With the 18 finalists determined, let the debates begin in earnest over which players should be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2016, to be determined February 6, the day before Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, Calif.
Quarterback Brett Favre, guard Alan Faneca and wide receiver Terrell Owens are first-ballot hopefuls. Also finalists for the first time are safety Steve Atwater (12th year of eligibility), tackle Joe Jacoby (12th year of eligibility) and running back Edgerrin James (second year of eligibility).
Finalists were announced Thursday night on an NFL Network television special: "Gold Jacket Finalists."
Based on feedback from fans, media and selectors, Favre figures to be the only slam-dunk candidate for the Class of 2016. So the 46 selectors who are locked into a room on selection Saturday expect a grueling day of debate interrupted only by a box lunch.
Regardless of the outcome, selectors know all too well that the critics will loudly second guess what players should have been voted in, although these nabobs of negativity conveniently sidestep naming the players who, of necessity, should have been denied to make room.
Here is a complete list of the finalists, starting with Modern Era nominees, their positions, years and teams, years eligible and number of times, years as finalist:
--Morten Andersen, kicker -- 1982-1994 New Orleans Saints, 1995-2000, 2006-07 Atlanta Falcons, 2001 New York Giants, 2002-03 Kansas City Chiefs, 2004 Minnesota Vikings. Fourth year of eligibility. Third year as finalist (2014-16).
--Terrell Davis, running back -- 1995-2001 Denver Broncos. Tenth year of eligibility. Second year as finalist (2015-16).
--Brett Favre, Quarterback -- 1991 Atlanta Falcons, 1992-2007 Green Bay Packers, 2008 New York Jets, 2009-2010 Minnesota Vikings. First year of eligibility.
--Kevin Greene, linebacker/defensive end -- 1985-1992 Los Angeles Rams, 1993-95 Pittsburgh Steelers, 1996, 1998-99 Carolina Panthers, 1997 San Francisco 49ers. Twelfth year of eligibility. Fifth year as finalist (2012-16).
--Marvin Harrison, wide receiver -- 1996-2008 Indianapolis Colts. Third year of eligibility. Third year as finalist (2014-16).
--Joe Jacoby, Tackle -- 1981-1993 Washington Redskins. Twelfth year of eligibility. First year as finalist.
--Edgerrin James, running back -- 1999-2005 Indianapolis Colts, 2006-08 Arizona Cardinals, 2009 Seattle Seahawks. Second year of eligibility. First year as finalist.
--John Lynch, free safety -- 1993-2003 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 2004-07 Denver Broncos. Fourth year of eligibility. Third year as finalist (2014-16).
--Kurt Warner, quarterback -- 1998-2003 St. Louis Rams, 2004 New York Giants, 2005-09 Arizona Cardinals. Second year of eligibility. Second year as finalist (2015-16).
Two Seniors finalists:
--Ken Stabler, quarterback -- 1970-1979 Oakland Raiders, 1980-1981 Houston Oilers, 1982-1984 New Orleans Saints. Twenty-seventh year of eligibility. Fourth year as finalist. First as seniors nominee finalist and first as nominee of seniors subcommittee (1990-91; 2003, 2016).
--Dick Stanfel, guard -- 1952-55 Detroit Lions, 1956-58 Washington Redskins. Fifty-fourth year of eligibility. Third year as finalist, all as seniors nominee, first as nominee of seniors subcommittee (1993, 2012, 2016).
One Contributor finalist:
--Edward DeBartolo Jr., owner -- 1977-2000 San Francisco 49ers. Fourth year as finalist (2012-14, 2016). First as nominee of contributor subcommittee.
The selection committee meeting begins at dawn on Selection Saturday and the first nominees discussed, and voted upon, are those named as finalists by subcommittee for seniors -- Stabler and Stanfel -- and by the subcommittee for contributors, which named DeBartolo.
After a thorough discussion, the selectors are asked to vote yes or no on each of them, meaning these three are considered independent of all others and even each other. It takes an 80 percent yes vote for these three to become an enshrinee. Period.
That is usually considered the easy part of the day, although each of those candidates may easily spark a feisty discussion.
That done, the committee discusses each of the so-called modern-day candidates -- although that technically includes Coryell, in his 29th year of eligibility and third time as a finalist -- and there is a cut-down process from 15 to 10 to five.
The last part of that process is votes of yes or no on the final five. Again, 80 percent yes votes are required to make the Class of 2016.
Representatives of the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche tabulate the votes all day, from those for the three nominated by subcommittees, through the incremental cut-downs and finally the last yes/no tally that determines the Class of 2016. Final results are announced shortly after the meeting during the NFL Honors show.
Although there is no set number for any class of enshrinees, the Hall of Fame's current ground rules stipulate that between four and eight new members will be selected each year. No more than five modern-era finalists can be elected in a given year, so a class of six, seven, or eight can only be achieved if the contributor finalist and/or one or both of the senior finalists are elected.
While the remaining process sounds challenging, and is, the selectors were already required to make some difficult decisions just to get this final list down to 15 modern-era candidates. The seniors and contributor were locked in as finalists when they were selected by the subcommittees. But the selectors needed to pare down a list of 25 modern-era semifinalists last month, which eliminated some candidates whose credentials may put them into the HOF one year. Just not this year.
Here are semifinalists eliminated in the December cut-down:
--Isaac Bruce, wide receiver -- 1994-2007 Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams, 2008-09 San Francisco 49ers; two times as a semifinalist, 2015-16.
--Roger Craig, running back -- 1983-90 San Francisco 49ers, 1991 Los Angeles Raiders, 1992-93 Minnesota Vikings, eight times as a semifinalist, 2009-16.
--Torry Holt, wide receiver -- 1999-2008 St. Louis Rams, 2009 Jacksonville Jaguars; two times as semifinalist, 2015-16.
--Mike Kenn, tackle -- 1978-94 Atlanta Falcons; two times as a semifinalist, 2015-16.
--Ty Law, cornerback -- 1995-2004 New England Patriots, 2005, 2008 New York Jets, 2006-07 Kansas City Chiefs, 2009 Denver Broncos; two times as a semifinalist, 2015-16.
--Karl Mecklenburg, linebacker -- 1983-94 Denver Broncos; five times as a semifinalist, 2012-16.
--Sam Mills, linebacker -- 1986-94 New Orleans Saints, 1995-97 Carolina Panthers; one time as a semifinalist, 2016.
Of course this means that the second guessers already are making proclamations over who was left off the finalist list, conveniently ignoring the mathematical realities -- because they can.
--Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and NFLDraftScout.com, is in his sixth decade covering football and is a selector for the Pro Football Hall of Fame and a member of the Seniors Selection Subcommittee.