Voters still doubt Tagliabue's HOF worthiness

PHOENIX -- Determining the football legacy of Paul Tagliabue, whose 17-year tenure as commissioner ultimately might be judged by whether NFL owners opt out of the current collective bargaining agreement in November, will have to wait another year.

For a second straight year, Tagliabue -- league commissioner from 1989 to 2006 -- failed to make it through the first round of balloting for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Tagliabue was one of five modern era finalists eliminated on the opening 15-candidate ballot, as the Hall of Fame selectors met for a total of six hours Saturday to anoint the Class of 2008.

The selectors chose five modern era players for enshrinement on Aug. 2: defensive end Fred Dean, cornerback Darrell Green, wide receiver Art Monk, linebacker Andre Tippett and offensive tackle Gary Zimmerman. Selectors also tabbed cornerback Emmitt Thomas, one of two nominees from the senior committee, for enshrinement.

The class of six men includes four defensive players, the first time since 2000 that inductees from that side of the football will outnumber the offensive players in the class. In the past 10 years, there have been 35 offensive players inducted and just a dozen defensive players.

Just as notable as the men who will be enshrined was the failure of Tagliabue to summon support from the 40-person selection committee. Confidentiality guidelines preclude making public specifics from the debate on Tagliabue's candidacy. But in general, the possibility that NFL owners will blow up the 2006 extension to the collective bargaining agreement in November likely damaged Tagliabue's candidacy. Tagliabue pushed through the CBA extension in 2006 after months of bargaining.

In recent weeks, several owners have strongly suggested that they consider the labor agreement too lopsided. If the owners do opt out of the deal, the NFL would face a season without a salary cap in 2010. NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw reiterated this week that if the NFL ever gets to an uncapped season, there will never be a spending ceiling again. Such a move could result in labor chaos.

Selectors also seemed to indicate that they think Tagliabue -- who presided over a term in which NFL revenues, particularly from its television contracts, increased exponentially -- was not proactive enough in areas such as player discipline and the hiring of minority candidates for head coach positions.

The debate over Tagliabue's merits wasn't as rancorous as a year ago, when selectors spent a record 58 minutes discussing him. This time, the discussion consumed 41 minutes.

Given that all his predecessors have gained entry to the Hall of Fame, Tagliabue likely will be enshrined someday. It just might take a few years.

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com and is a voting member of the Hall of Fame.