As Washington’s designated rep on the hall’s selection committee, Elfin advocated for Art Monk, Darrell Green and Russ Grimm, presenting the “vote-yes” arguments before each of those Redskins was elected. His latest cause is Washington’s former hulking left tackle, perhaps the last of the Gibbs-era Skins with an obvious case, and a man who now seems on the verge of reaching Canton.
But as Jacoby’s name slowly crept toward the top of the list of candidates, Elfin’s career changed. The Washington Times temporarily spiked its sports section in late 2009, and Elfin moved on: to AOL’s FanHouse, to 106.7 The Fan, to part-time work with WTOP and WUSA, and eventually to his own subscription-based site, DavidElfinOnSports. He wrote 360 columns in a year, attracted just enough subscribers to pay for his health insurance, and realized that the financials wouldn’t work, which is when he took a job covering state governments for Transport Topics.
That was last fall. But with Jacoby closing in on the Hall — and with the Redskins media contingent largely made up of younger writers who hadn’t covered the glory days — Elfin chose to retain his status as Washington’s selector, with no apologies.
“All these [nominees] have been retired at least five years. I was covering football five years ago, so why would it matter?” Elfin, 57, asked. “If Joe Jacoby had gotten elected last year, I would have graciously stepped aside. But this is my last mission: making sure this happens, because he deserves it, overwhelmingly. … I really feel like Joe is owed here. I think he’s been owed for a long time, and I want to see an injustice corrected and a brilliant career recognized.”
Like all halls of fame, the pro football version has a quirky selection process, which at times has frustrated fans and analysts. The Saturday before the Super Bowl, a small group of media members gathers in the host city to debate 15 finalists, cutting the list down to 10 and then 5, before voting to see which candidates will receive the 80 percent support necessary for enshrinement. Each NFL team has one dedicated selector in the 48-member group; there are 15 at-large members, and one spot for a rep from the Pro Football Writers of America. For about a decade, Washington’s designee has been Elfin, who covered the Redskins for more than two decades, primarily for the Times.
Jacoby made it to the final 10 last year but not beyond, so Elfin is heading to Houston this weekend to finish the job. There have, of course, been questions about whether Elfin should retain his status now that he no longer is a full-time sportswriter, whether one of the 48 precious voting spots should go to someone whose day job is is more diesel than The Diesel. Jacoby, for one, is not asking them.
“He’s done it in the past. It’s not someone totally new coming into the situation. That would have been a lot more awkward from my perspective,” said Jacoby, who will be in Houston this weekend, counting on Elfin to present his case. “It’s a plus, from my standpoint. … He lived it and wrote the articles back when I was playing. Having somebody else who wasn’t doing it when I was playing, it would be a little different.”
So Elfin has a room at the airport Days Inn, and a task to help convince 47 other voters that Jacoby’s time has arrived. That case, in my view, is plenty strong, especially in a year with less daunting left tackle competition. Jacoby was one of just three Redskins to start in all four Gibbs Super Bowls. He played the most important position on the most iconic unit of one of the NFL’s dominant teams. He missed just 16 games in 12 seasons as a starter, and his team finished with a losing record exactly once in that span. He was part of that 1991 offense that gave up just nine sacks and set an NFL scoring mark, and he played in a decade when the NFC East was littered with terrific pass rushers.
“If he got his hands on you, you were dead,” Bill Parcells said of Jacoby. “A damn tank,” Randy White called him. “A stalwart in one of the best offensive lines that has ever been a part of playing in the NFL,” Joe Gibbs said.
And Elfin thinks he’s well-positioned to present that argument, no matter his day job. He’s a D.C. native who went to Bethesda-Chevy Chase high school, spent a quarter-century covering Washington sports and wrote five books about the Redskins. The Post no longer permits its staffers to vote on honors such as the Hall of Fame, so Elfin figures when he steps away, the city’s spot on the committee should go to the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s Paul Woody or ESPN’s John Keim. And because players aren’t even eligible until five years after their retirement, Elfin thinks his occupation a decade ago matters more than what he was writing about Monday morning.
“Five years from now, I would say yeah, I shouldn’t be doing this anymore,” he said. “That would [involve] players who played beyond my career covering football. But that’s not the case in this room at all. So I don’t think it should even be a question.”
That’s why he kept going to these selection meetings, even when he didn’t have an employer to pay his way, using frequent-flier points for his travel and crashing with friends the night before the meetings. And it’s why he’s talked frequently with Jacoby in the run-up to this year’s meeting; “ I look at David as representing me, stating my case,” Jacoby said.
My first instinct was that this is all kind of weird, a guy who now covers transportation policy helping decide the legacies of Jacoby and his peers. There’s a strong argument that media members should get out of the awards business entirely, letting players and coaches sort it out for themselves.
On the other hand, the conflict-of-interest concerns that plague active sportswriters don’t come into play when you work at Transport Topics. And would a 25-year-old active NFL beat writer really be a better judge of Tony Boselli’s merits compared to Jacoby’s? Elfin said he always liked underdog stories, so here’s one more: a transportation writer trying to nudge an one-time undrafted free agent into the Hall of Fame.
“I would be thrilled to get Jacoby in, and then let [Woody] or [Keim] pick up the banner going forward,” Elfin said. “If I can help get Joe Jacoby elected this year, the Hall of Fame can say goodbye to me.”