NEW ORLEANS -- Want me to forecast a football game? That's feasible.
Want me to forecast the weather? That's reasonable.
Want me to forecast the exact number of intoxicated people on Bourbon Street this weekend -- the home drunks, visiting drunks and neutral drunks? I can make a stab at that.
But please, please don't ask me to forecast a Pro Football Hall of Fame vote. Because that's impossible.
Saturday morning, it will happen again. The 46 people assigned to select the next class of Canton inductees will bunker themselves into a meeting room here and debate the merits of the 17 Hall of Fame finalists. Votes will then be taken. A minimum of four and a maximum of seven new members will be chosen.
And then, at approximately 2:30 p.m. Pacific Time, the announcement of the new class will made and ... good luck explaining the result.
Last year, I was convinced that Eddie DeBartolo, the former 49ers owner, was a lock. After all, he had overseen the team's five previous Super Bowl titles and established new standards for running an NFL franchise.
Nope. DeBartolo didn't even make the first cut.
DeBartolo is back among this year's finalists. But in an ironic coincidence, he is joined on that list by the former owner of the 49ers' opponents in this Super Bowl. Art Modell, who operated the Baltimore Ravens, passed away last year. The team is wearing patches with his name on their jerseys.
Modell was an NFL mover and shaker, an advertising executive in his pre-football life. He championed prime-time football telecasts and other media initiatives that brought the league to the uber-popularity it enjoys today. Ray Lewis, the Ravens' linebacker, has been among those lobbying for Modell this week, nearly every day during media interview sessions.
"You don't know how they'll vote," Lewis said of the Hall electors. "You can only tell them about the man who I knew myself -- a true legend in his own way, a real visionary who changed thousands and thousands of lives."
For a while there, I thought Lewis might nominate Modell for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Look, the Hall of Fame is serious stuff. But it still involves football, not curing cancer. And mostly it involves football players, not football owners. That's the real problem faced by backers of Modell and DeBartolo in Saturday's discussions.
The 46 electors in the room, a group made up of media members from each NFL city, one representative from the Pro Football Writers of America plus 13 at-large voters, are pledged to keep their votes secret. I am not one of those voters. But I know many of them -- and I know that some feel no owner should ever be put in the Hall ahead of any worthy player.
That's what happened a year ago. Six players were elected, and two non-players with a lot of support, DeBartolo and former coach Bill Parcells, were left out. The electors chose two offensive linemen, two defensive linemen, a running back and a defensive back.
When those results were revealed, former San Diego quarterback Dan Fouts opened up the NFL Network's broadcast of the announcement by saying DeBartolo's snub was "shocking" and "baffles me."
I wasn't shocked. I was curious. Only 12 team owners are in the Hall of Fame. Yet as Fouts noted, DeBartolo "basically won one out of every five Super Bowls during the 23 years of his 49er ownership." DeBartolo also set standards for franchise operation in terms of quality facilities and extra player benefits.
By comparison, Modell's won-lost record is not as impressive. His Browns/Ravens franchise won a single Super Bowl title under his proprietorship, although in fairness, his off-field contributions might carry more weight than DeBartolo's.
At the same time, Modell carries baggage. Any representatives from Ohio in the room will surely speak up against him for the way he abandoned Cleveland and moved the original Browns franchise to Baltimore.
DeBartolo's baggage is from entirely outside football -- and originated just up the road from the Superdome. In 1998, he pleaded guilty to not reporting a bribe attempt from former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards in relation to seeking a casino license. It earned DeBartolo a one-year suspension from the NFL and ultimately led to his sister and brother-in-law gaining control of the team.
My educated hunch is that DeBartolo's legal issues will not work against him, nor will Modell's issue with Cleveland. Their obstacle will be the other names on the ballot. I can tell you the voters approach their task seriously and professionally. But the politics inside the room can be tricky, capricious and erratic.
Sometimes, voters will informally horse-trade their support for one candidate in exchange for another voter's support of another candidate. Sometimes, a plethora of good candidates at one position means they cancel out each other. That likely was the case a year ago when wide receivers Tim Brown, Cris Carter and Andre Reed, all worthy, failed to be elected. They're back among the finalists this time.
So is Parcells, incidentally. He's a polarizing figure to some voters. His career won-lost record of 183-138-1 is not amazing. But he won his two Super Bowls with the New York Giants in the country's largest media market.
The good news for DeBartolo -- and Modell -- is that the finalist list does not include any players whose name jumps out in the absolutely-must-elect category. So it could be a year when a non-player rises to the top. Also, statistically, 75 percent of the candidates who make the list of 17 finalists are eventually inducted.
DeBartolo has been spending the past week at his residence in Montana but will be in Los Angeles on Saturday with his wife. He's said in the past that joining the Hall of Fame would be "all that I could hope for." His former players have been lobbying media members for support. DeBartolo probably will fly here Sunday morning for the game -- and definitely will, if he's elected to the Hall. His nephew, current 49ers CEO Jed York, has been in contact with his uncle.
"He's a little nervous about the game, about the Hall of Fame vote," York said here this week.
I can understand why. The game is more predictable than the vote. Be ready for anything.