A Veteran Play

By Stephen Eschenbach / March / April 2005
August 10th, 2007

Time alters perspective, which is why the NFL Hall of Fame Senior Committee exists. Each year the committee nominates for induction a slate of “old-timers,” veterans who, despite solid credentials, were never voted in during their years of ordinary eligibility. This year’s Hall of Fame ballot included two senior committee nominees: Pollard and Benny Friedman, who is generally considered the NFL’s first great passing quarterback.

On February 5, thirty-nine voters, selected from among journalists who cover the NFL, met in Jacksonville, Florida, where one voter presented the case of each nominee. The group then cut the field of nominees down to seven and voted for or against each of them. To be inducted, a nominee must receive at least thirty-two votes.

Pollard was considered a pretty sure bet. Nearly three of every four senior committee nominees are ultimately voted in, including ten of the last twelve. The Hall of Fame also seemed to give Pollard’s candidacy a boost when it sent voters an elaborate packet about him that included clips and, in a departure from the norm, two DVDs. “I feel good about his candidacy,” noted Joe Horrigan, the Hall’s vice president, before the vote.

Pollard’s family did not share this feeling. “I was afraid to hope,” says grandson and namesake Fritz Pollard III, who entered Brown with the class of ’76 but left before earning his degree. “The people who knew him were dying.” Indeed, it had been reported earlier in the week that many of the players about to compete in the Super Bowl knew nothing of Pollard. And when ESPN asked fans to vote on the fifteen Hall of Fame finalists, Pollard was unable to muster even 15 percent.

Fritz Pollard III went in to work on the day of the vote, even though it was a Saturday. At 12:03 Joe Horrigan called him on his cellphone to say his grandfather had made it. “This was the only award he wanted that he hadn’t received,” Pollard says. “He was never bitter about not being inducted while he was alive, just disappointed.”

On August 7, Fritz Pollard III will be at the induction ceremony in Canton, Ohio, to introduce his grandfather. He thinks his grandfather will be “looking down with a big grin on his face.”

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March / April 2005