By Howard Balzer
As the National Football League is headed down the home stretch in wrapping up its 100th season, the Pro Football Hall of Fame is gearing up for a Centennial Celebration that honors what was the birth of the league on Sept. 17, 1920 in Canton, Ohio.
One aspect of that celebration is a special Centennial Class of the Hall of Fame, which will enshrine 10 seniors, three contributors and two coaches. That group of 15 will be in addition to the usual five modern-day players that will also receive the cherished Gold Jackets.
The process for the selection of the Centennial Class took a major step Thursday with the announcement of 38 finalists: 20 seniors, 10 contributors and eight coaches.
Headlining the latter category are two coaches with St. Louis pedigrees: Don Coryell and Dick Vermeil. Coryell was head coach of the Cardinals from 1973-77 and his offensive innovations are still felt throughout the league. Vermeil, of course, came to the Rams in 1997 and led The Greatest Show on Turf to a Super Bowl title in the 1999 season.
Coryell also was head coach of the San Diego Chargers from 1978-86, while Vermeil led the Philadelphia Eagles from 1976-82 and Kansas City Chiefs from 2001-2005.
In the past, head coaches have been considered along with players and Coryell has been a semifinalist 11 times and a finalist five times. Vermeil, while being a frequent nominee, has never advanced to be in included in the group of 25 semifinalists.
But he will be considered along with Coryell and six other coaches when the special 25-person Blue Ribbon Panel meets in Canton in early January. That group will select the Centennial Class, all of whom will gain automatic enshrinement without having to pass the full muster of the 48-person Selection Committee that will meet the day before the Super Bowl in South Florida to select the five modern-day players.
The 15 modern-day finalists will be announced Jan. 2. Included in the 25 semifinalists are former Rams wide receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt. Both Bruce and Holt have been semifinalists six times, but only Bruce has been a finalist, in each of the last three years. St. Louisan Steve Atwater (Lutheran North High School) is a semifinalist for the ninth time and he has been a finalist twice. This is also Atwater’s 16th year of eligibility. If a player fails to be elected in 20 years of eligibility, he then moves to the seniors group.
The Hall of Fame has scheduled a Centennial Celebration in Canton from Sept. 16-19, 2020. The 10 seniors will be formally enshrined during that time period.
Those seniors will also be present in Canton during the annual Hall of Fame celebration in August. On Aug. 8, the five modern-day players along with the Centennial Class contributors and coaches will be enshrined.
Here is the full list of the Centennial Class finalists:
Don Coryell: 1973-77 St. Louis Cardinals; 1978-86 San Diego Chargers
Bill Cowher: 1922-2006 Pittsburgh Steelers
Tom Flores: 1979-87 Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders; 1992-94 Seattle Seahawks
Mike Holmgren: 1992-98 Green Bay Packers; 1999-2008 Seattle Seahawks
Jimmy Johnson: 1989-93 Dallas Cowboys; 1996-99 Miami Dolphins
Buddy Parker: 1949 Chicago Cardinals; 1951-56 Detroit Lions; 1957-64 Pittsburgh Steelers
Dan Reeves: 1981-1992 Denver Broncos; 1993-96 New York Giants; 1997-2003 Atlanta Falcons
Dick Vermeil: 1976-82 Philadelphia Eagles; 1997-99 St. Louis Rams; 2011-2005 Kansas City Chiefs
Bud Adams, owner: 1960-2013 Houston Oilers, Tennessee Oilers/Titans
Ralph Hay, owner: 1918-1922 Canton Bulldogs
Bucko Kilroy, scout/general manager: 1960-61 Philadelphia Eagles; 1962-64 Washington Redskins; 1965-70 Dallas Cowboys; 1971-2006 New England Patriots
Art McNally, official/administrator: 1959-2015 National Football League
Art Modell, owner: 1961-1995 Cleveland Browns; 1996-2011 Baltimore Ravens
Clint Murchison, founder/owner: 1960-1983 Dallas Cowboys
Steve Sabol, administrator/president: 1964-2012 NFL Films
Seymour Siwoff, owner/president: 1952-2019 Elias Sports Bureau
Paul Tagliabue, commissioner: 1989-2006 National Football league
George Young, contributor/general manager: 1968-74 Baltimore Colts; 1975-78 Miami Dolphins; 1979-97 New York Giants; 1998-2001 National Football league
Cliff Branch, WR: 1972-85 Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders
Harold Carmichael, WR: 1971-83 Philadelphia Eagles; 1984 Dallas Cowboys
Jim Covert, T: 1983-1990 Chicago Bears
Roger Craig, RB: 1983-1990 San Francisco 49ers; 1991 Los Angeles Raiders; 1992-93 Minnesota Vikings
Bobby Dillon, S: 1952-59 Green Bay Packers
LaVern Dilweg, E: 1926 Milwaukee Badgers; 1927-1934 Green Bay Packers
Ox Emerson, G/LB/C: 1931-37 Portsmouth Spartans/Detroit Lions; 1938 Brooklyn Dodgers
Randy Gradishar, LB: 1974-83 Denver Broncos
Cliff Harris, S: 1970-79 Dallas Cowboys
Winston Hill, T: 1963-76 New York Jets; 1977 Los Angeles Rams
Cecil Isbell, TB/DB/HB: 1938-42 Green Bay Packers
Alex Karras, DT: 1958-62, 1964-70 Detroit Lions
Verne Lewellen, HB: 1924-1927, 1928-1932 Green Bay Packers; 1927 New York Yankees
Tommy Nobis, LB: 1966-76 Atlanta Falcons
Drew Pearson, WR: 1973-83 Dallas Cowboys
Donnie Shell, S: 1974-87 Pittsburgh Steelers
Duke Slater, T: 1922 Milwaukee Badgers; 1922-25 Rock Island Independents; 1926-1931 Chicago Cardinals
Mac Speedie, E: 1946-1952 Cleveland Browns (AAFC/NFL)
Ed Sprinkle, DE/LB/E: 1944-1955 Chicago Bears
Al Wistert, T/DT/G: 1943 Phil-Pitt; 1944-1951 Philadelphia Eagles