(EDITOR’S NOTE: Each weekend this offseason a guest columnist weighs in with thoughts on the NFL – past, present or future. Today we feature former Chiefs’ beat writer and Hall-of-Fame voter Bob Gretz, who makes a passionate argument for the Pro Football Hall of Fame to include more Kansas City Chiefs from the AFL decade. Gretz’s column dovetails neatly with our launch of an AFL Call for the Hall, an exercise over the next month that will – with the help of respected voters – determine the best 10 players from the AFL era and, hopefully, get them the recognition that Canton has not).
They were the American Football League’s most successful franchise.
Over the AFL decade, the Dallas Texans-Kansas City Chiefs of league founder Lamar Hunt won more games (92 including playoffs) than any of the eight original clubs, with three AFL titles (1962, 1966 and 1969), two Super Bowl appearances and a victory in Super Bowl IV against Minnesota in what was the league’s final game.
Key contributors to that success have been honored by the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Hunt (1972), head coach Hank Stram (2003) and players Bobby Bell (1983), Willie Lanier (1986), Len Dawson (1987), Buck Buchanan (1990), Jan Stenerud (1991), Emmitt Thomas (2008), Curley Culp (2013) and most recently Johnny Robinson (2019) have been inducted. Only the Oakland Raiders come close to equaling the Chiefs delegation in the Hall from the AFL days.
After Robinson’s induction last year, chances are slim more Chiefs of that era will crack the historical logjam at the front door of the Hall. But there remain players that deserve consideration. The franchise had seven names on the All-Time AFL Team as voted by the Hall-of-Fame selectors. Only two have been inducted: linebacker Bell and safety Robinson.
The other five did not receive extended discussion in deliberations when they became eligible for the Hall. Offensive tackle Jim Tyrer reached finalist status once (1981), but guard Ed Budde, tight end Fred Arbanas, defensive end Jerry Mays and punter Jerrel Wilson never made the final conversations for induction.
Tyrer and Budde are the only offensive linemen from the all-time team not in the Hall. Tackle Ron Mix, guard Billy Shaw and center Jim Otto all had their admission tickets punched. Why not Tyrer and Budde? They were often honored during their playing days: Tyrer was a nine-time selection for the AFL All-Star Game and Pro Bowl in 13 seasons. Budde was an eight-time choice for those honors over 14 years. Tyrer and Budde deserved more consideration than they were given in the process.
But the most forgotten Chiefs’ players have been Mays and Wilson. In 10 seasons, Mays was selected for the AFL All-Star Game or Pro Bowl seven times. He played 140 regular season games and was the starter at left defensive end in the team’s three AFL championship victories, plus Super Bowls I and IV. Mays was considered one of the major on-field leaders of those teams.
Wilson’s career has been completely glossed over by the Hall voters, who selected just one punter for induction: Ray Guy. Wilson’s numbers are equal to or better than Guy’s. Wilson’s career average: 43.3 yards in 217 games; Guy’s career average: 42.4 yards in 207 games. Over 15 seasons, Wilson finished among the league’s top five punters 13 times, including leading the AFL in punting with a 45.4-yard average in 1965, and then ranking No. 1 in the NFL with a 45.5-yard average in 1973. Wilson was also a backup running back and receiver in those days of smaller rosters.
There’s no doubt Wilson was a field-position weapon for Stram’s defense, one of the few in pro football history with multiple Hall of Famers at all three levels of the unit (Culp and Buchanan on the line, Bell and Lanier at linebacker and Thomas and Robinson in the secondary.)
Offensively, Arbanas and wide receivers Chris Burford and Otis Taylor deserve another look. They seldom produced the types of receiving numbers expected from those positions over the last 30-40 years. But with their careers largely in the 1960s, they were among the game’s best pass catchers.
In 10 seasons, Arbanas caught 198 passes in 118 games, with 34 touchdowns in an era when the tight end was more blocker than receiver. Burford was among the top 10 catchers during his eight seasons in the AFL. Taylor also ranked among the top 10 in receptions, yards and TD catches during a decade in the AFL-NFL.
In 1971, Taylor led the league with 1,110 receiving yards. In fact, he was the only receiver in the league to top the 1,000-yard mark that year. Compare that to the 2019 NFL season when 29 receivers were over 1,000 yards, including three tight ends.
Jim Tyrer, Ed Budde, Jerry Mays and Jerrel Wilson should be on any list of AFL players that have been forgotten in the voting for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.