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Pro Football Hall of Fame bios

Allen, four others elected to Hall of Fame

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Canton Bound
Marcus Allen and James Lofton react to their election into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
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Saturday, January 25
Updated: August 1, 5:12 PM ET
'Convoluted' logic ends long process
By Len Pasquarelli
ESPN.com

SAN DIEGO -- At some point during the mind-numbing 4½-hour Hall of Fame selection meeting here Saturday morning, a typical session in which sentiment and sensibility alternately controlled the floor, columnist Woody Paige of The Denver Post cut through all the rhetoric that is an inherent part of the process and got right to the chase.

The Hall of Fame, suggested Paige, in reshaping an old Supreme Court opinion, is a little bit like pornography. You might not be able to define it, or even deign to try, but you pretty much know a Hall of Fame player when you see one.

Allen rushed for 191 yards and two TDs during Super Bowl XVIII, his brightest moment.
And it was that convoluted logic that once again steered the 38 men who voted for the Hall of Fame toward the four former players and the one head coach -- Hank Stram, Marcus Allen, Elvin Bethea, Joe DeLamielleure and James Lofton -- who comprise the football shrine's Class of 2003.

It is a worthy, albeit diluted, class of football luminaries that will convene in Canton, Ohio, in early August to be honored for their bodies of work. Not a particularly scintillating lot, like the ones that are about to come, like a class that next year is certain to include John Elway and Barry Sanders.

But all five were terrific football men with passion for the game and who, measured against the accomplishments of the other 10 finalists for this year, were considered to be a cut above. And really, having been an elector now on three occasions, that is the determining "X" factor for enshrining a man in the Hall of Fame. He had to have during his career as a player, a coach or administrator, that certain "it" that is impossible to define.

Many selectors, most recently on Saturday our good friend Peter King of Sports Illustrated, have pointed out that there exists kind of a figurative Hall of Pretty Good. And that's precisely where most of the men who were on this year's ballot truthfully belonged. To gain entry onto the only roster where you can't be cut or traded, to have your likeness crafted into bronze and placed on a pedestal, you have to be better than pretty good.

Better even, some would argue, than great.

And even then, there might be a few warts, as was the case on Saturday as a room full of bleary-eyed selectors (the meeting began at 7:30 a.m. PT) sorted through the resumes of the finalists and listened to presentation speeches. Even a man like Allen, arguably at the head of the Class of 2003, was not without scrutiny.

Certainly this humble selector went into the meeting prepared to champion the cause of Allen, a splendid all-around back, a man who suffered through the injustice of a long rift with Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis. But in a process where it sometimes becomes hard to quantify greatness, statistics are still a measuring stick, and some of Allen's numbers jump out.

Most bothersome is that after 1985, the fourth season of what would be a 16-year career, Allen never rushed for more than 890 yards. He posted 1,759 yards in '85, and then in his best subsequent season, barely rushed for 50 percent of that total. But he also had 123 rushing touchdowns, although the majority of his 25 scores in his last three seasons were on 1-yard runs, and authored the most wondrous run in Super Bowl history.

The Hall of Fame, and justifiably so, has very strict confidentiality rules. And I, like my ESPN.com colleague and fellow Hall of Fame selector John Clayton, am not about to breach those guidelines. Suffice it to say that the debate on Saturday morning was lively and compelling at times. There were a few instances of tedium, and it took nearly two hours to wade through just the first seven candidates, but the experience was a rewarding one.

A few insights, without stepping over the guidelines fashioned by the great Hall of Fame people like Joe Horrigan, from the session: The debate over the merits of quarterback Ken Stabler, who had 28 fewer touchdown passes than interceptions during his 15-year career. The fact that Randy Gradishar and Harry Carson could have been the first inside linebackers from teams that played 3-4 fronts to be inducted (neither made the cut). The fact Art Monk averaged only 13.5 yards per catch in his career and, in 16 seasons with the Redskins, led his team in receptions just six times. The presentation speeches, which typically ranged from eloquent to elongated.

For those unfamiliar with the Hall of Fame selection mechanics, it is a three-tiered process, one that eventually winnows down the field to six modern-day candidates and one hopeful from the seniors committee. That one man this year was Stram, the Energizer Bunny of a coach, and a guy known only to most youngsters as the caricature on the sidelines ("Keep matriculating the ball up the field, boys") in Super Bowl IV.

The 14 modern-day finalists are first cut to 10 and, falling out on that vote were Monk, Lester Hayes, Stabler and Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson. A subsequent ballot cuts the field to six, exclusive of the seniors candidate, and that lopped off Carson, Gradishar, Claude Humphrey and Bob Kuechenberg.

The remaining six candidates, and Stram, then underwent a simple "yes" or "no" vote by secret ballot. Earning induction to the Hall requires 80 percent of the votes. Given that there were 38 selectors on hand, it took just eight "no" ballots to scuttle a candidate. Contrary to some beliefs, the selectors are unaware of who made it until it is announced to the public.

But there was one candidate this year, former Bills and Browns guard Joe DeLamielleure, about whom I had a good feeling. Throughout the week, in casual conversations with other selectors, it was obvious DeLamielleure was gaining momentum. That proved to be the case. Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News, in his Hall of Fame meeting debut, delivered an excellent presentation. And the cause of DeLamielleure was championed by several others in the room.

Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com