They didn’t get Tyrone Jones in until the great Winnipeg Blue Bombers linebacker/rush end was dead.
If they had waited for David Braley to stop owning Canadian Football League teams to induct him — he’s up to three (two current), and counting — the same might have been true.
And they missed the plot altogether on Damon Allen, incredibly waiting until his second year of eligibility to elect the nomadic quarterback who, until 10 days ago, was the most prolific passer in the history of professional football, not to mention No. 3 all-time on the CFL rushing list, a combination of gifts so diverse, either ought to have got him in on the first ballot.
But the selection committee for the Canadian Football Hall of Fame did finally get around to some of the right, and several of the obvious, choices Sunday for a spectacular Class of 2012, so we shouldn’t be too hard on the voters.
Oh, what the hell. Let’s be hard on them.
Good for Milt Stegall, as great and colourful a receiver as ever graced the CFL’s playing fields — and a darned snappy dresser who happens to have, as he is wont to point out, the greatest abdominals in the game — for his unquestionably deserved first-ballot selection.
Nice that Tyrone Jones, who was up there among the most feared CFL pass rushers ever, got in, but sad that he couldn’t have had the honour before he succumbed to inoperable brain cancer in 2008.
Good for the Hall for continuing to recognize the greatest achievers in Canadian university ball with the election of two-time Hec Crighton-winning running back Eric Lapointe and Calgary Dinosaurs powerhouse builder Peter Connellan.
If it took 36 years after his retirement to recognize the contributions of Saskatchewan kicker/offensive lineman Jack Abendschan, well, righting old wrongs is what the veterans category is for.
Allen’s omission a year ago, though, was among the all-time Hall of Fame snubs, probably even more pronounced than the hockey hall’s continuing, unfathomable insistence that one of the most heroic figures in the game’s history, 1972 Summit Series decider Paul Henderson, isn’t worthy.
Allen, now 48, won four Grey Cups with, essentially, four different teams (Edmonton victories in 1987 and ’93 were separated by stints in Hamilton and Ottawa) and was the championship game’s MVP three times, which only one other player in league history — first-ballot HOFer Doug Flutie — has done.
Moreover, Allen’s first and last Grey Cup MVP awards were an astounding 17 years apart, which kind of puts the lie to the suggestion that denial of first-ballot recognition was due to a lot of his statistics owing more to longevity than quality.
Monday, when the Hall of Fame produced Braley, Stegall, Abendschan and Allen for a conference call with reporters, some of the nicest moments involved the interplay between Braley — now a Canadian senator, but for the last 25 years one of the CFL’s most ardent believers, who’s backed up his passion with his wallet — and Allen, who dedicated B.C.’s 2000 Grey Cup win to the owner who had rescued the franchise from the brink of ruin.
“The relationship we had was kind of special. He always called me Mr. B — and he’s got a beautiful wife. I signed him [in B.C.] because of her, she was a good-looking girl,” cracked Braley, who has helped locate owners for, if not outright bankrolled, eight CFL franchises during various league crises.
Allen, who also played a season for the first team Braley owned, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, said their relationship made it particularly sweet to be going into the Hall with the current owner of both the Lions and Toronto Argos.
Braley, who has served the league in just about every capacity including interim commissioner, was asked how long he intended to continue as a key cog in the CFL’s survival.
“Well, I’ve just turned 70 years of age, and by the time I’m 75 I hope to have both teams in other people’s hands — people who care for it like I do, with a passion,” he said. “And the hands that the team ends up in will be more important than the money that would be received for the franchise.”
Allen had nothing to say a year ago, when he was passed over, though privately he was puzzled and hurt, given the staggering numbers he had put up. But the dam broke Monday, when I asked him if he had come to understand why he’d been rejected.
“There’s 14 first-ballot Hall of Famers … I’m at least better than one of those guys,” said Allen, who wasn’t talking specifics. “I love each and every quarterback that is there, but if interceptions are part of the great decision-making and leadership of quarterbacks, and I played the most years of anybody and still don’t lead in interceptions, that also lets me know that maybe I should have been considered.”
Numbers, of course, don’t tell the whole story. But Allen threw 116 more touchdowns than interceptions in his 23 years. The late Ron Lancaster threw 63 more interceptions than TDs, and 118 more picks than Allen, in five fewer seasons.
Then again, Lancaster’s league yardage record of 50,535 yards stood for 22 years before being broken by Allen, then Danny McManus, then Anthony Calvillo “which really shows the progression and how they’re throwing the football today,” Allen admitted.
His four Grey Cups ought to have been enough, on their own.
Every one of them was a salvage job. He came off the bench to bring the 1987 Eskimos back from the dead against Toronto after starter Matt Dunigan had suffered a severe first-half concussion. He won in 1993 with a 12-6, second-place Edmonton team that was up against the 14-4 East Division-champion Blue Bombers. In 2000, the Lions were an 8-10 third-place team that won two playoff games on the road before beating 12-6 Montreal in the Grey Cup, and in 2004, his underdog Argos upset the 14-4 Alouettes in the East final and then the heavily favoured 13-5 Lions to win his final championship.
Oh, and he was the CFL’s outstanding player a year later, at age 42, when he completed 64% of his passes for 5,082 yards, 33 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Those numbers weren’t given to him out of sentimentality.
But there’s nothing anyone can do now to correct what should have happened a year ago.
“In my mind,” he said, “regardless of what anyone may say, I feel I’m a first-ballot Hall of Famer.”
At least he’s in, and that will have to do.