It’s been a tough week for those who knew Ken Riley best. The former Bengals cornerback and HBCU legend was recently laid to rest after a sudden heart attack took his life at the age of 72, but his impact was felt by more than just his family and teammates.
21 years before he became the Bengals head coach, defensive mastermind and Hall of Fame cornerback Dick LeBeau was hired by Cincinnati to coach Forrest Gregg’s secondary and see Riley’s last four seasons in person. LeBeau told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com that he managed to convince Riley to keep playing until he surpassed his 62 career interceptions, and the impressiveness of Riley’s 65 interceptions is not lost on the 82-year old LeBeau.
“Not many play cornerback for 10 years and you have to average five a year to even get to 50 and it’s hard enough to average two a year,” LeBeau said. “Kenny to a certain extent and me definitely, when I played teams ran the ball 60 to 65 percent of the time. Pound, pound, pound, play-action. Kenny overlapped that era a little bit. Now they run the ball 35 percent of the time and pass, pass, pass.”
LeBeau retired a few years after the careers of Riley and fellow Hall of Fame defensive back Mel Blount began. Blount finished his career with eight less interceptions than Riley, but the five Pro Bowl nominations and four Super Bowl rings on his resume made his induction into Canton all but inevitable. If you ask Blount, Riley should be in there with him.
“I just thought he had been overlooked for the Hall of Fame,” Blount said. “But I was just reading that he had also been overlooked for the Pro Bowl. The way he played for 15 years and he didn’t make one Pro Bowl? That’s a disgrace. I just can’t believe that.
“He was a student of the game. He had a high football IQ. I think that was coming from the offensive side being a quarterback. I think he kind of knew what formations were going to bring you. I think he knew the timing of it. I think he knew how the placement of the ball mattered because he was a quarterback on the other side of the ball. He had a higher I.Q. than most of us in the game.”
For most, Riley’s career exhibited a level of greatness that usually results in a golden jacket. Blount and LeBeau are no exceptions.
“Kenny Riley represents what the Hall of Fame is all about, in my opinion,” LeBeau said. “I think Kenny’s stats merit that. I definitely do. Look at how many games, how many years that he played. The productivity he exhibited. The leadership that he exhibited.”