Hall of Quarterbacks or Hall of Fame?

We certainly do love our quarterbacks, don’t we? Perhaps too much. As if we don’t get enough reminders throughout the season, what with all the glory bestowed upon Manning, Brady and Roethlisberger, the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2006 has once again reinforced our love affair with our most favorite positional war metaphor of all: the field general.

Of course, it has also proven that Hall of Fame voters-not just in football, but across the board-still allow themselves to be far too influenced by such shallow aspects as fame, fortune and off-field antics. Michael Irvin and Thurman Thomas-two of the defining players of the 1990s-have been refused entry at Canton’s door by that big, burly, bearded bouncer known as the Hall’s 39-member voting panel.

And yet somehow, Jim Kelly, Troy Aikman and Warren Moon have been enshrined without even a second thought, all on their respective first ballots.

Now, I’m not doubting the pedigrees of any of these three players. Far from it. All three deserve to have their busts immortalized in bronze. In fact, as someone who has followed the Dallas Cowboys my whole life, I know that Aikman never got enough credit for igniting the vaunted Cowboys offenses of the ’90s. His first-ballot induction was a no-brainer.

But here’s where I get a bit fuzzy. Aikman never had a great receiving corps the entire time he was in Dallas. He had one great tight end (Jay Novacek) who moved the chains and kept defenses off-balance, and one great wide receiver-Irvin. In fact, it could be argued that Irvin was the only receiver on those championship teams who was worth much of anything. What, you think Alvin Harper would have caught anything if Irvin hadn’t been double-teamed on the other side of the field?

Irvin was one of the top-three receivers in football for the better part of the decade. He revolutionized the position. And let there be no doubt that, had he not gotten into trouble with the law, he would have been a slam dunk-last year.

Instead, he’s been overlooked two years running and for no good reason.

But what about the snub of Thurman Thomas? How does his teammate Jim Kelly get elected in his first try, while Thomas is left on the sidelines? OK, I’ll answer my own rhetorical question: Because Thurman Thomas is not a quarterback.

In fact, maybe that would have made all the difference. Maybe he wasn’t a good enough all-around player. Maybe four straight seasons leading the league in yards from scrimmage and an NFL MVP award just weren’t enough. If only he knew how to throw the ball, now that would be a Hall of Famer.

Look, Kelly was a great quarterback, no question. But during the four years in which the Buffalo Bills went to the Super Bowl, Thomas was the best player on the teams. He was what made that offense go. But he got passed over, simply because the voters are blinded by the star power of the popular, All-American clich.

Same deal with Warren Moon-also a great quarterback. His numbers are through the roof. But in terms of his NFL career (I know the CFL is “pro football,” but come on), he never won anything.

Like Moon, Thomas was on the ballot for the first time this year. Unlike Moon, he got the shaft merely because of a positional bias.

During the ’90s, there were three consistently elite backs in the NFL: Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas. Though the first two get the most attention, Thomas, in his prime, was a better all-around back than either one of them. That doesn’t mean he’s as good, or better, but it speaks pretty loudly nonetheless.

Recently, I argued for the Hall of Fame candidacy of baseball bad boy Albert Belle. He has been overlooked because people don’t like him and because he got himself into trouble. I said that’s no way to judge Hall credentials, and I stand by that. Yet the NFL voters seem to have a similar mindset. In two tries, Michael Irvin can’t get in?

At least he can take solace in the fact that Thurman Thomas, Derrick Thomas and Art Monk couldn’t get in, either.

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