(Behind The Steel Curtain interviewed Swann again in 2012, you can read that interview here)
The Pro Football Hall of Fame is an elite group selected by elitists. Everyone has an opinion on the exclusive fraternity, but only a few have final say in the selection process.
The Van Heusen 2011 Fan's Choice voting is looking to change that, and they've recruited the help of Steelers Hall of Fame WR Lynn Swann to spread the word that fans do have a say at the grassroots level.
Swann spoke with Behind The Steel Curtain about the Fan's Choice voting, in particular, about the four Steelers players and contributors who are currently in the top 20. The latest tally shows Jerome Bettis (7th), Dermontti Dawson (8th), Donnie Shell (9th) and Art Rooney II (15th) trailing a slew of Buffalo Bills players in the voting, which Swann describes as "dedicated fans sending a message that there are some great players who deserve to be mentioned."
Fan's Choice currently has over 1.3 million votes, with the poll concluding in 21 days.
In order, LB Darryl Talley, WR Andre Reed, Special Teams Steve Tasker, C Kent Hull, DL Jeff Smerlas and LB Cornelius Bennett round out the top six. Only Reed was a 2010 finalist in the Hall of Fame voting.
"Bills fans are voting that those teams, the ones that went to four straight Super Bowls, are deserving of Hall of Fame recognition," Swann said.
While Bettis is highly likely to be inducted in either his first or second year of eligibility, it's debatable whether he's the most deserving Steeler on the ballot. Dawson, the Steelers center from 1988-2000, is a six-time All Pro (93-98), all of which came after Hull's back-to-back All Pro seasons of 91-92. Dawson was a Hall of Fame semifinalist from 06-08, and has been a finalist in each of the last two votes.
As political of a process as the Hall of Fame vote is, Dawson is a good example of the difficulty of non skill position players being inducted. While Hull may be a sentimental favorite for Bills fans, Dawson had considerably more success in the same conference over mostly the same time period. Dawson is one of the best offensive linemen of his era, but there are skill position players to whom he takes a back seat every year.
He referenced San Francisco WR Jerry Rice and Dallas RB Emmitt Smith in the Class of 2010 as an example of the traffic jam philosophy that is the Hall of Fame selection process.
"It depends on who's in your class," Swann said. "If you're only going to vote in 5 or 6, who are the other four going to be? Before you even think about it, two of them already gone.
"That's the current rushing and reception leader, and the others are also guys who have elevated their team and game. They're all deserving on a whole bunch of levels, if only gonna vote in 5 or 6, who are the other four out of hundreds?
"That's the beauty of Fan's Choice," Swann said. "It brings attention to other guys who may not have gotten it."
Donnie Shell is another good example of the benefits the Fan's Choice voting can bring. He seems to have dropped off the radar of Hall of Fame voters, but the 5-time Pro Bowl selection and 3-time All Pro was a finalist in 2002, and a semifinalist in 2004.
"Shell was a free agent, a special teams guy who broke into starting lineup," Swann said. He epitomizes a guy who had an opportunity to make himself a player. He was a key player in those Super Bowls. There's a certain level of recogniziton for having done that."
Swann was inducted in 2001, after having been a finalist for 13 consecutive votes (88-00). He is a model example of the difficulties of the previous generation's version of the game; his stats aren't indicative of a dominant receiver today, but Swann's generation of receivers didn't have the advantages his counterparts of today do.
He was soft-spoken, humble and intelligent during the interview, but when he was asked how he would do in today's game, his voice rose a little bit, giving a glimpse of his competitive side.
"I think I would excel," he said, matter-of-factly. "I think both me and John (Stallworth, Hall of Fame Class of 2002) would have excelled. With defenses not allowed to touch the receiver within five yards, and the passing offenses of today, I think we would both have done very well."
It was a pleasure and honor to speak to Swann briefly about the game, the Hall of Fame, and how he and select other enshrined Hall of Famers are teaming up to help promote the Van Heusen 2011 Fan's Choice campaign. Many thanks to him for a few minutes of his time.