Cooke Is 1 of 4 Redskins Eligible for Hall of Fame
By Leonard Shapiro
Jack Kent Cooke, saying "I was surprised and about as elated as I've been in many a year, including winning those Super Bowls," was among four members of the Washington Redskins organization eligible for the first time to be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Cooke, offensive guard Russ Grimm, defensive end Dexter Manley and linebacker Matt Millen also were on the preliminary list of 55 nominees for the Hall. Also among the 10 men eligible for the first time was Don Shula, who retired in January after 34 years as a head coach for the Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins.
"I don't believe I deserve it," Cooke said yesterday on his 84th birthday. "And after all, this is just a nomination, not an election. But I'm very proud and honored."
The 36 voting members of the Hall of Fame selection committee will narrow the preliminary list of 55 down to 12 finalists by mail, with the final vote taken Jan. 25 in New Orleans, the day before Super Bowl XXXI.
There will be 15 finalists. Former Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Jerry Kramer makes the final vote as the recommended candidate of the Hall's Senior Committee. Former Miami center Dwight Stevenson and former Raiders defensive back Mike Haynes are automatic finalists because they finished among the top six in voting for the 1996 class. Voters will induct between four and seven new members.
Cooke, once described by Joe Gibbs, his Hall of Fame coach, as "the best owner in football," is among five "contributors" nominated this year. Also in that category are three fellow owners -- Dan Rooney of Pittsburgh, Ralph Wilson of Buffalo and Wellington Mara of the New York Giants. Art McNally, a former referee and retired head of NFL officiating, also is in that category.
Cooke became majority owner of the team in 1974, and over the past 21 years, the Redskins have made the playoffs 11 times, won four NFC Championships and three Super Bowls. He also is building and financing a new 78,600-seat stadium in suburban Prince George's County that is scheduled to open in time for the 1997 season.
Several other former Redskins are among the 55 nominees. They include former head coach George Allen and defensive back Paul Krause, who started his career with the team before moving on to the Minnesota Vikings. Shula played for the Redskins as a defensive back in 1957, but is included in the coaches category on the '97 ballot along with Allen, first-time nominee Don Coryell and John Madden.
Grimm, a first-round pick in 1981 who became an immediate starter, was among the original "Hogs" on the Redskins' dominant offensive lines of the 1980s and early '90s. He's now an assistant coach with the team specializing in tight ends, and on Sunday will be among the inductees into RFK Stadium's Hall of Stars.
Manley played defensive end for the Redskins from 1981-89 and still holds the team record for career sacks (97 1/2) and sacks in one season (18 in '86). He was a volatile player on and off the field whose career ended because of cocaine use. He's spent the past 18 months in a Texas prison for drug possession.
Millen spent only one of his 11 seasons with the Redskins. He came to the team as a free agent in 1991 and was instrumental in the team's Super Bowl title that year. He's now a game analyst on Fox TV and CBS Radio.