Every pro football fan is familiar with the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Each year, a select group of men who are former players, coaches, or executives goes through the nominating process, then the gradual weeding down stage, and finally to the voting cognition.
Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees are elected by a 49-person Selection Committee, which is revealed near the Super Bowl. One Selector is located in each NFL city plus there are 17 additional “at-large Selectors.” Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer is one of these at-large voters while Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland is the Browns’ Selector.
After the voting is completed from selected members of the media and other aspects of the universe of professional football, the new Hall of Fame class is announced.
Some of these men go through years of either being on the initial list or involved in the final stages, yet never hearing their name called upon to be included in the Hall of Fame. Their career as a player, coach, or executive was deemed fruitful and exemplary, but just not quite judged as truly the best.
For whatever reason, despite a great career, they aren’t going into the Hall of Fame. Many are never even nominated.
But these same men have another designation that awaits them on an annual basis: The Hall of Very Good.
This honor is a function of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association (PFRA). Every year, players are nominated and members then vote on who they believe should become an honoree in this other Hall.
“Any PFRA member may nominate up to five individuals who meet the Hall Of Very Good requirements,” said Andy Piascik, Chair of the Hall of Very Good Committee. “The nine-member Hall of Very Good Committee then reviews all the nominees and votes to determine the 20 individuals who appear on the HOVG ballot. PFRA members then vote and the 7-10 individuals among the 20 who receive the most votes are elected.”
The Hall of Very Good has one goal in mind in that it seeks to honor players, coaches, and executives for superior careers in the sport that we all love; but for whatever reason are either never voted on for the Hall of Fame, or have never gotten past the discussion stage much less the nomination and voting aspects.
Yes, it’s a secondary Hall. But it is also a Hall that doesn’t simply give out a participation trophy just for having played or coached in the NFL and other various pro football leagues. The candidates are examined, discussed, nominated, and then voted on by the Association’s active membership. Therefore, not every player or coach on the ballot makes this Hall either.
This year’s class involves two former Cleveland Browns: TE Mark Bavaro and LB Clay Matthews Jr.
The remainder of the class includes LB Matt Blair, DE Mark Gastineau, TE Keith Jackson, QB Bert Jones, OT/NFL executive Bucko Kilroy, and WR Lionel Taylor.
Bavaro was originally selected by the New York Football Giants in the sixth round of the 1986 NFL draft. After the Giants’ Pro Bowl starting tight end Zeke Mowatt became injured, Bavaro was forced into the starting lineup which he shined in his rookie season. The play that made him famous was a short pass over the middle and then he dragged six San Francisco 49ers players for about 15 yards in a nationally televised Monday Night game. The next day Bavaro was national news.
Born of Italian descent, this was an era in that actor Sylvester Stallone was quite prominent to which Bavaro held a physical resemblance. When Bill Belichick was hired as the head coach of the Browns, he brought several former Giants with him including Bavaro. Known for his blocking skills, he started all 16 games with 25 receptions for 393 yards and five touchdowns.
After one season, he then signed with the Philadelphia Eagles where he finished out his career. Bavaro played nine seasons with 4,733 yards on 351 receptions, and 39 touchdowns with a 13.5 yards per reception average. He also has two Super Bowl rings and appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Bavaro was named First Team All-Pro twice, went to two Pro Bowls, was named to the NFL All-Rookie team, and has since been honored with induction into the Giants Ring of Honor.
The linebacker Matthews is one of Cleveland’s best defensive players throughout their storied history on a franchise that has had its share of elite defenders. He has been nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but so far hasn’t been able to crack the earlier stages for whatever reason.
But now, he is a member of the Hall of Very Good and has been recognized for his defensive achievements.
Matthews was drafted by the Browns with the 12th overall pick in the first round of the 1978 NFL draft out of USC. He went on to play 278 games in 19 years with 1,561 career tackles, 16 interceptions, one touchdown, 14 fumble recoveries, 27 forced fumbles, and 82.5 sacks. Matthews had eight seasons in which he eclipsed 100 tackles with a high of 128 in 1981.
“The PFRA attempts to contact all living Hall Of Very Good electees and sends a HOVG plaque to each,” Piascik stated. “In addition, each is highlighted in our member magazine, Coffin Corner, of which I am the assistant editor. We have an artist John Richards draw an exceptional likeness of each inductee.”
The Hall of Very Good features a Who’s Who of exceptional players who have yet to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame such as LB Bill Bergey, QB John Brodie, Coach Don Coryell, RB Roger Craig, QB Roman Gabriel, QB John Hadl, C Jay Hilgenberg, DE Ed “Too Tall” Jones, QB Darryl Lamonica, LB Karl Mecklenburg, S Jake Scott, OG Fuzzy Thurston, and C Ray Wietecha.
One has to wonder why an organization that specializes in researching the origins of the game of professional football would entertain its own Hall with the work involved.
“The late Bob Carroll, one of the founders of the PFRA and for many years the editor of The Coffin Corner, founded the Hall of Very Good because there are many outstanding players and coaches from pro football history who are not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and probably never will be but who nonetheless deserve greater recognition,” Piascik explained.
Anyone interested in joining the PFRA can click this link for more information:
Past Hall of Very Good honorees that played for the Browns, with the year of induction:
OT Gene Hickerson, WR Mac Speedie
WR Billy Howton, DE Jim Marshall
OT Lou Rymkus
OT Dick Schafrath
OG Jim Ray Smith
Head coach Blanton Collier
DT Bob Gain
LB Lou Saban
DB Erich Barnes
LB Rich Jackson
WR Gary Collins, OG Duane Putnam
DE Lyle Alzado
S Everson Walls
Other Cleveland players inducted:
2003: QB Benny Friedman – Cleveland Bulldogs (1927)
2004: OG Al Nesser – Cleveland Bulldogs (1925), Cleveland Indians (1931)
2005: E Jim Benton – Cleveland Rams (1938-1942, 1944-1945)
2010: LB Riley Matheson – Cleveland Rams (1939-1942, 1944-1945)
2012: Swede Youngstrom – Cleveland Bulldogs (1925)
Browns Hall of Very Good inductees who eventually was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame:
Editor’s note: DBN staff writer Barry Shuck is a member of the Professional Football Researcher’s Association and an official voter for the Hall of Very Good