Simple question: Now that defensive back Ken Riley and quarterback Ken Anderson have been named to the Cincinnati Bengals’ Ring of Honor, what impact will it have on their Pro Football Hall-of-Fame chances?
Simple answer: Little or none.
That’s not just me talking. I canvassed 10 Hall-of-Fame selectors, and their response was similar … with one disclaimer: If a candidate isn’t in his team’s Ring of Honor or its Hall of Fame, it’s an issue almost certainly worthy of an explanation and could factor in that individual’s exclusion from Canton.
“It makes you look twice and wonder why he isn’t in,” one voter said.
Of course, that didn’t prevent former coach Jimmy Johnson from reaching the Pro Football Hall as part of the Centennial Class of 2020. He still isn’t in the Cowboys’ Ring of Honor, a snub that USA Today last week characterized as “a slap in the face,” and that’s another story for another day.
Riley and Anderson have been Hall-of-Fame candidates for decades, yet neither was in the Bengals’ Ring of Honor until this year … and that’s easy to explain: There was no Bengals’ Ring of Honor until this year. It was created this spring, with Paul Brown, Anthony Munoz, Riley and Anderson the four members of its inaugural class.
Brown and Munoz are in Canton. Riley and Anderson are not.
But Riley last year was the runner-up to former Dallas wide receiver Drew Pearson as the Class of 2021’s senior candidate. That should make him the favorite for 2022, with the Hall’s sub-committee finalizing its 15 finalists the past week.
Riley is one of dozens of qualified senior candidates, 58 of whom (according to our Rick Gosselin) were all-decade choices, including 53 never discussed as finalists by the Hall’s board of 48 selectors. Curiously, neither Riley nor Anderson was an all-decade selection.
Both are legit Hall-of-Fame candidates, with Riley closer to the finish line, and, yes, that’s a story. Because Cincinnati – a franchise that entered the NFL in 1968 – has one Hall-of-Fame player in its 54 years of existence.
And that’s Munoz.
Riley could be next, and let’s be clear: His inclusion in the team’s Ring of Honor is significant not so much for what it does for his resume as for what it does not: And that’s provoke a conversation of why the Hall should consider him exemplary when his own franchise does not.
“If you don’t honor your own,” said Cincinnati radio and TV personality Ken Broo on a recent “Eye Test for Two” podcast, “why would you expect the Pro Football Hall of Fame to honor somebody?”
However, Riley just cleared that obstacle, and that’s critical for a cornerback whose career has some voters conflicted. While he produced 65 career interceptions, tied for the fifth most in NFL history, he wasn’t elected to a single Pro Bowl. Meanwhile, teammate and cornerback Lemar Parrish was named to eight. He was also a five-time All-Pro, including three first-team nominations. Riley was a three-time All-Pro.
But look at Riley’s numbers. His interceptions tie him with Charles Woodson, a first-ballot choice for the Hall’s Class of 2021. Riley was never a modern-era finalist. Furthermore, of the top 12 all-time leaders in interceptions, Riley and Darren Sharper are the only individuals not in Canton.
That’s hard to ignore. But imagine if Parrish, not Riley, had been chosen to the Bengals’ inaugural Ring-of-Honor class. That would have been hard to ignore, too.
“I’d be hard pressed to vote for someone who isn’t even in his team’s Ring of Honor,” said one selector.
I would, too.
When voters consider Hall-of-Fame candidates, there’s an abundance of talk about post-season honors, including All-Pro and Pro Bowl nominations, MVP and Player-of-the-Year awards, division and league championships and all-decade selections. There is seldom – no, virtually never – a discussion of Ring of Honors or team Hall of Fames.
And that’s understandable. As I mentioned, if someone is worthy of the Pro Football Hall of Fame you assume he was worthy of his team’s Hall, too (Jerry Jones, please take note). And if he’s not, that raises questions.
Bottom line: Reaching a franchise’s Hall of Fame doesn’t really affect a candidacy. But not reaching it can.