BBD Assistant Editor: Ryan Talbot
Buffalo Bills fans may not have to wait long to return to Canton. Former Bills general manager Bill Polian’s chances of making the Pro Football Hall of Fame improved greatly for 2015 when it was announced Aug. 6 that the Hall of Fame was adding a contributor category for nomination starting next year.
The Contributor Category
Contributors will include owners, general managers, commissioners and others who have made “outstanding contributions to professional football in capacities other than playing or coaching.” There have only been nine contributors added to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the last 46 years, and there’s only 19 total contributors currently in the Hall of Fame.
The number of contributors and senior members eligible for induction to the Hall of Fame will rotate over the next five years. In 2015, two contributors and one senior member will be eligible and in 2016, one contributor and two senior members will be eligible. This process will repeat for five years and will then be reevaluated.
Candidates would be selected by a subcommittee and then presented to 46 selectors. Eighty-percent approval would still be needed for induction.
Top Contributor Candidates
Bill Polian will face some stiff competition among contributors in 2015 and beyond. Contributors that Polian could be going against include:
- Paul Tagliabue, NFL Commissioner, 1989-2006 - Tagliabue was commissioner when the NFL expanded from 28 teams to 32 teams. No lockouts took place during Tagliabue’s tenure.
- Steve Sabol, President and Co-Founder of NFL Films - Won 35 Emmys for his work at NFL Films and played a role in the launch of the NFL Network.
- Eddie DeBartolo Jr., San Francisco 49ers Owner, 1978-2000 - The 49ers won five championships during his tenure as owner (XVI, XIX, XXIII, XXIV, XXIX).
- Art Modell, Cleveland Browns Owner (1961-1995) and Baltimore Ravens Owner (1996-2004) - Won the 1964 NFL Championship as owner of the Browns and Super Bowl XXV with the Ravens.
The Case for Polian
Polian’s accomplishments are impressive. As general manager of the Buffalo Bills from 1986-93, Polian built a team that played in four straight Super Bowls. Polian was fired after Buffalo’s third Super Bowl appearance, but he still deserves much of the credit for building that roster. He spent the following season on the NFL Management Council.
When the Carolina Panthers joined the NFL as an expansion team in 1994, Polian became the team’s first general manager. In his second season with the Panthers, the team made it all the way to the NFC Championship Game.
His last NFL stint was as team president and general manager of the Indianapolis Colts from 1997-2011. Polian was responsible for drafting Peyton Manning and building a team that won Super Bowl XLI over the Chicago Bears.
Polian spent time as a pro scout for the Kansas City Chiefs, won Grey Cups while working for the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes and Winnipeg Blue Bombers and was a personnel director for the Chicago Blitz before he joined the Bills as pro personnel director in 1984.
Polian, who was added to the Buffalo Bills Wall of Fame in 2012, is the only six-time winner of the Sporting News’ NFL Executive of the Year award.
Who Gets Nominated in 2015?
Every candidate listed has a valid case to be nominated in 2015, but only two contributors will be put up to a vote. Among the candidates, Paul Tagliabue and Eddie DeBartolo Jr. are probably the favorites in the field.
Tagliabue’s time as NFL commissioner was a great success. The NFL grew during his time as commissioner and no lockouts or strikes took place during his tenure. He is also credited with improving revenue sharing in the league and he played a big role in improving revenue with television rights. Tagliabue was also commissioner during a time period when football surpassed all sports in the U.S. in terms of popularity.
As for DeBartolo Jr., the 49ers had a .633 winning percentage under his ownership. Winning five Super Bowls during his time as owner greatly helps his case. His time as owner didn’t end well, as he pleaded guilty for failing to report a felony in a corruption case. Despite that, DeBartolo Jr. was added to the 49ers Hall of Fame in 2009.
Polian could see a nomination as soon as 2016. With only one nomination in 2016, Polian would have to hold off the late Steve Sabol, whose work with NFL Films played a huge role in increasing the popularity of the league.
Art Modell, who passed in 2012, may face the longest wait of the candidates. Despite winning two championships, his overall resume simply isn’t as impressive as the other candidates.
Final Prediction: Polian is nominated and inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2017.