The riddle of Ken Riley's absence in the Hall of Fame tends to baffle. How is someone with 65 career interceptions not enshrined, honored and remembered in the halls of history outside of the Bengals community that bemoans the snub? The truth is, Riley, while great, wasn't even the best defensive back with the Bengals for a period of time. No. A more accurate description would be that Riley played alongside a great defensive back, much like the Bengals duo of Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall do today.
Riley's partner? A seventh round draft pick in the 1970 NFL Draft out of Lincoln named Lemar Parrish.
During their eight seasons together in Cincinnati, the duo of Riley and Parrish combined for 57 interceptions with six returned for touchdowns from 1970 through 1977. Similarly, the combination of Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph, through four seasons starting together, have combined for 32 interceptions with four returned for touchdowns. If they stay together for another four years, they would surpass the combined interception numbers that Riley/Parrish put up by seven picks and an interception returned for a touchdown. When someone demands that Joseph and Hall remain together, at least listen to their arguments.
The Riley/Parrish combination didn't last. Much like several of our currently players, Parrish began demanding a trade. On January 24, 1976, just before that season's Pro Bowl, Parrish was quoted as saying, "I just want out", renewing a hostility that existed between Parrish and former Bengals coach Paul Brown.
Parrish said that under Paul Brown, veterans "are treated like a kid out of college. Paul wants to play his starts down, he doesn't want to pay anything." Like father, like son, we suppose. Maybe the issue we've related to Mike Brown isn't so much an isolated personality -- rather coming directly from his father.
"Paul never showed any affection for the guys," he added. "I don't care how good you are or how good you play, a guy likes to hear something from the coach."
In an unrelated note, the players threatened to boycott the Pro Bowl that year because the game does not "provide customary help to the players' pension so long as the players' association does not have a signed contract with the NFL." I just shivered.
Closer towards the 1976 regular season, Parrish made it known that he'd like to join the Washington Redskins. In very Chad Ochocinco-like behavior, Parrish, through the newspaper, had a message for Redskins head coach George Allen.
"Tell George hello and I'll be seein' him soon. I'd like to go to Washington because of George Allen. I've always wanted to play for him."
Now replace the Redskins with the New England Patriots, George Allen with Bill Belichick and Lemar Parrish with Chad Ochocinco.
Set to expire after the 1977 season, Lemar Parrish made it know that if the Bengals want to keep him, they'll have to pay him.
"No cornerback in the league is better than I am, but a lot are getting paid better than I am."
According to Parrish at the time, if the Bengals didn't promote Parrish's contract to the $100,000/year level, he would press harder for a trade.
"If they can't meet my salary standards, I got to move. I can't spend glory."
Parrish would sign with the Redskins after the 1977 season.
Fortunately, the conflict between the team and player has dissolved over time, rebounding the traditions of remembering great players in Cincinnati's history.
While Riley is often remembered for his interceptions, Parrish will be remembered as the better defensive back of the group. Or in his words, greatest playing at the time. During his eight seasons with the Bengals, Parrish was elected to the Pro Bowl in six seasons. While his 25 interceptions with the Bengals ranks fourth all-time, he holds franchise records with most interceptions in a game (3), second with four interception returns for a touchdown and most interceptions returned for a touchdown in a season (2); which came in the same game (December 17, 1972 at Houston), giving him the record for most interceptions returned for a touchdown in the same game. His 354 career interception return yards ranks third all-time.
Along with being one of the best defensive backs in the league, Parrish was perhaps the most gifted return man in franchise history. If you combine his kickoff returns, punt returns, interception and fumble returns, Parrish recorded 12 touchdowns in Cincinnati. He scored every possible way on defense and special teams. Parrish led the NFL during three seasons with the most punt returns for touchdowns, twice led the NFL with most fumble returns for a touchdown and led the NFL in 1977 with most interception returns for a touchdown.
We're not finished.
Parrish's 24.7-yard average per kickoff return is a franchise best. As is his 18.8-yard punt return average in 1974 -- no one has come close to it. Parrish's four punt returns for touchdowns doubles any other player in franchise history and his two punt returns for touchdowns in 1974 has only been matched once (Craig Yeast in 1999). Before Carl Pickens' 95-yard punt return in 1992 against the Green Bay Packers, Parrish's 90-yard touchdown against the Washington Redskins on October 6, 1974 was the franchise's long punt return. He's also one of 10 players to record a touchdown return on kickoffs in a season (no player has scored two in a single season).
Additionally, his 130 punt returns ranks second behind returner Mike Martin, as does his 1,201 punt return yards. Parrish's 338 punt return yards in 1974 was a record at the time, until Mike Martin' 376 set the franchise record for most punt return yards in a season. Quan Cosby later blew that record out of the water, recording 474 yards on punt returns in 2009.
One thing we've noted through this look in history is that along with the Bengals greats, current Bengals president Mike Brown is far more like his father than most of us will ever admit.
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