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NEW YORK -- When the list of nominees for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's class of 2011 came out Monday, five of those already inducted met at Gallagher's Steakhouse to debate who should be so worthy and the perks of being one of the current 260 in the Hall.
"My favorite part about the whole thing was my bust," wide receiver Jerry Rice said. "They really made it look exactly like me, which was awesome."
A near consensus of what isn't so hot is the French's mustard-colored blazers that Hall of Famers are required to wear. "I have no idea how they picked it," said linebacker Harry Carson, shaking his head. "You can definitely see us coming."
Rice and Carson were joined by fellow yellow jackets Steve Young, Roger Staubach and Warren Moon to kick off the second annual ESPN.com/fanschoice, which allows fans a forum to vote and debate. Last year, more than 1.5 million fans voted, which ended with Rice and Emmitt Smith as the two favorites, and Charles Haley, Ed "Too Tall" Jones" and Cris Carter rounding out the top five.
"Fans tend to gravitate to the flashier skill positions, like wide receivers who can dance their pants off, or a quarterback who has kept his youthful appeal even after the age of 40," said former linebacker Carson in friendly jabs toward Rice, regarding his stint on "Dancing with the Stars," and the perennially young-looking Young.
As for whether these Hall members believe fans can be diplomatic enough to choose the best players as opposed to being biased for those on their home teams, Carson said he has faith in them.
"I'm a New Yorker who walks the streets, not a guy who takes limos, and I run into Cowboys or Redskins fans all the time who say, 'Man, I hate the Giants, but I loved the way you played the game,'" Carson said. "They just have passion for it and are very knowledgeable."
Young playfully responded that he too eschews limos as a man of the people, and that he would have to leave the lunch early to walk the pedestrian lane through the Lincoln Tunnel to get to the Meadowlands for the Jets-Ravens battle that evening, albeit not before his hero, Staubach, got to speak. "I just want to clarify that he's not my dad's hero, but my hero," said Young, in a dig about Staubach's age of 68.
Staubach himself still seemed to be in awe of his election in 1985, despite winning more than 70 percent of his games as the Cowboys' QB. "It's easier to get elected if you've had a winning record, but at the end of the day, it's a team effort," Staubach said. "I just feel bad for guys like Archie Manning, because it was unbelievable what that guy could do on a football field, but his best record was 8-8 so he's overlooked. I heard his sons are doing OK, though."
Out of the 113 nominees for 2011, big first-ballot names include Deion Sanders, Jerome Bettis, Curtis Martin and Marshall Faulk.
"This really hurts me because I never, ever stand up for defensive backs, because I hate those guys, but I have to go for Deion Sanders," Rice said. "He was able to score eight times in eight different ways, but he was always a shutdown corner."
The 113 will be knocked down to 25 in mid-November, and down again to 17 (15 modern-era and two senior nominees) in January, before the final four to seven will be elected to the Hall the day before the Super Bowl.
Lisa Altobelli is a former reporter for Sports Illustrated. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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