- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame is a foregone conclusion for a fortunate few, such as former Washington Redskins cornerback Darrell Green.

For others - even those as qualified as record-setting ex-Redskins receiver Art Monk - the road to Canton, Ohio, can be a long slog.

But at least Monk was in the discussion as a finalist each of the seven years he was rejected.

For those players whose 20 years of eligibility have expired and who have become senior candidates, their odds of enshrinement each February are long.

Not that those remote chances have stopped some ardent supporters of certain players from campaigning for their favorites. Here are their stories …

Honor thy father

Bob Dilweg, a 74-year-old Bethesda resident, is the son and father of former Green Bay Packers. Neither Dilweg, who played at Marquette and William & Mary, nor his son Anthony, a Packers quarterback in the inglorious era between Bart Starr and Brett Favre, ever will be more than visitors to Canton. However, Bob Dilweg believes his father, Lavvie, a star end for Green Bay from 1926 to 1934, should have been enshrined long ago.

“I remember Dad’s excitement in ‘67 when he heard that he had been enshrined in the Hall,” Bob Dilweg said. “It turned out it was the Wisconsin Hall of Fame, not the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and he was so disappointed. He passed away the next year. Every year after that, I expected that he would be elected based on his credentials, but nothing happened.”

In 2006, Dilweg’s brother Jack wrote a letter to the Hall on their’s father behalf. Jack Dilweg died two months later. Bob Dilweg picked up the torch and has more than carried it since. He has gone though reams of yellowed newspaper stories, written to each of the nine senior selectors (who choose the two senior nominees each year) and generally advocated firmly for Lavvie, one of only two players from the NFL’s All-1920s team who are not enshrined.

Lavvie Dilweg was a consensus All-Pro in six of his nine seasons and a second-team selection in two of the other three years. His son quotes the immortal Red Grange calling Lavvie Dilweg “the greatest end who ever brought me down” and follows with testimonials from the legendary Bronko Nagurski and Packers coach Curly Lambeau.

In the first year of his retirement, Lavvie Dilweg, already an attorney, helped incorporate the Packers, still the NFL’s only community-owned franchise. He was later elected to Congress. But a bust in Canton has proved much more difficult to attain, especially because there are few people left who saw him play.

“It’s been very frustrating,” Bob Dilweg said. “The biggest problem I have is education. I’m trying to convince people to select Dad instead of people they saw play. He should have been elected in the ‘60s or the ‘70s, but he wasn’t. [Senior selector] Rick Gosselin said my proposal was very impressive but that Dad had to wait in line because there were a lot of people ahead of him. If I don’t get one of the nine selectors to be Dad’s advocate, I don’t think he’ll ever get in.”

What friends are for

While Bob Dilweg has been a virtual one-man band on behalf of his late father, Pat Fischer has seemingly half the state of Nebraska fighting for him.

Fischer played in 213 games - second all time among cornerbacks - with the St. Louis Cardinals (1961-67) and Washington Redskins (1968-77) and recorded 56 interceptions (which would make him fourth among cornerbacks in the Hall of Fame). A two-time All-Pro, the 68-year-old Fischer has lived in Northern Virginia since his NFL career ended, but his friends back in the Cornhusker State have not forgotten him.

“Pat was a phenomenal athlete: so quick, so strong and a tremendous competitor,” said Omaha attorney Larry Myers, who has led the campaign along with some of Fischer’s teammates and coaches from high school and the University of Nebraska. “But he has always been very humble off the field. Everyone liked Pat.

“In May 2000, we had an athletic reunion weekend in Omaha. A lot of people came back to honor Pat. One night, Pat and I went to dinner with Bob Guinan, an attorney who had gone to grade school with him. Bob asked Pat how it felt to be in the Hall of Fame. Pat said, ‘I’m not in the Hall of Fame.’ We said, ‘WHAT? How can that be?’ So Bob said, ‘Let’s start working to get Pat elected.’”

Myers and Co. have secured endorsements from Hall of Famers Ronnie Lott, Lem Barney, Willie Wood and Joe Gibbs. They have assembled charts that compare Fischer favorably to the Hall of Fame cornerbacks and showed that the position had been underrepresented in recent classes (until Roger Wehrli was picked in 2007 and Green and Emmitt Thomas this year).

When the 5-foot-9 Fischer, who is credited with the invention of the bump-and-run technique that helped him cover tall receivers, was passed over again this year, he received a call from Don Maynard. The Hall of Fame receiver told Fischer he had been wronged and volunteered to help. So Maynard is calling each of the senior selectors this month to advocate for Fischer’s election.

“It’s been a labor of love,” said Myers, who has spent maybe 200 hours on the case. “The elections of Roger Wehrli and Emmitt Thomas are very encouraging because it means that the selectors are looking at defensive backs again. Don said that Pat was better than Emmitt Thomas, whom he played against all the time, because Pat played so hard and studied film so well. He could tell what pattern you were going to run by the way he came off the line.”

A matter of justice

Judson Drennan of Chevy Chase met his hero, Chris Hanburger, just once. And that happened when Drennan was a boy and his father, who had gotten to know Sonny Jurgensen, brought his son to the Dancing Crab Restaurant in Northwest to meet the Redskins’ Hall of Fame quarterback.

“[Redskins players] Billy Kilmer, Ron McDole and Chris were there, too,” Drennan recalled. “Chris patted me on the head as he passed by. I was always a fan of his. Pete Rozelle told me once that if Chris was going to make the Hall of Fame, I had to get the support of people in the media. So that’s what I’ve been trying to do.

“Chris made nine Pro Bowls, the most of any Redskin, and it doesn’t seem like anyone remembers,” Drennan added. “Even some fans on Redskins Web sites don’t know much about Chris. He could stop the run and cover the pass. He was an all-around great linebacker. [Selector] Frank Cooney told me that Ted Hendricks and Dave Wilcox are the only strongside linebackers to be elected to the Hall, so I knew it wasn’t going to be easy for Chris. He needs someone to champion his cause.”

Which Drennan does on his Crazy Canton Cuts blog with the Sporting News.

“Chris was a complete player, a consistent player like Art Monk,” Drennan said. “And like Art, Chris didn’t look for publicity. He preferred the back seat.”

Which could help explain why Hanburger, who played for the Redskins from 1965 to 1978 and turns 67 next month, remains on the outside looking in.

Mission accomplished

While the campaigns for Dilweg, Fischer and Hanburger may go on for many years to come, Tom Kercheval will watch with pride during Monk’s induction Aug. 2.

“Back during the Steve Spurrier years, I got so tired of seeing the Redskins lose that I started feeling nostalgic for the first Gibbs era, and I started collecting videos of those games,” said Kercheval, a 41-year-old technology manager from Leesburg, Va. “Art was always my favorite player, and when he didn’t get elected in 2005 and 2006, my friends said that I should put a video together to show why should be in the Hall of Fame.”

Kercheval decided to use video clips to counteract arguments like the idea that Monk didn’t have a big impact because he was a possession receiver.

“I probably spent hundreds of hours over a couple of years, but it wasn’t a chore,” Kercheval said. “I probably used 10 percent of the video I had. I edited it down to 20 minutes and contacted [selector] Len Shapiro. He suggested that I send the video to all the selectors. I was pleasantly surprised to hear back from a lot of them. Some said it opened their eyes a little bit, so I was very disappointed when Art didn’t get in again last year.”

So for 2008, Kercheval turned the video into a user-friendly Web site, which raised the common arguments against Monk’s election and proceeded to knock them down with videos, stats and testimonials from people around the NFL. On Feb. 2, Kercheval’s dream was realized as Monk was elected on his eighth try.

“I’m certainly not blowing what I did out of proportion,” Kercheval said. “Art was elected because of what he did on the field, but I feel like it helped a little bit to serve as a reminder of what he had done. It’s not like we solved world peace, but it showed me that one person can really make a difference.”

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