Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Hall or not, the journey's a winner

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Maybe if he'd gone into a television booth instead of the Rockbridge County hills, none of this would seem necessary.

Perhaps if he'd chosen coaching instead of making and selling equestrian jewelry, the path to the Pro Football Hall of Fame would have been easier.

Or maybe not. Maybe Eddie Meador just needed to make a few more tackles. Maybe his struggling L.A. Rams teams of the early 1960s needed to win a few more games. Maybe those good Rams clubs of the late 1960s needed to get to the Super Bowl. Maybe they even need to win one.

Eddie Meador's children don't know. But here's what they do know: When their father's name appears on the seniors committee's list of Hall of Fame candidates next month, every one of those voters will recognize it instantly.

Of course, we can assume they'd recognize it anyway. Meador, who's lived in Natural Bridge for the past 16 years, holds the Rams (Cleveland, L.A. and St. Louis) franchise record with 46 career interceptions. The No. 2 player on that list, Nolan Cromwell, has nine fewer picks.

Meador also was named to the NFL's all-decade team of the 1960s. Of the three safeties on the list, he's the only one not in Canton. Of the six defensive backs on the list, only Meador and Bobby Boyd aren't enshrined -- and Boyd had two Pro Bowl appearances compared to Meador's six.

So even if he's been living the simple life on a 10-acre plot just off I-81 instead of staying on the NFL radar, Meador's had a case for the Hall since he retired in 1970.

What he hasn't had is an army -- until now.

Not that the 71-year-old Meador ever actually asked for an army. He's a humble man from the old school, perfectly content with his post-football career the past 30 years. Ambition for the Hall? That faded decades ago.

"To be real honest with you, no, I hadn't thought much at all about it," Meador said of his chances for Canton. "Normally when players retire, they are either inducted into the Hall of Fame or not, you know?"

But last October, when his son David asked what it would mean to Meador if he ever did make the Hall, he did think about it a little.

"Well," he said. "I guess it'd be the greatest thing that ever happened to me."

That was all David needed to hear. He asked his father if it'd be OK if the family started a little campaign.

"Sure," Meador recalls saying. "Have at it."

Apparently, it's genetic. The work ethic that took Meador from a tiny town in West Texas to NFL stardom? The determination that allowed a graduate from little Arkansas Tech to become a Rams captain under legendary coach George Allen? Those qualities obviously course through the veins of Meador's three sons and one daughter.

Because they didn't just write a few letters. They started an all-out crusade.

They created a Web site ( with biographical information and links on how to contact Hall of Fame committee members. They contacted media outlets. They called and e-mailed players from Meador's era, asking them to join the cause.

David Meador -- who's spearheaded the effort along with his sister, Vicki Meador-Baldwin -- said he's spent at least 250 hours trying to spread the word.

The reason? Because his dad would never do anything like that himself.

"He just never was one to say much at all about what he was accomplishing," said David Meador, a high school teacher in Arkansas.

"And until I was an adult, I didn't even know how he fit into the statistics side and the awards side of things. I didn't realize what his place was until I really started researching this. And I thought, 'Dadgum, how has he not gotten in?'"

I would encourage you to check out the Web site, because it's fantastic. I would not encourage you to send any more e-mails to committee members, because it might do more harm than good.

By now, the voters get it. Meador's got plenty of popular support out there, and he'll be on the list of senior players reviewed beginning June 1.

According to one veteran committee member, such correspondence from fans can be helpful at first, ensuring that players don't slip through the cracks. But he said the committee generally "bristles" at organized campaigns -- which usually crop up for about one senior candidate per year -- because they want to enshrine players based on credentials, not campaigns.

How widespread has the Meador campaign gotten? Well, this particularly committee member said he's gotten between 50 to 100 e-mails, all arguing essentially the same thing. And Meador had long been in this voter's queue already based on his achievements.

So maybe this seems like a waste of time. But then again, maybe it's not.

"I've gotten to know dad in a completely different light because of this process," David Meador said. "And if he never gets in, I will be all the better of a person because of what this process has taught me about my dad."

The seniors committee -- composed of nine members of the 44-person board of selectors -- will pare its list down to two nominees. Those two senior nominees will join 15 modern-era candidates for final consideration. At the Super Bowl, the board will select between four and seven people to be inducted as the Class of 2010.

For his part, Eddie Meador isn't going to worry about the outcome too much. He's too busy traveling around the country to various horse shows, selling the gold and sterling silver jewelry crafted at his Natural Bridge shop.

But he has learned something through this process.

"I've got a great bunch of kids, I'll tell you," he said.

Maybe he'll get in this time. Maybe he won't. But whatever happens, Eddie Meador can say he's been the subject of a ceremony at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

It happened in 1967, and the reason he was there helps explain why so much time and effort is being spent on his behalf.

He was presented with an award -- as the NFL's father of the year.

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