Keegan: Voters betray Hadl

A dreaded affliction for which no known cure exists periodically spreads throughout sports writer colonies.

The affliction, known as expert-itis, suppresses the portion of the brain responsible for generating common sense and inflates the part that controls the ego.

Once it is officially recognized, the medical dictionary entry will read: n. An acute condition of the brain that results in sports writers bypassing the obvious choice in favor of a more obscure candidate when casting ballots, doing so in order to prove they are just a wee bit more insightful than the average sports fan.

Baseball writers suffered from expert-itis in 1991, when Atlanta Braves third baseman Terry Pendleton, not Barry Bonds, was voted National League MVP. Pre-steroids, the obnoxious, conceited, strange Bonds drove in 116 runs and stole 43 bases. The professional, mature, likable Pendleton drove in 86 runs. The baseball writers knew better than to go with the obvious choice. Intangibles, you see, swung the election in favor of the third baseman with the remarkable glove.

Shortly thereafter, dreaded expert-itis hit NBA writers hard. Michael Jordan had won back-to-back MVP awards going into the 1992-93 season. The intelligentsia gave the next MVP honor to Charles Barkley. Jordan again indirectly was victimized by expert-itis when the 1996-97 MVP votes were counted and Karl Malone stole the election. Somehow, 69 regular-season victories weren’t enough to swing it in favor of Jordan.

Sadly, expert-itis doesn’t play favorites. It infects voters in all sports, as has been proven yet again by the seniors committee charged with nominating two seniors candidates for inclusion on the Pro Football Hall of Fame ballot. Emmitt Thomas, former Chiefs defensive back, and Marshall Goldberg, a Chicago Cardinals two-way player 60 years ago, made the cut. John Hadl, superstar quarterback in the ’60s and ’70s, did not.

Read up on Goldberg, who rushed the football, passed it now and then, and intercepted it every so often, and the first thing mentioned is his standout collegiate career at Pitt. He finished second and third in Heisman Trophy voting, which of course is apropos of nothing. Kansas State’s Michael Bishop, Florida State’s Casey Weldon, and Tennessee’s Heath Shuler all placed second in Heisman voting.

Goldberg played just seven seasons of pro football, though it should be noted and not taken for granted that he served his country as a Navy Seal for three years, interrupting his football career. A great college football player and a great American, yes. More worthy of election to the pro football Hall of Fame than Hadl, no.

The selection committee clearly is going out of its way, as in the case of Thomas, to emphasize non-glory positions. Should scientists ever develop an antidote for expert-itis, football voters across America will think, “Hey, wait a minute, maybe there is a reason eight of the last 10 first selections in the NFL draft were quarterbacks. Maybe we don’t have to force it in voting for the other positions.”

The good news: Hadl could see his name on the ballot as soon as next year. His purgatory has dragged on far too long, but the gates remain within reach.