By Len ShapiroCSNwashington.com
The 46th Super Bowl is almost upon us, which means that by early Saturday evening, we also will know the identity of the Pro Football Hall of Fames Class of 2012.
Its an intriguing group of 15 finalists and two senior candidates, with hardly any slam-dunk selection save for the possible exception of two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach Bill Parcells. In fact, the only true lock I know of concerning the Hall of Fame is that, sadly, former commissioner Paul Tagliabue cant get in this year.
Whats that you say? You thought Tags already was a member of the games most exclusive fraternity? Think again. Eligible since he retired after the 2006 season, hes been in the final 15 three times but has never garnered enough votes to make it through the front door. This year, after making the cut to 25 semifinalists, he didnt have enough votes to become a finalist, and shame on all my fellow selectors who failed to mark him (not to mention Art Modell) in their ballots.
This year, his omission is even more startling considering that one of the other 15 finalists is former San Francisco 49ers owner Ed DeBartolo Jr., a man once convicted of failing to report a felony in the corruption case of former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards and ordered to pay a 1 million fine and serve two years of probation.
In the wake of that incident, which revolved around DeBartolo's trying to get a casino gambling license in Louisiana, the league forced DeBartolo to give up control of the 49ers in 2000. And who was the NFL commissioner at the time? None other than Paul Tagliabue.
That being said, DeBartolo was always considered one of the games finest owners, especially after his teams won five Super Bowls on his watch. In recent weeks, Ive received a slew of endorsement letters from a wide variety of his supporters, including Joe Montana and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, but I find it hard to believe that my fellow selectors would opt to put him in the Hall ahead of Tagliabue, a far more worthy candidate, in my humble opinion.
Why Tagliabue? Let me count some of the ways.
No. 1 on any list would have to be his record of never having lost a single game to a strike or a lockout. There was unprecedented labor peace over his 17-year reign in a time when every other major professional team sport baseball, basketball and hockey had serious work stoppages.
Tagliabue took over a prosperous enterprise when he replaced the late, great Pete Rozelle, and then he helped turn it into a global juggernaut that was generating 6 billion a year by the time he decided to step down. On his watch, the league began playing games in places like Mexico, England and Japan, with China on the drawing board. When he left, NFL Properties, the leagues marketing and merchandising arm, was generating over 1 billion a year.
Tagliabue oversaw expansion to Charlotte and Jacksonville and, even more important, saw to it that cities that had lost franchises to other markets Cleveland, St. Louis, Baltimore and Houston were made whole. His only failure in that regard was Los Angeles, but it was hardly from a lack of trying for years. Its a void Roger Goodell has also not been able to fill quite yet himself.
Under Tagliabue, free agency as we know it came into existence. So did the NFL Network, Sunday Ticket on DirecTV and the increasing billions that kept coming from the leagues network and cable broadcasting partners.
It was Tagliabue who also did the exact right thing and did it first by postponing the leagues 15 games scheduled the weekend after the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. Once Tagliabue announced the NFLs policy, Major League Baseball followed his lead five hours later, with many other sports also taking their cues from the NFL commissioner.
We wanted to be sensitive, certain and right and certainly not superficial, Tagliabue said at the time. At a certain point, our games can contribute to the healing process. Just not at this time.
So why isnt Tagliabue already enshrined? Some voters complain that he didnt do enough to get a team in Los Angeles, the No. 2 television market in the country. Others moan that the West Coast teams never were much of a priority when it came to building new stadiums. There were holdouts who felt his last collective bargaining agreement was flawed, causing the owners to opt out of the agreement and ultimately leading to the lockout this past summer, even if, once again, not a single regular-season game was ever missed.
Mostly, though, I firmly believe Tagliabues detractors never liked his style. Unlike Rozelle, the consummate public relations man, Tagliabue was a buttoned-down Washington lawyer, a man who felt far more comfortable in a courtroom than he did at a news conference. There were times he came across with the media as more than a tad condescending, and he was never quite as accessible as the man he followed or the current commissioner, who is immensely popular with the media.
One of these days, my fellow selectors will come to their senses and vote Tagliabue into the Hall of Fame.
It wouldnt be Super Bowl week without some predictions, so here goes.
On the Hall of Fame, I believe both senior candidates, Pittsburgh cornerback Jack Butler and Detroit guard Dick Stanfel, will be voted in, along with Parcells, Minnesota receiver Cris Carter, Seattle defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy, Pittsburgh center Dermontti Dawson and Jets running back Curtis Martin.
As for the game: Patriots 35, Giants 24.