Welcome to the Jungle: Why aren't there more Bengals in the Pro Football Hall?

Photo courtesy of USA Today

Clark Judge

For years, Pro Football Hall-of-Fame voters were accused of overlooking the Denver Broncos … and for good reason: The numbers substantiated their claims.

Until 2017, Denver had twice as many Super Bowl appearances (8) as Hall-of-Famers (4).

But then Terrell Davis was inducted. Two years later, it was Pat Bowlen and Champ Bailey. And now it’s Steve Atwater. If you want to include Brian Dawkins, who spent his last three seasons with Denver, that makes five in four years – or as many as the previous 45.

No surprise, then, that complaints of voter bias vs. the Broncos subsided virtually everywhere but Randy Gradishar’s neighborhood. But that doesn’t mean there’s still not a blind spot in Canton. Because there is.

Will the Cincinnati Bengals please step forward?

Where Denver has eight Hall of Famers who played the bulk of their careers with the Broncos, the Bengals have just one: Tackle Anthony Munoz, who last played in 1992. No team that originated prior to 1995 has fewer. Now, before you cue the laugh track, tell me this: Are you going to sit there with a straight face and tell me that in over five decades of play the Cincinnati Bengals don’t have another player … just one … capable of reaching Canton?

I think you know the answer.

There’s quarterback Ken Anderson. And right tackle Willie Anderson. How about cornerbacks Ken Riley and Lemar Parrish? Or wide receiver Isaac Curtis? All are worthy of consideration, but only Ken Anderson has been a Hall-of-Fame finalist (1996, 1998). And the others? Not one appearance before the Hall’s board of selectors. Worse, they haven’t been Hall-of-Fame semifinalists.

And that’s hard to fathom.

Ken Anderson was a three-time All-Pro, league MVP, Offensive Player of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, four-time leader in passer rating, three-time leader in completion percentage and two-time leader in passing yards. When he retired after the 1986 season he held league records for consecutive pass completions (20), completion percentage for a single game (20 of 22 for 90.9 percent) and completion percentage for a single season (70.6 in 1982), eclipsing Sammy Baugh’s mark set in 1945.

Anderson also set Super Bowl records (since broken) for completion percentage (73.5) and completions (25) and, when he retired, ranked sixth in career passing yards.

Now let’s look at Willie Anderson. A right tackle, he didn’t gain the attention of pass-blocking left tackles, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t exceptional. Because he was. Named to four Pro Bowls and chosen as a first-team All-Pro, Anderson missed only two starts in his first 11 seasons with Cincinnati. Moreover, in a 13-year career with Cincinnati and Baltimore, he took on Hall-of-Famers like Reggie White, Michael Strahan and Kevin Greene – pass rushers who lined up on the offense’s right side – as well as four other members of the NFL’s 100-sacks club, Julius Peppers, Neil Smith, Robert Mathis and Trace Armstrong.

Result: Between 1996 and 2008 only 12 pass rushers beat him for a sack.

Next up: Ken Riley. He played his entire career with the Bengals and finished with 65 interceptions, bettered only by Paul Krause, Emlen Tunnell, Rod Woodson and Dick “Night Train” Lane. All are in Canton. Riley can’t get a sniff, and maybe this is why: Not an especially popular player, he was never chosen to a Pro Bowl.

He was, however, a four-time All-Pro.

Riley’s career interceptions, interception return yards (596) and interceptions returned for touchdowns (5) are Bengals’ records. And his 65 career interceptions? They’re tied with Charles Woodson, who’s expected to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer when he becomes a candidate in 2021.

But Ken Riley? Not on anyone’s radar.

Then there’s Lemar Parrish, a cornerback who played opposite Riley and produced 47 career interceptions. He was named to eight Pro Bowls and chosen as a five-time All-Pro – including three first teams. But he was more than an accomplished defensive back. He was a return specialist, too, setting a single-season franchise record (an average of 18.8 yards per return in 1974) and averaging 30.1 yards on kickoff returns his rookie season in 1970. In fact, when he left Cincinnati in 1977 in a contract dispute, he held the club record for career punt-return yards with 1,201.

Finally, we have Isaac Curtis, and, granted, his resume isn’t as grand as the others. Nevertheless, the guy was a four-time Pro Bowler, three-time All-Pro, averaged a franchise-record 17.1 yards per reception and was such a dangerous deep threat that opponents often double-and-triple-teamed him, provoking the league to implement “the Isaac Curtis Rule. Never heard of it? Essentially, it said that defenders can block receivers within the first five yards of the line of scrimmage but not beyond.

Curtis isn’t among the career leaders in receptions, TDs or yardage, but he had more catches (416) and TD catches (53) than Lynn Swann (336 catches and 51 TDs) and more yards per catch than John Stallworth (16.2). Both are in the Hall of Fame.

“(Isaac Curtis) was the Jerry Rice before Jerry Rice,” said Ken Anderson.

But Jerry Rice won Super Bowls. Isaac Curtis did not. In fact, none of these Bengals did. And that hurts their cases, with 68 percent of Hall of Famers winning Super Bowls or league championships. Willie Anderson, on the other hand, played on 12 Bengals’ teams that went to one playoff game and was 76-116 for four head coaches.

And that's an issue. Because if everyone loves a winner, then it follows that nobody loves a loser.

The Bengals have been to the playoffs 14 times in over 50 years. They’re 5-14 in the postseason, and 0-7 there since 1991. Plus, they’ve had only 18 winning seasons in their existence. But don’t tell me that disqualifies deserving players because it shouldn’t.

So the Bengals went to two Super Bowls in 50 years. The Kansas City Chiefs did, too. And they have 10 more players in Canton than Cincinnati.

Granted, the Chiefs won their Super Bowls, and the Bengals did not. So look at Atlanta. The Falcons started playing in 1966, two years before Cincinnati, and also went to two Super Bowls. They lost both. Yet they have four players in the Hall … or three more than Cincinnati.

Something is wrong with this picture.

“When you think of the Bengals,” said Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com, the Hall-of-Fame voter from Cincinnati, “you think about their great coaches. In the first days of the franchise, Paul Brown and Bill Walsh gave birth to the West Coast offense that revolutionized the game.

“Then, in the 1980s, Sam Wyche and Dick LeBeau gave you a glimpse of the 21st-century NFL, with the no-huddle on offense and zone blitz on defense. But they had to have elite players to make this stuff go.”

And they did. Somebody tell Canton.

Follow on Twitter @ClarkJudgeTOF

Comments (26)

While I haven't heard a theory or seen real evidence of an anti-Bengals bias the way there is an anti-Cowboys bias, it wouldn't shock me if some of their players have been overlooked due to the team's lack of success.

Of those I'd support Ken Anderson's induction, and a strong consideration for Lemar Parish.

No. 1-5

I always hear great things about Ken Riley. I wonder why he was never voted to any Pro Bowls and only had the one All-Pro selection. It seems to me that Parrish deserves real consideration too. Does anyone have an opinion about who was the better CB?


Just my opinion, but I think Anderson,Parrish & Riley top 3 Bengals not in, but nice article...in fact every team could probably claim at least 1 deserving player


Ken Anderson would be a solid HOF choice in my opinion. I've never thought of Isaac Curtis as a Hall-caliber guy. I'm also not big on Riley or Willie Anderson. With Riley, the huge number of INTs is impressive but I feel like a lot of those may have come his way because of the superior player on the other side of the field. I think Lemar Parrish is one of the top HOF snubs, period. Can't fathom why he's never gotten a sniff from voters, never even chosen as a finalist (that same befuddling category as Chuck Howley and Harold Jackson). I don't see it happening, but if a seniors spot were to go to a Bengal, I think it should be him by a light year.


Personally I would not have an issue with K Anderson or Riley getting elected, not so sold on the other Bengals, but frankly I don't see the omission of Anderson or Riley as glaring and there are many other more deserving seniors who should be elected before them

NFL Stories