When lists are made of Bengals players who should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, cornerback Ken "The Rattler" Riley is highly regarded with a convincing argument.The reasoning is simple. When he retired, Riley finished fourth all-time in the NFL with 65 interceptions; since then dropping to fifth after Rod Woodson's retirement. Paul Krause (81), Emlen Tunnell (79), Woodson (71), Night Train Lane (68), all Hall of Famers, are ranked ahead of Riley with Ronnie Lott (63) and Dick LeBeau (62) just behind him -- also Hall of Famers. Of the players ranking in the top-10 for all-time interceptions, six are in the Hall of Fame and Ed Reed (ranked sixth) should make it in once eligible.
Riley once said of his Hall of Fame snub:
"I think my numbers are deserving of the Hall of Fame. 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."
Later, Riley said:
"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,'
What's likely the biggest hurdle in Riley's quest for a Hall of Fame bid is that he was never really considered a great player in any given season during his 15-year career. He never led the league in interceptions and he was never voted into the AFL All-Star Game or the NFL Pro Bowl. He was named First-Team All-Pro in 1983, his final season. And in truth, he wasn't even thought of as the best defensive back with the Bengals when Lemar Parrish was playing in Cincinnati.
But if there were a Bengals Hall of Fame, or at least a Wall-of-Honor, Riley would be an inaugural candidate. Along with holding the franchise record for most interceptions (65), no player has played more games in a Bengals uniform than Riley (207), who retired 15 seasons after he was drafted out of Florida A&M in 1969. Until Deltha O'Neal posted 10 interception in 2006, Riley's nine interceptions in 1976 was the franchise mark for picks in a season.
No Bengals player recorded more interception return yards (596) or interceptions returned for a touchdown (5) in a career. His franchise record mark of three interceptions in a game is shared with Parrish, Louis Breeden, David Fulcher, O'Neal and Leon Hall. However, Riley and Fulcher are the only players to do it twice. Riley's two interceptions returned for a touchdown in 1983 is a franchise record tied with Parrish (there's that name again), Tommy Casanova, Scott Perry and Ray Griffin.
Riley wasn't drafted for his defensive back prowess in college, he wasn't even a defensive player. Riley, who played quarterback for Florida A&M University, posted a winning record of 23-7 in college and even led his team to Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles each season during which he started. It wasn't until the Bengals drafted him in the sixth round, when the legendary Paul Brown converted Riley into one of the best cornerbacks in franchise history.
There's no doubt that Riley's argument for the Hall of Fame is a strong one. Even so, he'll go down as one of the best players in franchise history and one of the most successful draft stories.