my career I saw how it grew with all the camera angles and the miking of players. I think it did do a lot for the growth of the game, and when I went up there for the day it was all very impressive. They've documented the history of the game. I think at one point they used more film than anybody but the United States government."
For those still on the Anderson Hall bandwagon, take heart. He'll be a Hall finalist one day, but it won't be right away. The process starts in August in Canton, Ohio, two weeks after the induction ceremonies. The Hall board of selectors is broken up into a nine-member senior committee and five of them rotate yearly to go to Canton and sit down with two Hall of Famers to select the two senior candidates that will be one of the 15 finalists a year from now in Indianapolis.
"There is just too much of a backlog of guys that have been wrongly overlooked," said John McClain of The Houston Chronicle, one of the five. "For guys who have just become senior eligible (those retired longer than 25 years), they're going to have a wait. But they're going to get a fair review. We've got access to what all the Hall of Famers say about candidates every August, so we can go back and check the records at any point. What we try to do is right wrongs."
McClain covered Anderson frequently since the Oilers were in the same division for so long, but his first senior quarterback pick is Ken Stabler. We'll start the debate now:
In I97 games Anderson threw 197 TDs with 160 interceptions with four NFL passing titles. In 184 games, Stabler threw 194 TDs with 222 picks with one league passing title. Plus, Anderson is the fifth-highest rated passer in the all-time postseason. Stabler isn't in the top 10. Anderson is the only Hall-eligible quarterback with at least three passing titles not in. Although Stabler won a Super Bowl, Anderson was flawless in the coldest AFC title game ever played.
"The thing with Hall candidates is to never give up," McClain said. "There is always a chance."
Former Bengals head coach Dick LeBeau waited 13 years as a Senior candidate before he got in last year, but his candidacy got a huge boost from coaching with the Steelers during his very visible run they've been to three Super Bowls in six years. Anderson, 61, got a ring as the Steelers quarterbacks coach two years ago before he retired after last season. With Anderson now out of the game and telling tales about his heated golf cart in Hilton Head, he may be a tougher sell. But what Anderson has going for him is that the Senior candidates are exhaustively screened and his record is hard to match.
"I don't think about it much," Anderson said. And now that he's retired? "Probably less." But he also knows how great the honor is. "Whatever happens, I'm proud of what I accomplished," he said.
Also up for Senior debate: Cornerback Ken Riley with his 65 career interceptions, fifth all-time. Everyone in front of him on the list is in the Hall, as well as Ronnie Lott with 63 and LeBeau with 62.
Rookie full back James Develin played two seasons under new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden in the UFL with Florida before he signed on with the Bengals practice squad late last season. Even a guy from Brown came away with impressed with Gruden's football intellect.
"He's brilliant offensively," Develin said. "He talks to the quarterbacks about football like he's talking about anything else. It's a complicated offense because there's a lot you can do, but it's pretty easy to pick up. When I got there they moved me from defensive end to fullback and it only took me about three or four days to pick it up. He likes to run the ball. We had the league's leading passer and leading rusher."
Develin, now on the offseason roster, had Gruden as both a coordinator and head coach, and found him to be a tough guy that could also get along with players.
"He would get after you. A lot like his bother (Jon). I think it's the Irish in them," Develin joked. "But he could joke around with you. He had a lot of respect because he'd been successful everywhere he'd been. He got on me when I made a mistake, but what I liked is that he immediately told me what I did wrong and corrected it. He wasn't going to let you guess."
Gruden has his first Cincinnati news conference at 3:30 p.m. Monday at Paul Brown Stadium.
GOODELL PC ON CHAD
Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco might be on a first-name basis with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, but he got the same let's-get-to-work answer the rest of the media got Friday in Goodell's annual Super Bowl news conference in Dallas.
After getting in a plug for the Ochocinco News Network ("powered by Motorola"), The Ocho asked Goodell, "Hey Rog, you represent 32 owners and I'm standing here representing 1,800 players. We want to know one thing seriously. I don't want the politically correct answer. Do you know how far away we are from getting a deal realistically? What is the real timetable for us really getting it done? Because I see a lot of things being prepared on your guys' end. You guys are somewhat prepared for a lockout."
Goodell acknowledged both sides have to be prepared for any outcome and then basically told The Ocho to get his guys to the table, which is where they'll be Saturday.
"I can tell you the commitment of ownership is to get an agreement and we will get an agreement," Goodell said. "But an agreement will only happen if there's intensive negotiations between your union and the owners and that has to take place now. This is the window to get it done right. Because otherwise uncertainty is going to seep into our operations and make it harder for everyone to reach that agreement. Right now I'd say let's get to work and get an agreement that's good for everybody."