HENDERSON, Nev. — Tom Flores, who led the Raiders to a pair of Super Bowl titles in the 1980 and 1983 seasons, has been selected as the lone finalist in the new coach-specific category for Pro Football Hall of Fame consideration.
This after being a finalist on the regular 15-person ballot in 2019 and being passed over as a finalist by a special centennial blue-ribbon committee in favor of national television commentators Bill Cowher and Jimmy Johnson, neither of whom had been a finalist before, in January.
As the lone coach finalist this year, Flores is essentially competing against himself and simply needs an 80% approval vote of the 48-member selection committee on Feb. 6, 2021. And while the Hall class must be no smaller than four or larger than eight and former players such as Raiders defensive back Charles Woodson and quarterback Peyton Manning will be on the ballot for the first time, the vote on Flores will be independent of the other votes, which will include 15 modern-era finalists, a senior finalist (Drew Pearson) and a contributor (to be named Aug. 25). Imagine five modern-era Hall of Famers with the contributor, senior and coach rounding out an eight-person class, then.
Flores, 83, said he was cautious but optimistic.
“I’ve been down this road before,” Flores told ESPN.com from his home near Palm Springs, California. “I’m a little reluctant to start celebrating too soon, but I am excited because this is different.
“I have to get a little excited, but I’m not celebrating yet. Sixty years of professional football. Sixty years ago, we were in Santa Cruz for the first Raiders training camp.”
Besides being the first minority coach to win a Super Bowl, Flores also won a ring as an assistant on John Madden’s staff in 1976 and another as a backup to Len Dawson for the Kansas City Chiefs in 1969.
Flores, the first quarterback in Raiders franchise history, was also the first Latino quarterback in professional football when he debuted with the Raiders in 1960.
Many see Flores being the lone coach finalist as a mere formality to his being inducted into Canton next summer.
“Long overdue,” Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis told ESPN.com. “I’m excited that he’s in. It means a lot in so many different ways. It’s fantastic for Tom. From training camp in Santa Cruz to the Los Angeles Coliseum then into the [radio] booth to call Raider games. He’s a lifer, and I’m absolutely thrilled for him and Barbara and the rest of the Flores family.
“It means a lot for the Hispanic community as well. It’s a feel-good story, And it’s a shame that it took this long, but he and his family will be here to enjoy it and that means a lot.”
Raiders Hall of Famers Howie Long and Marcus Allen have long credited Flores for his ability to work with players and an oft-raucous locker room.
Flores was 91-56 with the Raiders, 8-3 in the playoffs. And he was a combined 21-15 against coaches already enshrined or about to be. That includes 6-1 vs. Don Shula, 3-1 vs. Chuck Noll and 2-1 vs. Bill Walsh and Cowher, not to mention his record of 11-5 vs. Don Coryell, who was a finalist with Flores in 2019.
Flores turns 84 in March and said his goal is to stay physically fit and healthy, for more reasons than the obvious — especially in the middle of COVID-19.
“For me, just go on with life and go on doing what I plan on doing,” he said. “It’s already a bizarre year with the pandemic. Plus, the Raiders are in a new facility, a new city and a new stadium [in Las Vegas]. I’m just living one day at a time and being around for all this.
“I’ve been guarded. Barb and I have been careful. There’s not much to do in Palm Springs. It’s 115 degrees today.”
Imagine the heat emanating from Flores fans if he gets snubbed again, then.