One of the concerns raised by some around this year's Canadian Football Hall of Fame selections was that there wasn't a real sense of which players were even being considered. Yes, the Hall's requirements aren't all that complicated: CFL players must have spent at least five years playing professional football in Canada and have to have been retired for three years, veteran players (those who played over 25 years ago) can be considered after nomination from the veterans subcommittee, amateur players also have to have been retired for at least three years, and builders can be just about anyone who "has made an outstanding contribution to football in Canada other than as a player." However, those criteria alone mean there are huge numbers of potential players out there, though, and the selection committee in recent years has tended not to induct players immediately after the three-year window (for example, legendary quarterback Damon Allen, pictured at right scrambling for yardage against Winnipeg during his 1990 campaign with the Ottawa Rough Riders, was eligible but not selected last year), so it's been very difficult to get a sense of who they're looking at.
Before this year's announcement, I wrote that Don Matthews should be inducted (which, fortunately, he was), but I didn't want to throw out guesses on the other inductees; all are worthy selections, but it wouldn't have been easy to predict that most of those guys would make it in this year. Fortunately, that's now changed, as the Hall decided today to put up a list of players and builders eligible for consideration for the 2012 induction class.
From this perspective, this move is great to see. For one thing, it brings the Hall much closer to the standard set by other sports, where you generally have a strong idea of which players will be considered each year. Moreover, announcing those names this early gives fans and media almost an entire year to discuss each candidate's merits, and doing the announcement during the CFL offseason is perfect, as it won't get overwhelmed by on-field news as quickly. The increased attention this generates should be a good thing for the CFL, the Hall and fans, and it should also help alleviate some of the concerns about secrecy. It's not the published ballots some would like to see, but it's definitely a step in the direction of increased transparency, and that's a positive from this standpoint.
It's important to recognize that this isn't a final and exhaustive list, as nominations can still be made during the year. With that proviso in mind, here are some of the most interesting names on the list at the moment. We won't get into detailed predictions of who will be chosen in 2012 just yet, but let's narrow the full list down to seven intriguing regular CFL players (five players were inducted in 2011), two amateur players (one was inducted in 2011), two amateur builders (one was inducted in 2011) and two professional builders (one was inducted in 2011). Each is presented below, in alphabetical order by last name.
— Damon Allen: As mentioned above, Allen was eligible this past year but not chosen, which sparked some of the complaints about the selection process. It's worth keeping in mind that the "first-ballot" distinction often seen in other sports hasn't historically really applied to this Hall, though; many of the players chosen each year have been retired for more than the minimum three seasons. Allen, pro football's all-time leading passer, a three-time Grey Cup MVP, and a star with everyone from Ottawa to Memphis to B.C. to Toronto, definitely seems like a lock for induction at some point. We'll see if he's selected in this coming year.
— Dave Dickenson: The quirks of the alphabet see Allen again followed by Dickenson, the man who replaced him with the B.C. Lions. Dickenson's case is going to be an interesting one to watch; his 22,913 career yards certainly aren't close to some of the other quarterbacks considered or inducted (Allen put up 72,381, while Danny McManus, selected this year, recorded 53,255), but his career completion percentage of 67.5 per cent blows Allen (56.4) and McManus (54.4) away, as does his career quarterback rating (110.4 against Allen's 83.8 and McManus' 76.0). He won two Grey Cups (in 1998 as a backup with Calgary and in 2006 as B.C.'s starter, when he was also selected as the Grey Cup MVP). Dickenson's career (10 CFL seasons in total, some of which were cut short thanks to injury) wasn't as long as some other quarterbacks', thanks to a dalliance with the NFL and concussion problems, but he consistently performed at an extremely high level when called upon.
— Sean Fleming: Fleming proved to be one of the CFL's top kickers and punters over his 16 years with the Edmonton Eskimos from 1992 to 2007. He won three Grey Cups with the Eskimos, earning the Most Valuable Canadian title in the 1993 Grey Cup and kicking the game-winning field goal in double overtime during the 2005 game.
—Neil Lumsden: Many today know Neil Lumsden as the father of Jesse, but the elder Lumsden was a pretty special player in his own right. He had a tremendous CIS career with the Ottawa Gee-Gees, winning the 1975 Vanier Cup, and then went on to 10 successful CFL seasons with the Argonauts, Tiger-Cats and Eskimos. Lumsden played at both fullback and running back, picking up 3755 yards and 36 touchdowns on the ground and adding another 1729 yards and 15 touchdowns through the air; he also paved the way for many others with his blocking and filled in as a punter and place-kicker. He won three straight Grey Cups with the Eskimos from 1980 to 1982 and later proved a pretty apt administrator, helping to construct the 1999 Grey Cup-winning Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
— Derrell "Mookie" Mitchell: After a strong college career at Texas Tech, Mitchell's pro career didn't get off to such a great start. He spent 1994 with the New Orleans Saints, then headed to the Scottish Claymores of the World League of American Football in 1995. Things got better in 1997 when he signed with the Toronto Argonauts; he picked up 1,457 yards, 17 touchdowns and the league's Most Outstanding Rookie award that year. Mitchell shone with the Argonauts until 2003, delivering perhaps his best year in 1998 with an incredible 160 receptions for 2,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. He then headed to Edmonton for three seasons and helped the Eskimos win the 2005 Grey Cup before finishing his career with the Argos in 2007.
— Moe Racine: Racine was a legendary offensive tackle and placekicker for the Ottawa Rough Riders, playing with them for 17 seasons from 1958 to 1974. He won four Grey Cups along the way and provided great blocking for legendary quarterbacks like Russ Jackson and Tom Clements.
— Milt Stegall: Stegall had an incredible 14-year career with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and still holds plenty of CFL receiving records, including career yards (15,153) and touchdown receptions (144). Those numbers are made even more impressive when you consider some of the no-name quarterbacks he had throwing to him over the years. He should certainly get into the Hall at some point.
— Eric Lapointe: Lapointe turned in a tremendous four years at the CIS level as a running back with the Mount Allison Mounties. He picked up the CIS rookie of the year trophy in 1995 and won the Hec Creighton Trophy in 1996 (when he rushed for an AUS-record 1,619 yards) and 1998. He finished his university career with 4,666 rushing yards, then spent eight years in the CFL with Hamilton, Toronto and Montreal (but was mostly used as a fullback and backup RB, so the amateur category seems the best one to slot him into).
— Greg Vavra: Vavra had a legendary CIS career as the quarterback of the University of Calgary Dinos, where he's been inducted into their Hall of Fame. He was a conference all-star for four straight seasons from 1980 to 1983, and capped off his final year with the Hec Creighton Trophy (CIS MVP); he also led the Dinos to a Vanier Cup championship that season. In addition to his success as a passer, Vavra also did much of the placekicking and punting for the team. He went on to a five-year CFL career, but was never given much of a shot at quarterback, much like most Canadian pivots over the years. He's currently the Dinos' offensive coordinator.
— Larry Haylor: Haylor, the CIS leader in career coaching victories, led the Western Mustangs from 1984 to 2006. The Mustangs went to the Vanier Cup five times during that run, winning it in 1989 and 1994. His teams also won the Yates Cup as Ontario champions eight times. He was honoured with the Jean-Marie De Koninck Coaching Excellence Award by CIS in 2009, and was recognized with a plaque on Western's Wall of Fame last year.
— Frank Smith: Smith had a notable coaching career at the high school, CIS and CFL levels. He played in the CFL with B.C., Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg, and then teamed up with another legendary CFL figure, Cal Murphy, to create East Vancouver's first high school football program at Notre Dame. Smith went on to stints south of the border with schools like Eastern Washington and Montana State, then returned to Canada in 1971 to start another high school program at West Vancouver's Sentinel Secondary. After their 1973 season, Smith became the head coach at UBC. He would go on to lead the Thunderbirds for 21 years, amassing a 126-90-4 career record, four Vanier Cup appearances, two national titles and two Frank Tindall Trophies (CIS coach of the year). He also worked as a coach with the B.C. Lions in 1997, 1998 and 2000, and he's a member of the B.C. Football Hall of Fame.
— Marv Levy: Many casual football fans will remember Levy for his famous Buffalo Bills teams in the early 1990s, which went to four straight Super Bowls (but weren't able to win any of them). However, he got his start as a head coach in the CFL and was very successful in his short time north of the border. He took over the Montreal Alouettes in 1973 and took them to three Grey Cups in the five years he ran the team, winning in 1974 and 1977 (and claiming the Annis Stukus Trophy as coach of the year in 1974). Levy spent most of his coaching career in the U.S. as both an NCAA and NFL coach, but his stint north of the 49 was certainly memorable too.
— Dave Ritchie; Ritchie's coaching career is almost the opposite of Levy's; he spent 11 seasons as a CFL head coach, but only came away with one Grey Cup victory (with the B.C. Lions in the legendary 1994 Battle of the Border against Baltimore) and two appearances (a loss with Winnipeg in 2001 is the other one). Still, Ritchie put up an impressive 108-76-3 record overall and won over 10 games in eight of his 10 full seasons (he was fired after starting 2-5 with Winnipeg in 2004). He remains seventh on the CFL's all-time coaching wins list.