In 2020, football fans got a glimpse into the thinking behind the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Senior Selection Committee for players whose eligibility ran out. As part of its centennial celebrations, the NFL elected five coaches and contributors and ten senior players whose initial eligibility was up.
Although ten players were chosen, there were 20 senior player finalists. Two senior players not elected in 2020, Drew Pearson and Cliff Branch, were inducted in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
Hall of Fame election generally has a positive impact on the values of a player’s cards, especially their rookie cards. Let’s take a look at some senior players to prospect as potential Hall of Famers.
The Problem with the Hall of Fame
The Hall of Fame voting processes can be frustrating – notably in baseball and football. The voters are, at times, disconnected from popular opinion. Think about the one baseball voter whose identity is still unknown, who left Derek Jeter off their ballot.
There are grandstanding traditions that need to be clarified. If a player is a Hall of Famer, does it matter if they enter on the first or second ballot? There’s also the matter of keeping players like Ken Stabler and Cliff Branch out of the Hall of Fame for years, only to induct them a couple of years later, sometimes after their deaths.
But I digress. In the NFL, certain positions garner greater attention. There are 34 quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame. Each of those quarterbacks stood behind five offensive linemen.
By the numbers, there should be five times as many offensive linemen in the Hall of Fame as quarterbacks. Yet, there are only 64 offensive linemen in Canton.
Yes, quarterback is the most important position. But if there are 34 Hall of Fame QBs, surely there are more than 64 Hall of Fame-worthy offensive linemen.
Pro Football Hall of Fame Seniors Committee
Many deserving NFL players have been left out of the Hall for decades. The NFL has taken a step toward recognizing more of its great players.
The first step was the induction of 10 senior players in 2020. Starting this year, the Seniors Committee is considering three senior finalists for the next three years, up from one and the occasional two most years.
Becoming a senior finalist is not a guarantee of induction, but it has been an almost sure sign that a player will get in at some point soon. Of all the senior finalists from 1972 to 2020, every finalist has eventually been inducted except Ole Haugsrud (executive), Willie Galimore, Lou Rymkus, and Marshall Goldberg (2x finalist).
2023 Senior Class Finalists
There are three senior finalists this year; Chuck Howley, Ken Riley, and Joe Klecko. It is worth monitoring if this year’s three finalists all get inducted, setting a possible precedent for the future. Let’s look at the rookie cards of this year’s senior finalists.
Chuck Howley, Linebacker
Rookie Card: 1966 Philadelphia
- Super Bowl VI Champion
- Super Bowl V MVP – only player ever to win MVP on the losing team
- 5x First-Team All-Pro
- 6x Pro Bowl
- Tied for 16th for most INTs by a linebacker with 25
- There have been 257 Howley rookie cards graded by PSA, with 71 8s, ten 9s and no 10s to date.
- On eBay, Howley cards are scarce, thanks largely to the wide popularity of the Cowboys. Raw, mid-grade examples are available for about $50 but higher end graded versions can run deep into the hundreds..
Ken Riley, Safety
Rookie Card: 1973 Topps
- Riley had 65 career interceptions, tied for 5th all-time with Charles Woodson
- First-Team All-Pro, 2x Second-Team All-Pro
- Played all 15 seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals
- 5 touchdowns, 18 fumble recoveries
- Riley’s ungraded rookie cards can usually be found for $10 or less.
- There have been 126 Riley rookies graded by PSA, with 45 PSA 9s and three PSA 10s in the Pop Report
Joe Klecko, Defensive End/Tackle/Nose Tackle
Rookie Card: 1978 Topps
- 4x Pro Bowler
- 1981 NFL Defensive Player of the Year
- Pro Bowler at three different positions
- 78 career sacks
- 278 Klecko rookies have been graded by PSA, with 78 PSA 9s and seven PSA 10s
- A PSA 9 recently sold for $279 on eBay but a decent looking raw example can be had for a very small investment.
10 Senior Finalists Not Inducted in 2020
- Cliff Branch (inducted in 2022)
- Drew Pearson (inducted in 2021)
- Ox Emerson
- Cecil Isbell
- Verne Lewellen
- Laverne Dilweg
- Al Wistert
- Tommy Nobis
- Randy Gradishar
- Roger Craig
Ox Emerson, Cecil Isbell, Verne Lewellen, and Lavern Dilweg were great pre-war players. There are no known rookie cards during their time, though Isbell appears on a 1940 Wheaties Box.
Here’s a look at the rookie cards of the four other 2020 finalists.
Al Wistert, Offensive Tackle
Rookie Cards: 1948 Bowman and 1948 Leaf
Key Stats: 1940s All-Decade Team, 6x First Team All Pro, 2x NFL Champion
Tommy Nobis, Linebacker
Rookie Card: 1967 Philadelphia
Key Stats: 1960s All-Decade Team, 5x Pro Bowl, 294 tackles in 1966 (single-season record)
Randy Gradishar, Linebacker
Rookie Card: 1976 Topps
Key Stats: 7x Pro Bowl, 2,049 career tackles, 1978 Defensive Player of the Year
Roger Craig, Running Back
Rookie Card: 1984 Topps
Key Stats: 1980s All-Decade Team, 4x Pro Bowl, 3x Super Bowl Champion, 1988 NFL Offensive Player of the Year, First player to rush and receive for 1,000 yards in a season
Professional Football Researchers Association
There are several other great – or at least very good players – not in the Hall of Fame. The Professional Football Researchers Association (PFRA) inducts overlooked and forgotten football players every year into its Hall of Very Good.
The Hall of Very Good started in 2002, consisting of players who at one point may have been considered for induction but whose initial eligibility dried up. The PFRA researches to create its case on why some members may one day make worthy members of the Hall of Fame.
There are 122 members in the Hall of Very Good. Of those members, 27 have since been inducted into the Hall of Fame. The PFRA site is a wealth of knowledge on great players from the game’s past. Using the site can expose rookie Hall of Fame collectors to more great players who may one day be enshrined in Canton.
The PFRA officially supports two candidates for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Al Wistert and Laverne Dilweg.