MINNEAPOLIS - Selectors for the Pro Football Hall of Fame will meet Saturday to select the class of 2018, and beyond the almost certain choice of Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis, it appears to be a wide-open field.
Under the Hall's rules, a class of between four and eight must be chosen, with candidates required to get votes from 80 percent of the 48 votes from a field of 18 finalists after the 15 modern-day candidates are reduced to five. If not enough get 80 percent, the four highest vote-getters are chosen.
Lewis was an eight-time All-Pro selection and was selected to the Pro Bowl 12 times in a 17-year career. He was the linchpin of a defense that helped the Ravens win two Super Bowls, was the MVP of Super Bowl XXXV following the 2000 season and twice was chosen as NFL defensive player of the year.
And, while none of the others on the ballot approach his credentials, there are some intriguing names including a pair of wide receivers who compiled terrific career numbers but were known almost as much for their antics and style of individualist play as for performance on their teams - Terrell Owens and Randy Moss.
Owens and Moss rank second and fourth, respectively, behind Jerry Rice on the all-time receiving yardage list. But neither of them ever played for a Super Bowl winner. Owens had notable problems with teammates and coaches and wound up playing for five teams. Moss' work ethic is remembered for once saying about his effort, "I play when I want to play." He also played for five teams.
Because of those histories, both receivers are controversial candidates. In fact, this is Owens' third time on the ballot and he has not yet even reached the semifinal round of voting. Moss is on the ballot for the first time.
Voters tend to look more favorably upon players who have championship rings, who had good reputations for work ethic, and particularly for those who have been long retired and may soon be running out of chances for selection in the regular voting process.
Two in particular in that category are on the modern-era ballot for the final time: Joe Jacoby, a tackle on the famed "Hogs" offensive line employed by the Redskins in the 1980s, and Everson Walls, a Dallas cornerback who led the NFL in interceptions three times.
Those two would share a unique distinction were they voted to the Hall of Fame, because both came into the NFL as undrafted free agents.
Jacoby was a giant of his era at 6-foot-7, 305 pounds, a size that wouldn't get a second glance in today's game. But he was part of a dominating offensive line that helped Washington win three Super Bowls. Jacoby reached the final 15 in each of the last two years, advancing to the final 10 two years ago.
Walls was passed over in the draft as too slow even after leading the nation's college players in interceptions. He led the NFL in interceptions as a rookie, too, but wound up in the unfortunate (for Dallas) photo of Dwight Clark's leaping catch in the end zone for the 49ers' winning touchdown in the NFC championship on the way to their first Super Bowl. Walls, who intercepted two Joe Montana passes in that game, eventually earned a Super Bowl ring with the New York Giants, in his 10th NFL season.
Lewis and Moss are among four players eligible for the Hall for the first time, along with former Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher and former Seattle and Minnesota guard Steve Hutchinson. Both Urlacher and Hutchinson would be considered slam-dunk candidates except the committee may not be willing to put two middle linebackers in the same class of inductees, and guards have a notoriously difficult time gaining traction competing against tackles.
The other modern-era candidates, those whose careers ended five to 25 years ago, are wide receiver Isaac Bruce, tackle Tony Boselli, center-guard Kevin Mawae and guard Alan Faneca, running back Edgerrin James, cornerback Ty Law, and safeties Brian Dawkins and John Lynch.
In addition, selectors will vote separately on two senior nominees, linebacker Robert Brazile and guard Jerry Kramer, who played for Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers, and they will vote separately on a single contributor candidate, former Washington and San Diego general manager Bobby Beathard. The candidates in those categories also need 80 percent of the vote to be elected.
Ira Miller is an award-winning sportswriter who has covered the National Football League for more than five decades and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee. He is a national columnist for The Sports Xchange.
THUMBNAILS OF HALL OF FAME FINALISTS
Bobby Beathard - Personnel executive with five NFL teams, including general manager of the Redskins 1978-88 and Chargers 1990-99. Built four teams that reached the Super Bowl, including two that won it. In an era before true free agency in the NFL, Washington's first winning Super Bowl roster included 27 free agents signed by Beathard.
Tony Boselli - Offensive tackle, first player chosen by expansion Jacksonville team in 1995 NFL draft. Career cut short to seven years by injuries, but selected to Pro Bowl five times and helped four teams reach playoffs including two that reached the AFC championship game. Boselli also was selected as the team's MVP after its first division title in 1998.
Robert Brazile - Houston linebacker, 1975-84, five time All-Pro, seven consecutive Pro Bowls. Helped team reach successive AFC championship games in 1978 and 1979. Named defensive rookie of the year in 1975 and member of 1970s all-decade team. Senior candidate who has been overlooked in regular voting.
Isaac Bruce - Spent all but two years of a 16-year NFL career with the Rams, finishing with 1,024 receptions for 15,208 yards (fifth all-time) and 91 touchdowns. Only one first team All-Pro selection, but in two Super Bowls, Bruce caught 11 passes 218 yards.
Brian Dawkins - Played 16 seasons, first 13 with Philadelphia, leader of an Eagles defense that reached four straight NFC championship games and one Super Bowl. Five-time All-Pro, chosen to nine Pro Bowls. Member of all-decade team for first decade of 2000s.
Alan Faneca - Played first 10 years with Pittsburgh of 13-year career in which he missed only one game. Six-time All-Pro and chosen to nine consecutive Pro Bowls and all-decade team for first decade of 2000s. Helped his teams to top-10 rankings in rushing offense during 11 of his 13 seasons.
Steve Hutchinson - Guard who played 12 seasons, primarily with Seattle and Minnesota. Six-time all-pro, seven Pro Bowls. Twice chosen NFL Alumni offensive lineman of the year and member of all-decade team. Starter with Seattle team that reached Super Bowl following 2005 season.
Joe Jacoby - Starting left tackle for three Washington Super Bowl championship teams as a member of the "Hogs," the Redskins' famed offensive line. At 6-foot-7, 305 pounds, he was a big man for his era but would hardly be noticeable for size in today's game. Three-time All-Pro, member of all-decade team.
Edgerrin James - NFL rookie of the year in 1999 and league rushing champion his first two seasons while also catching more than 60 passes each year. Had four 1,500-yard rushing seasons during 11-year career, also a good receiver out of the backfield. Three-time All-Pro, four Pro Bowls. NFL's No. 13 all-time leading rusher with 12,246 yards.
Jerry Kramer - Senior nominee has been considered and rejected before by the committee but enough voters think him worthy to allow for reconsideration. Five-time All-Pro with Vince Lombardi's Packers in the 1960s and a member of the NFL's 50th anniversary team.
Ty Law - Cornerback played most of his 15-year career with New England, returned an interception for a touchdown in the Patriots' first Super Bowl victory following the 2001 season. Intercepted 53 passes in his regular-season career, twice leading the NFL. Twice All-Pro and member of all-decade team.
Ray Lewis - Linebacker played entire 17-year career with Baltimore, helping Ravens win two Super Bowls, and was MVP of Super Bowl following 2000 season, following year in which Ravens allowed fewest points in a 16-game schedule. Twice named defensive player of the year, selected to 12 Pro Bowls and eight All-Pro teams.
John Lynch - Safety played first 11 seasons with Tampa Bay, helping Bucs win Super Bowl following 2002 season. Three-time All-Pro, chosen for nine Pro Bowls. Current general manager of San Francisco 49ers, engineered trade for Jimmy Garoppolo, although voters are not supposed to consider post-playing roles.
Kevin Mawae - Played 16 seasons as center with Seahawks, Jets and Titans, six-time All-Pro and chosen for eight Pro Bowls. Member of all-decade team for first decade of 2000s. Helped open holes for 1,000-yard rusher in all but three seasons.
Randy Moss - Played first half of 14-year career with Minnesota before bouncing around to four other teams. Gained more than 1,200 yards receiving eight times, ranks fourth in all-time receiving yardage (15,292) and second in touchdowns receiving (156), but criticized for his own admission that he did not play hard all the time. In two Super Bowls combined, caught just seven passes for 103 yards.
Terrell Owens - Caught 153 touchdown passes, third all-time, and gained 15,934 yards receiving, second all-time. Had nine 1,000-yard seasons with three different teams. Caught nine passes for 122 yards in only Super Bowl appearance and was named All-Pro five times. Named to all-decade team (as was Moss) for first decade of 2000s.
Brian Urlacher - Like Lewis, the rare player in today's game who played entire career with one team, in Urlacher's case 13 years with Chicago. Five-time All-Pro, chosen for eight Pro Bowls, helped Bears reach Super Bowl following 2006 season. NFL defensive player of the year in 2005.
Everson Walls - Undrafted out of college; earned a starting job with Dallas as a rookie and led the NFL in interceptions in his first two seasons. First time as a finalist and in his final season of eligibility before slipping into mass of senior candidates. Finished career with 57 interceptions, three-time All-Pro, four Pro Bowls.