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EXCLUSIVE- Jason Cole Pro Football HOF survey

Jason Cole

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In preparation for the annual Pro Football Hall of Fame vote on Saturday, I have done my annual survey. The participants are former NFL players, current and former coaches, executives, owners and other team personnel. All have at least 15 years of experience in the league.

First, some analysis and thoughts on the process upcoming Saturday in Miami.

Let’s call it, “Troy Polamalu and then one really hairy (above) debate.”

That’s what this year’s debate over the Pro Football Hall of Fame figures to be on Saturday, as the 48 selectors gather in Miami for the annual selection meeting. Polamalu is the only overwhelming favorite for election of up to five people in the field of 15 candidates.

I’m fortunate to be one of the selectors in what is both a mentally exhausting and overwhelmingly gratifying job. For approximately 10 hours, the selectors will gather to debate the qualifications of the candidates for the highest individual honor in the game. Up to five people will go from being considered great to legendary.

As a selector, the responsibility to do everything possible to get this right is enormous. It’s also fraught with second-guessing and criticism from the public, many of whom are upset when their favorites don’t get in. They claim the selection is rigged or bad or whatever they think got in the way of some player making it when that player should have cruised in.

That bothers me less and less these days because enough people understand how hard the process is and because, in the end, there is no perfect system for selecting people for the Hall of Fame. Any Hall of Fame. It’s a subjective process, especially for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Other than the fact that a player must be retired for at least five years, there’s no criteria for voting on players.

For me, the process of preparing is extensive reading about all the candidates and performing a survey that has grown over the years. This will be my eighth year of voting for the Hall of Fame and I have surveyed former players, current and former coaches, executives, owners and other employees of NFL teams or of the league. These are people with at least 15 years in the game and often much longer.

The first year I did this, I talked to 67 people.

This year there were 328 people surveyed. The list includes 28 Hall of Famers, 37 current or former head coaches and 39 current or former general managers. All participate under the agree of confidentiality, the promise that their names would not be revealed.

Each is given the list of 15 modern-day finalists and was asked to give a maximum of five. A handful of participants picked fewer than five.

Here is how the survey voting went:

Player Votes
Troy Polamalu 266
Steve Atwater 143
Isaac Bruce 141
Edgerrin James 131
Tony Boselli 126
Steve Hutchinson 125
John Lynch 121
Alan Faneca 98
Zach Thomas 95
Sam Mills 85
Reggie Wayne 84
Richard Seymour 73
Torry Holt 63
Bryant Young 57
Leroy Butler 21

According to this survey group – and I expect the selectors will agree – Polamalu is an overwhelming favorite to be elected. He received 266 votes, which is 81.1 percent, and his the only one among the 15 finalists to get more than 50 percent of the votes.

Hear Jason go into further detail about the survey on his appearance on the “3 Dog Thursday” podcast:

The rest of these year’s group is much more difficult to sort out. The next six on the list are separated by 22 votes. The next four after that are separated by 14 votes.

Don’t mistake this survey. It is not meant to be a straight ballot where the top five are the only ones I would consider. The difference between Steve Atwater getting 143 votes and Alan Faneca getting 98 is not substantial enough to make Atwater a shoe-in over Faneca.

Over the previous seven years that I’ve voted, there have been two occasions that someone who finished 14th in this survey earned entrance to the Hall of Fame.

That’s because we are talking about a discussion of the best of the best. The difference between great players is often indistinguishable.

What this survey is best used for is breaking ties or figuring out who might be the best candidate at a certain position?

For instance, four years ago at this time, there was a difficult discussion over the candidacies of offensive tackles Orlando Pace and Joe Jacoby. Both players had significant support and excellent presentations. However, Pace received almost twice as much support as Jacoby among people in this survey. In my mind, that swayed the vote clearly toward Pace.

This year, there are four safeties on the ballot, led by Polamalu. The other three are Atwater, John Lynch (121 votes) and LeRoy Butler (21 votes). What this survey indicates is that while Butler may be a worthy candidate, he is probably not in the class of Atwater or Lynch.

Likewise, there are three wide receivers, a position that is annually one of the toughest to sort, particularly as passing numbers have exploded over the past 25 years. To many people, sorting out between Isaac Bruce, Reggie Wayne and Torry Holt has been very difficult. In particular, sorting between Bruce and Holt has been difficult because they played most of their careers together with the St. Louis Rams.

However, according to this survey, Bruce (143 votes) got almost as much support as Wayne (84) and Holt (63) received, combined. Thus, when it comes to prioritizing those three, the survey can be helpful.

Sometimes, the survey just makes it more muddled. In the case of offensive line, not much separates Tony Boselli (125), Steve Hutchinson (124) and Faneca. Linebacker isn’t much easier with Zach Thomas (94) and Sam Mills (85)

Ultimately, what matters most is the intense discussion that happens during the meeting.

And, it’s a discussion that can often leave people pulling their hair out.

Jason Cole is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector who has covered the NFL since 1992. He has worked for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, The Miami Herald, Yahoo Sports! and Bleacher Report. He is the author or co-author of six books, including Giant with Plaxico Burress and Heart for the Game with Simon Keith.

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Vipers better but drop third straight game in home opener

Florida Football Insiders

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Mary Holt- USA Today Sports

Although their play was improved offensively, in the end it wasn’t enough for the Tampa Bay Vipers after they dropped their third straight XFL game to start the season 34 – 27 to Houston Saturday afternoon in Tampa.

Roughnecks quarterback P.J. Walker threw for three touchdowns and ran for another, as Houston scored early in the fourth quarter to go up by seven and held off the Viper the rest of the way.

The Vipers offense came to life after they had failed to score in the offensive touchdown in either of their first two games. Both of which were losses on the road. Quarterback Taylor Cornelius, subbing for starter Aaron Murray who missed his second straight game with an injured foot, once again had modest numbers 16-31 for 193 yards 1 TD, 1 INT.

However, he did pull the game even at 18 – 18 at the half after scoring on a one yard QB sneak and Tampa Bay got the two-point conversion.

Still, the former Oklahoma State quarterbacks day was inconsistent and the home crowd at Raymond James Stadium began to chant the name “Flowers, Flowers” for former USF Star Quarterback Quinton Flowers, who played sparingly for the third straight game in a reserve role.

Flowers got Tampa Bay’s first offensive TD on the young season with a seven yard run in the first quarter, but only played QB sparingly in the game, again. He was just 4-6 for 57 yards passing with 29 yards on six attempts on the ground.

Meanwhile, the former Temple star Walker found receiver Cam Phillips for the third of their three touchdown hookups from 17 yards out to give Houston a 34 – 27 lead with just over 10 minutes to play. Phillips devastated Jerry Glanville’s Vipers defense for 194 yards receiving on eight catches with the three TDs.

The Vipers look like they were going to have a chance to re-tie the game when Cornelius (above) completed a pass to his top target on the day, Jaylen Tolliver, at the two-yard line. However just like a week ago in Seattle when a critical fourth quarter drive stalled and Tampa Bay came away with no points in a 17 – 9 lost the Dragons, the Vipers got no points after Cornelius threw incomplete on second, third and fourth downs.

Many in the crowd and observers in the media were curious, as to why coach Marc Trestman didn’t go to Flowers as the dual threat running QB to at least try something different on one of those plays? Flowers even questioned why he did not play more after the game to the media.

The Vipers got the ball one final time, but Cornelius was picked off near midfield with just over a minute left to seal the defeat.

The Vipers played the first spring professional football game in Tampa, since the closing of the USFL 1985 season. That’s when Steve Spurrier’s Tampa Bay Bandits were a popular item at Old Tampa Stadium. Saturday’s home opener drew and announced crowd of 18,117.

However it’s little consolation for former Bears and CFL coach Trestman and his team, as they remain winless on the season. The L.A. Wildcats playing Sunday are the other 0-2 team in the league, currently.

And, you have to wonder whether Trestman will be forced to go to Flowers for the start when they host the D.C. Defenders next week.

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QB Murray out again for XFL Vipers home opener

Florida Football Insiders

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Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

For the second consecutive week, the Tampa Bay Vipers of the XFL will have to go with backup quarterbacks in place of the injured, Aaron Murray.

As the Vipers get set to take on Houston in their inaugural home game Saturday afternoon, the XFL made official that Murray will miss his second game due to his lingering foot injury suffered in week one.

Murray has been unable to practice the last two weeks and that means,Tampa Bay will likely turn to Taylor Cornelius for the second straight week to start in his place. Cornelius was shaky a week ago in Seattle completing only 16 – 27 for 154 yards and two INTs, as the Vipers fell to  0- 2 with an 17-9 defeat to the Dragons.

Tampa Bay has yet to score an offensive touchdown in either of its first two games, and the Vipers may look to play former USF quarterback Quinton Flowers more (above) in this one Saturday. While not a traditional pocket passer, but more of a dual-threat, exceptional runner, Flowers has played sparingly in the Vipers first two games.

A week ago in Seattle, Flowers was just 3 – 7 for 43 yards in the air with a “pick six” as a Seattle defender leaped in the air and intercepted his pass at the Vipers one yard line and fell in the endzone.

Flowers also ran 5 times for 15 yards in the loss. He is obviously a fan favorite in the Tampa area having starred at USF in 2016-17.

If there is such a thing as a “hot seat” after only two games in the rebirth of the XFL, Tampa Bay coach Marc Trestman is clearly on it, as offense is supposed to be his forte’. Yet, the Vipers have not been able to sustain much of anything in their two losses to New York and Seattle scoring a total of 12 points.

Saturday’s home opener at Raymond James Stadium will be the first Spring football professional game in the Tampa Bay Area since the final season of the USFL and Steve Spurrier’s Tampa Bay Bandits played at the old Tampa Stadium in 1985.

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