As one voter put it in the wake of the Pro Football Hall of Fame increasing its pool of senior candidates, "Door's wide open now," and two of those at the threshold are Bengals inaugural Ring of Honor inductees Ken Anderson and Ken Riley.
In an effort to unleash a crushing backlog of senior candidates who took their last NFL snap at least 25 years ago, the Hall's Board of Trustees on Thursday approved sweeping changes that expand both the list of senior finalists and the senior committee that nominates them.
For the 2023, 2024 and 2025 classes, three senior players can be nominated for the final voting process and the nine-member senior committee is going to grow to 12. But when the names of the three candidates come before the full 49-member board of selectors, of which Bengals.com is a member, they must get 80 percent of the vote in order to be inducted into the Canton, Ohio shrine.
For supporters of golden oldies Anderson, Riley and other franchise icons such as Isaac Curtis and Lemar Parrish, the news couldn't get any better. Riley, who racked up the fifth most interceptions of all-time in his Bengals-record 207 games, and Anderson, the only quarterback with four NFL passing titles not in the Hall 36 years after he retired following 16 seasons in Cincinnati, have been hot senior candidates for the last decade.
For the last several years, only one senior finalist has been presented to the board of selectors for the final vote. It's never been more than two. That final ballot, which takes place in January, is commonly called "getting into the room," where the candidate's case gets thoroughly vetted in debate before the vote.
On Thursday, at least one voter expressed surprise if either Riley or Anderson doesn't get nominated in 2023. A senior nomination is not a slam dunk. But call it a contested layup.
The last senior finalist put in front of the full board who didn't make it is Washington and Detroit guard Dick Stanfel in 2012. But he made it in 2016. The handful of senior committee members reached were optimistic the logjam of legends could be freed up.
"I sent a list of 136 players that I thought deserved attention and 124 of them have never been discussed," said Rick Gosselin, the influential senior committee member who has been a driving force behind senior expansion. "Maybe 30 or 40 get it, but at least their cases have a better chance of being heard instead of being forgotten."
Gosselin says Anderson and Riley obviously have good chances to get in the room.
"Sure, they've been two of the closest," Gosselin said.
It's believed that Riley was the runner-up to Cowboys wide receiver Drew Pearson in 2021, just a few months after his death at age 72. But despite being so close, when last year's rotating five-man nominating committee (a sub-set of the nine-member senior committee) met, it sounded as if Riley's name never got beyond the final list of 15 for discussion.
Now, an expanded committee and new format should help keep a senior candidacy alive over time. The new group of 12 is going to pare a list to 12 candidates before voting down to the three nominees.
"Everyone is going to do the work," Gosselin said. "Each of the 12 members are going to present one of the 12 candidates."
Gosselin hasn't been the only guy pounding the drum for more seniors. On Thursday there was a lot of praise from voters for new Hall president Jim Porter's open mind on the subject.
"Members of the selection committee have made it clear they wanted to get more seniors 'in the room' for discussion," Porter's statement said. "From those initial conversations, the team at the Hall of Fame overseeing the selection process worked with the board to create a path for those committee discussions that could lead to possible enshrinement for more seniors."
Gosselin knows there's a segment of voters that think after 25 years, a senior candidate has had enough chances and doesn't merit induction. But he points to two defensive players who have never won an NFL championship, two groups under represented in the Hall. He points to Riley and nine-time Pro Bowl linebacker Maxie Baughan of the Lions.
"Maxie Baughan, never been discussed," Gosselin said. "Ken Riley, the second most interceptions ever by a pure cornerback. Never been discussed. There are so many worthy guys. This is good. We just weren't going to get there with one a year."
Gosselin isn't sure how the new 12-member committee is going to be comprised. Currently the senior committee is made up of members of the Hall's full board of selectors, but he said he's open to adding historians to the group.