Despite his stature on and off the field, the Pro Football Hall of Fame will not waive its standard five-year eligibility rule for Reggie White, who died Sunday morning.
"As noble a suggestion as it is, there is no accommodation for it in the bylaws, and we simply can't honor every special interest request," Joe Horrigan, the vice president of communications and exhibits for the Canton, Ohio, football shrine, told ESPN.com.
The bylaws stipulate that a player must be retired for five years before he can be considered for Hall of Fame induction. White, who retired following the 2000 campaign with the Carolina Panthers, will automatically qualify for the 2005 ballot, with potential induction at the 2006 enshrinement ceremonies. Most observers agree that White will be inducted in his first year of eligibility.
Had White remained retired following the 1998 season in Green Bay and not returned for the one year with the Panthers, he likely would already be in the Hall of Fame. He played 16 games with Carolina in 2000 and posted 5½ sacks.
The Hall of Fame's 39 selectors earlier this month cast ballots to narrow the field from 25 to 15 finalists. Those 15 finalists have not yet been announced. The Hall of Fame vote is conducted on the Saturday morning before the Super Bowl.
Horrigan pointed out that, to add White to this year's ballot would mean removing one of the finalists who had already gone through the winnowing process. He noted there have been similar requests in the past. The five-year eligibility rule was retained following the death of former Kansas City linebacker Derrick Thomas in 2000 and more recently the death of former Arizona Cardinals strong safety Pat Tillman in Afghanistan as part an Army Rangers detail.
Thomas is a candidate this year.
"There has been a lot of discussion," Horrigan said, "on cases like this one. This is not unprecedented. But our approach has been consistent."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.