Hall of Fame weekend usually regurgitates a familiar argument about former Bengals players not being part of the greatest honor in professional sports. From Kenny Anderson to Boomer Esiason, Lamar Parrish to even Bill Bergey; though he's more identified as a Philadelphia Eagle. No one with the Cincinnati Bengals has a greater argument for enshrinement than former cornerback Ken Riley. Not only has Riley be excluded from the Hall of Fame, he's never even been a finalist.
"You'll never find a bigger advocate of his making the Hall then me,"Cris Collinsworth told the New York Times. "I probably learned more football from Kenny Riley than from anyone I played for or against. Everything I did that worked against everybody else never worked against him. But as soon as he would pick off a pass on my route or beat me to a spot, he'd tell me why, explain what I'd done wrong. He wanted me to be better because that made the team better."
Former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver John Stallworth, also a Hall of Famer, agreed.
"I always felt that he knew our system, our game plan, that he had viewed our films, that he knew our tendencies, my tendencies. From an intellectual standpoint, he was going to take away what I did well. He wasn't an in-your-face bumping guy, but he was going to be where he needed to be when he needed to be there. I knew he was going to challenge me every play."
When it comes to interceptions in the NFL, no one has more than Paul Krause, who from 1964-79 intercepted an astounding 81 passes. He is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Next on the list is Emlen Tunnell, who not only intercepted 79 passes from 1948-61, but he was also the first African American to play for the New York Giants. He is also in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Next, you'll find Steeler great Rod Woodson, who from 1987-03, intercepted 71 passes -- third-most in NFL history. He is also in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Dick "Night Train" Lane intercepted 68 passes with the Rams, Cardinals (when they were in Chicago), and Lions from 1952-65. He is also in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
With 65 interceptions during a 15-year career, we arrive at a familiar name in Bengals cornerback Ken Riley. Riley played for the Bengals from 1969-83. His 65 interceptions which he turned into 596 yards and five touchdowns.
If you trek further down the list of the league's all-time interceptions leaders, Ronnie Lott's 63 interceptions places him sixth all-time. Also a Pro Football Hall of Famer. At No. 7 is Darren Sharper, who with 63 interceptions isn't yet eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. At No. 8 is Dick LeBeau, who had 62 interceptions in a career that lasted from 1959-72. Yep, another Pro Football Hall of Fame. At No. 9 is the only other player on the interception top-10 list not to be in the NFL Hall of Fame, Dave Brown, who played for the Seahawks from 1975-89, picking off 62 passes. Finally, rounding out the top 10, is Emmitt Thomas, who picked of 58 passes from from 1966-78 and is also in the Pro Hall of Fame.
Seven of the league's top-ten all-time interception leaders are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. If you judge a cornerback on his ability to intercept passes, and Ken Riley intercepted the fifth most passes in NFL history, then why is it that he's not enshrined with the rest of the top-five interception leaders in Canton?
Sports Illustrated's Peter King agrees that interceptions should be more important to the Hall of Fame. He wrote in 2011.
How important as stat should interceptions be? The Hall of Fame can't figure it out; the fifth-leading interceptor of all time, Bengal Ken Riley, can't get a sniff for the Hall. It should come into play someday if Darren Sharper plays another year -- and continues to climb the list.
The New York Times authored an article that headlines, "Omission of Bengals' Riley from Hall of Fame a Striking Oversight." Samuel G. Freedman tried to rationalize the snub. Was it playing in a small market? No Super Bowl wins? Was it as simple as Ken Riley never making a Pro Bowl roster. That's actually true. Riley was never voted into the Pro Bowl. Not onne. Sure he was a First-Team All-Pro in 1983 with eight interceptions and two touchdown returns. No Pro Bowl. What about 1976 when he posted nine interceptions, 141 yards on returns, with another touchdown? Nope. Six cornerbacks played the Pro Bowl that year, only two had more than five picks, and only one (Monte Jackson) generated more than Riley. No Pro Bowl.
"I think my numbers are deserving of the Hall of Fame," Riley once said. "I've always been a modest and low-key type guy. I've always thought your work would speak for you. It's like it's working against me now because the older you get and the longer you stay out of it, people forget who you are.
"It's not my demeanor to speak out on my own behalf, but I am a little hurt when I sit back and look at some of the accomplishments and compare them to the former players who are getting inducted," Riley said.
Riley is far too humble to make a deal out of it, writes the New York Times.
"This is my personality," Riley, now 65 and retired, said recently. "It's the way I was brought up — parents, grandparents, everybody. Let your work speak for itself and be humble. We had a coach on the Bengals, Paul Brown, who felt it was your job to do certain things. If you got an interception, if you got a sack, he'd say, ‘That's what I'm paying you for.' He didn't want superstars."
Riley is now listed among the senior candidates, with more than 100 names in a pool of former NFL players. Only two are chosen every year.
Anderson is a player that one could make an argument for enshrinement one day. But the difference between him and Riley is that people have to make an argument that justifies his exclusion. That's not just an oversight; that's failing to live up to the Hall of Fame's mission statement that reads:
"To honor individuals who have made outstanding contributions to professional football."