Sterling Sharpe and Mike Holmgren among batch in consideration for Hall of Fame, and Sharpe's chances have improved

JR Radcliffe
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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An expanded process might offer an opportunity for former Green Bay Packers receiver Sterling Sharpe to make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and don't count out former coach Mike Holmgren, nor Cecil Isbell, a star from early Packers history.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame announced Wednesday a list of 12 finalists for both its Seniors Committee and Coach/Contributor Committee selections for the Hall of Fame Class of 2023. 

Of those 12, three from the seniors group — players whose careers ended in 1996 or earlier and are thus no longer eligible for "modern era" selection — and one from the coach/contributor group will be forwarded to the Hall of Fame Selection committee for consideration.

Sterling Sharpe played for the Packers from 1988-1994.

All four choices would be evaluated separately, but all could gain induction along with the five "modern era" selections for 2023.

That's a change from past years; previously, the Seniors Committee had been forwarding one player's name for discussion to the Hall of Fame (and two players as recently as 2018), but the pool of "finalists" was expanded to three for each of the next three classes (2023-2025).

The talented passing combination of half back Cecil Isbell and End Don Hutson of the Green Bay Packers caused the Chicago Bears plenty of trouble when the teams met on Sunday, Dec. 14, 1941 in Chicago during the Western Division Playoff of the National Professional Football League.  The two Packers conditioned themselves for any weather as they practiced their famous tricks on a snow covered field at Green Bay, Wis. Isbell (left) heaves one his famous tosses to Huston.

Perhaps that's good news for Sharpe, whose illustrious career was cut short by a serious neck injury. He made five Pro Bowls and three first-team All-Pro teams during his career, with 18 touchdown receptions in his final season standing alone as a franchise record until Davante Adams matched it in 2020.

But his career only lasted from 1988-94 on account of the career-ending injury. When he caught 108 passes in 1992 and 112 in 1993, he set new NFL single-season records both times, though those marks have since been obliterated under an NFL that began to emphasize the passing game in the 90s.

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Isbell, meanwhile, played tailback, defensive back and halfback from 1938-42, appearing in four Pro Bowls. 

Others with Sharpe and Isbell on the Seniors Committee finalist list are quarterback Ken Anderson, linebacker Maxie Baughan, linebacker Randy Gradishar, linebacker Chuck Howley, defensive lineman Joe Klecko, offensive lineman Bob Kuechenberg, cornerback Eddie Meador, linebacker Tommy Nobis, cornerback Ken Riley and cornerback Everson Walls. 

Riley, who played 15 years with the Bengals, coached defensive backs for the Packers in 1984-85 shortly after the end of his playing career.

 Again, three of those names will get forwarded to the Hall, at which point they need enough votes from the 49-person Hall of Fame selection committee to receive a yes or no for induction. The Seniors Committee will convene again Aug. 16 to vote and identify the three names.

What about Mike Holmgren as coach/contributor?

Mike Holmgren consults with quarterback Brett Favre in 1994.

The Coach/Contributor group will select their one choice Aug. 23. 

Holmgren, who led the Packers to two Super Bowls including victory in Super Bowl XXXI, served as Packers coach from 1992-98 and oversaw the resuscitation of a dynasty. He went on to coach the Seattle Seahawks and reach another Super Bowl thereafter. In 12 of his 17 seasons as head coach, his team made the playoffs, and he won two rings with San Francisco as an assistant coach.

He's on a list with some high-profile names, including TV pioneer Roone Arledge, innovative coach Don Coryell, owners Robert Kraft and Art Modell, former Broncos coaches Dan Reeves and Mike Shanahan and Steelers executive Art Rooney Jr.

Others on the list include former Lions championship coach Buddy Parker, Cowboys scouting director John Wooten, coaching innovator Clark Shaghnessy and former scout and GM Frank "Bucko" Kilroy. 

It's not merely a formality once those names are sent to the Hall of Fame selection committee, although the Hall of Fame has elected a Senior representative every year since 1997 (when Packers great Jerry Kramer was the lone choice and didn't get voted in). 

However, there have been occasions when multiple names were submitted and only some were taken, such as 2020, when a super-sized anniversary class included former Packers safety Bobby Dillon but also declined to include finalists such as former Packers LaVerne Dilweg, Verne Lewellen and Isbell. In 2012, 2009, 2008 and 2004, only one of the two Seniors committee finalists were elected, though three of the four players those years ultimately made the Hall of Fame later.

Dilweg, who played from 1926-34 for the Milwaukee Badgers and Packers, did not make the cut for 2023 after appearing on the larger "semifinalist" list. Nor did Mark Clayton, who played one year for the Packers in 1993.

Lee Remmel, a longtime sportswriter for the Green Bay Press Gazette and director of public relations for the Packers from 1974-2004 before becoming Packers historian until 2007, also appeared on the semifinalists list for the coach/contributor category and is not among the finalists. The same is also true for former Packers scout Jack Vainisi, who identified numerous Hall of Famers and ushered them to Green Bay in the 1950s. He also advocated for the hire of Vince Lombardi to the vacant head-coaching position in 1959.

The Packers have had at least one inductee three years in a row, with LeRoy Butler in 2022, Charles Woodson in 2021 and Dillon in 2020. Before that, Kramer was inducted in 2018, Brett Favre in 2016, Ron Wolf in 2015 and Dave Robinson in 2013.

JR Radcliffe can be reached at (262) 361-9141 or jradcliffe@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JRRadcliffe.

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