Ken "The Rattler" Riley (13)
Bengals Career: 1969-1983
Drafted: 1969, Round 6, 135th Pick
Ask any football fan to name some of the best corner backs in NFL history and you are likely to get names, like Deion Sanders, Darrell Green, Dick "Night Train" Lane, Rod Woodson, Dick LeBeau, etc. One name that is unlikely to surface (but should) is Ken Riley.
Do a Google search for "Ken Riley Hall of Fame" and you will come across a plethora of articles written in the last 5 years on how Ken Riley's omission from the Hall of Fame is one of the most glaring injustices in the history of the Hall of Fame. 19 defensive backs with fewer interceptions have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, and 31 years after his retirement, Riley still ranks 5th on the all-time interceptions list with 65.
The most amazing part about his 65 interceptions is that Riley never played cornerback until he showed up at Bengals training camp in 1969. Riley, an outstanding athlete, was a college quarterback at Florida Atlantic University, but was drafted by the Bengals in the 6th round of the 1969 draft and converted to cornerback by none other than the legendary Paul Brown. Riley was a natural at cornerback and in his rookie season, Riley rewarded Brown with 4 INTs.
In fact, Riley lead his conference in interceptions 3 times and recorded 3 or more interceptions in 12 of his 15 seasons and 5 or more interceptions in 7 of his 15 seasons. Despite his staggering statistics, Riley was never once voted to the Pro Bowl, and that may be the reason he still waits for the call from Canton.
Most believe, myself included, that Riley was a victim of the small market he played in and the professional workmanlike approach he brought to his craft. Riley played long before the days of ESPN, the internet, twitter and billion dollar TV contracts. If you were a good player who played in a big market (Dallas, NY, etc.), you would get your recognition.
If you were a good player who played for a legendary franchise (GB, Pittsburgh, etc.), you would get your recognition as well. If you played in a small market for a brand new franchise - like Riley did - the only way to be recognized for your talent was to attract attention to yourself - and that was not Riley's personality.
"This is my personality,...[i]t'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."
Whether Riley will ever have the opportunity to step into the Pro Football Hall of Fame without paying remains to be seen, but he has the most important thing any player can ever receive - he has the respect and admiration of his peers. In a well written 2013 NY Times article, Chris Collinsworth, a wide receiver and former Bengals teammate of Riley and current NBC NFL analyst, was asked about Riley, offered the following:
"You'll never find a bigger advocate of [Ken] making the Hall than me...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."
In the same article, John Stallworth, a Hall of Fame wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers who went up against Riley twice a season, had a similar opinion of Riley:
"it would be a good decision [to induct Riley]...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."
Regardless of whether the Pro Football writers want to recognize Riley's career, the Bengals should. No cornerback has played the position better on the Banks of Ohio and no cornerback is more deserving of induction to a Bengals Ring of Honor than Ken "The Rattler" Riley.
Resume For Induction
- 65 interceptions - 5th all-time in NFL history
- Lead the AFC in interceptions 3 times (1976, 1982, 1983)
- Lead the Bengals in interceptions 7 times in his 15 seasons
- 3+ interceptions 12 of his 15 seasons
- 5+ interceptions 7 of his 15 seasons
- Most career interceptions (65)
- Most career interceptions returned for a TD (5)
- Most interceptions in a game (3 - tied with Parrish)
Blemishes on Resume:
From a Pro Football Hall of Fame standpoint, it could be argued that Riley may not be deserving of induction because he had zero Pro Bowls. The argument would be wrong, but it could be made. From a Bengals Ring of Honor standpoint - no blemishes at all.
Ken Riley is one of the most amazing athletes of all-time, going from QB to CB without a hiccup and catapulting himself to 5th in NFL History in terms of interceptions. In my opinion, Ken Riley is every bit the player that Anthony Munoz and Ken Anderson were and is without a doubt a top 3 player in franchise history. Lastly, like Munoz and Anderson, he is the type of person you want honored by your franchise. Bengals fans can and should be proud that "The Rattler" dawned the orange and black.
Cincinnati Bengals Ken Riley Lemar Parrish and Tommy Casanova (via TheBengalsMind)