(EDITOR’S NOTE: To access the Ken Riley interview, fast-forward to 24:40 of the attachment above)
Former Cincinnati cornerback Ken Riley ranks fifth among the NFL’s all-time leading interceptors with 65. The four individuals ahead of him are in Canton. So are the two immediately behind who are Hall-of-Fame eligible.
Yet Riley not only isn’t in the Hall; he’s never been a finalist. Nor has he ever been a semifinalist.
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“You can’t get upset,” said Riley on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast. “The only time that it really bothers me is when I get so many people, so many coaches and so many former professional football players … and they ask the same question: ‘What is wrong? What did you do to anybody?’
“I never did anything. The only thing I ever did was play to the best of my ability. I did the job. I guess I was too modest, too humble … I mean, even to the point of playing in the Pro Bowl. That was very perplexing, as well.”
It was more than that. It was downright mind-boggling. Riley was a four-time All-Pro, yet never was voted to the AFC Pro Bowl team in an era when the Pro Bowl meant something.
Riley’s best season was 1976 when he had a personal-best nine interceptions – including the last two of Joe Namath’s career with the New York Jets. Yet he wasn’t chosen to the Pro Bowl. Worse, teammate Lamar Parrish, who had two interceptions and missed half the season with injuries, was.
Something is wrong with that picture, too.
“It’s a mystery to me,” said Riley. “I don’t understand that, either. And some people are holding that against me …
“That’s out of my control. The only thing I can do is be solid and go out and be consistent. And I was consistent every Sunday when I played football. And I played in more games than anybody in Cincinnati. I was very durable.”
He’s right about that. He played 215 games, including the playoffs, and didn’t miss one in 10 of his first 13 seasons.
More than that, though, Riley made an impact. He played 15 seasons, had 65 interceptions, 596 return yards, five TDs, 18 fumble recoveries, 96 yards off fumble returns, 334 kickoff return yards and 15 yards receiving. His interceptions, interception return yards and touchdowns by interceptions returned are all Cincinnati Bengals’ records.
Yet the Hall hasn’t noticed.
“I’ve done everything I was supposed to do,” said Riley. “So it’s out of my control. You can’t worry about it.”
Well, yes, as a matter of fact you can. Because Ken Riley is an example of something amiss with the Hall-of-Fame process, and that is this: In 51 years of existence, the Cincinnati Bengals have only one former player – tackle Anthony Munoz – who spent the bulk of his career with the Bengals and was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
For years Denver fans complained that their team was the victim of voter bias, with fewer Broncos named to the Hall than Denver Super Bowl appearances. But the Broncos have seven in Canton now, including three – running back Terrell Davis, cornerback Champ Bailey and owner Pat Bowlen – named in the past three years.
The Bengals have one player in 51 ... and it’s not Ken Riley.
Maybe some voters are too young to remember him. Maybe others discount him because of his Pro Bowl snubs. Whatever the reason, Riley has been overlooked for so long that he’s now buried in the morass of qualified seniors hoping to be called with the expanded Centennial Class for 2020.
Which begs the question: If he could stand in front of them today, what would Riley tell voters to convince them to consider him?
“I would just say: ‘Look at the stats,’ ” he said. “I made 65 career interceptions. I learned the position and played it well. I used my smarts, learned from other great cornerbacks and took my book notes and everything.
“My record speaks for itself. It’s just a matter of whether or not someone will take that chance … and I say ‘take that chance’ and do the right thing.
“Like I said, I’m not bitter. But it is perplexing when you look at some of the guys even behind me who don’t have the numbers that I have … Just look at my numbers, look at what I have accomplished over the past years and hopefully you will make the right decision ... and give me that opportunity.”
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