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Kaufman: Voting for Hall of Fame fascinating process

NEW YORK — In an often contentious meeting that lasted more than eight hours, Derrick Brooks emerged as the only Hall of Fame candidate associated with the Buccaneers to land in the Class of 2014.

There was more debate than usual as 15 modern-day candidates and two Senior nominees were discussed by a panel of 46 selectors.

It took 85 minutes just to discuss the merits of Senior candidates Ray Guy and Claude Humphrey.

After 10 years as Tampa Bay’s representative, I shouldn’t be surprised by anything that goes on in the Hall of Fame meeting room, but some of the give and take was extraordinary.

The candidate that generated the most discussion was Tony Dungy, who posted a regular-season record of 139-69 while coaching the Bucs and Colts for 13 seasons. More than 45 minutes were needed to weigh the pros and cons of Dungy’s Hall of Fame candidacy.

After my presentation, which leaned heavily on Dungy’s historic success on the sidelines, other panelists talked up Dungy’s contributions to pro football as a powerful advocate for more diversity in the process of hiring NFL coaches.

Earlier in the week, former NFL executive Bill Polian said Dungy has replaced former Giants owner Wellington Mara as the conscience of the league.

But there was some push-back regarding Dungy, who made the playoffs in his final 10 seasons before walking away in 2008.

Some members of the selection committee questioned Dungy’s 9-10 career record in the postseason and the fact his teams in Tampa and Indianapolis won only one Super Bowl during his 13-year coaching career.

Dungy and former Bucs safety John Lynch were eliminated when the panel reduced the field of 15 modern-day candidates to 10.

Lynch earned nine Pro Bowl berths during his 11-year career in Tampa Bay and four seasons with the Broncos.

I feel confident both Lynch and Dungy will be back in the meeting room next year at Phoenix, where the Hall of Fame Class of 2015 will be announced.

Like Dungy, Brooks was in his first year of eligibility. He faced no opposition Saturday, as several panelists lauded him as one of the most complete outside linebackers in league history.

Now Brooks joins former roommate Warren Sapp in the Canton, Ohio, shrine of excellence.

Sapp made the Class of 2013 in his first year of eligibility, and he was ecstatic to welcome Brooks to the NFL’s exclusive fraternity.

It was Sapp and Brooks who keyed Tampa Bay’s turnaround from NFL punch line to league power.

When Dungy arrived in Tampa in 1996, he challenged Brooks to excel in the role that led Steelers linebacker Jack Ham to Canton. He also told Sapp he could be the new version of Joe Greene.

Less than two decades later, Brooks and Sapp are both Hall of Famers. Dungy said he was proud to learn that Brooks had achieved pro football’s ultimate individual honor.

While Dungy and the two Senior nominees were discussed at length, former Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison provoked no reaction from the panel after he was presented in his first year of eligibility.

In whittling the field from 15 to 10, I voted for Brooks, Dungy, Lynch, Harrison, former 49ers owner and Tampa resident Eddie DeBartolo, linebacker Kevin Greene, tackle Walter Jones, guard Will Shields, defensive end Michael Strahan and defensive back Aeneas Williams.

Only seven of those 10 survived the preliminary cut.

For the final five, I cast my ballot for Brooks, Jones, Shields, Strahan and Williams. The consensus choices agreed on four of those finalists, substituting former Bills wide receiver Andre Reed for Shields, a 12-time Pro Bowl selection who never missed a game during his 14-year career.

Editor’s note: Tribune staff writer Ira Kaufman is the Tampa Bay representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee.

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