Last weekend, Marvin Harrison was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2016. And instead of celebrating his accomplishments, people instead were upset that he got in over Terrell Owens.
It shouldn't be surprising, however, considering the same thing happened a few years ago. One of the best receivers of all-time was eligible for the first time and passed over by someone who many thought wasn't as deserving. Of course, I'm talking about Andre Reed making it in over Marvin Harrison, but that same situation has happened before.
Really, the only people upset this time around are those who missed the memo a few years ago. The Hall of Fame selection committee has been having a hard time figuring out what to do with wide receivers, leading them to prioritize wait time more than almost anything else. Don't believe me? Consider this: since Jerry Rice was inducted as a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 2010 (a no-brainer), the voters have selected four receivers. Cris Carter in 2013 got in on his sixth try as a finalist, Andre Reed in 2014 got in on his eighth try as a finalist, Tim Brown in 2015 got in on his sixth try as a finalist, and Marvin Harrison in 2016 got in on his third try as a finalist. In fact, only four of the receivers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame currently were inducted on their first year eligible: Raymond Berry (1973), Paul Warfield (1983), Steve Largent (1995), and the aforementioned Jerry Rice (2010).
In other words, the Hall of Fame voters have a history of making wide receivers wait, and that has only gotten worse in recent years with the explosion of the passing era. Only four of the top ten in career receptions are in the Hall of Fame, while only four of the top ten in career receiving yards and six of the top ten in receiving touchdowns are in Canton (and that's including Harrison's election this year). Receivers are now becoming eligible with bigger numbers because of a passing era, and now the committee is trying to figure out how to process that and sift through the ones who are truly deserving while still only selecting at most five members per class (and they seem to only want to do one player per position per class). It won't get any easier for them, either, as Terrell Owens, Issac Bruce, and Torry Holt are already eligible yet not in the Hall of Fame, while Hines Ward (2017), Randy Moss (2018), Reggie Wayne (2020), and potentially Calvin Johnson (2021) will be eligible over the coming years, among others.
Furthermore, while the T.O. vs. Harrison argument looks pretty clear-cut at first glance, it's closer than many may think. Yes, Owens' numbers are better than Harrison's when it comes to receiving yards (Owens had 1,354 more) and receiving touchdowns (Owens had 25 more), though Harrison has the edge in receptions (Harrison had 24 more). Consider, however, that Owens also played in 29 games more than Harrison did - nearly two full seasons. There's absolutely something to be said about longevity and we shouldn't take that away from T.O., but Harrison recorded more receptions per game (5.8 to 4.9) and yards per game (76.7 to 72.8) during his career than Owens did, while the touchdowns per game are very similar (Owens was at 0.699, while Harrison was at 0.674). In other words, both Terrell Owens and Marvin Harrison had tremendous careers, and it's not a stretch to see why the selection committee put Harrison in this year over Owens. In fact, it wasn't the first time Harrison received the nod over Owens - when determining the NFL All-Decade Team of the 2000s, Harrison received the first-team nod (along with Randy Moss) over Owens, who along with Torry Holt was a second-team selection. That doesn't mean they are always right with those selections (they had Tom Brady over Peyton Manning at quarterback), but it is an interesting note. Basically, here's my point: Harrison and Owens are much closer than Harrison and Reed were, yet Reed still got in over Harrison in 2014.
To sum it up, there shouldn't have been a whole lot of surprise that Marvin Harrison made the Hall of Fame over Terrell Owens this year. It's been clear for the past few years that waIt time is the most important criteria to the voters, and in that regard Harrison had Owens beat. The two were close enough that the wait time came into play, and that's why Marvin Harrison is now in the Hall of Fame. Terrell Owens will undoubtedly get in, but things won't be getting easier for the selection committee in the coming years.